“The Higher the hair, the closer to God.” — K.D. Lang
While there are good hair days and bad hair days everywhere, in the South, there are superhuman challenges to good hair days. Astonishing humidity turns even the most flat-ironed tresses into brillo pads. Provincial hair cuts seem like a bad day in Dollywood. And not all Southern women have given up complex up-dos for moderately formal occasions. However, the ladies of the South have a sense of hair warfare when it comes to battling their sundry hair challenges. If there are white women without flat irons here, I haven’t met them. Some even carry them in their purse along with the ubiquitous can of hair spray. I used to wonder why all the stiffness occupied the coifs of the sisters of gamma delta phi, but now I understand — surrender doesn’t mean a return to antebellum sausage curls. In this era of global warming and life without parasols, it means a tenure as the bride of Frankenstein. Between monster movie hair and sorority hair, I pick sorority hair, too.
Despite my trepidations about potential bee hives and under-cultured characters straight from the drag play of Steel Magnolias on Christopher Street in the 1980s, I discovered that my fears were largely unfounded in the twenty-first century.
My lawyer in Vicksburg, Leslie Rowe Sadler, has lovely hair. If I had her permission (I have not asked — I’m writing this post around midnight, and I imagine she’s out of the office), I’d post her photo here — she has a conservative, CNN newscast-worthy blonde bob. Now, I had seen some nasty hair coloring around town, but Leslie, when I went to see her — she put my name on the house with my husband’s — and she was gracious enough to give me some advice about where I could go and entrust my hair and my nails, where the independent book sellers were, where the places were that I might find a smattering of urbanity.
She told me to go to Barnette’s salon in Jackson, the one above the bridal salon across from the nice independent bookstore.
Understand that my colorist in New York and I have a special bond. Florentina is one of my favorite people on Earth. In a city of sultry brunettes, Florentina instinctively understood my need for big blonde hair and did not try to make me into either a frosted Debbie Harry, an aging Carmela Soprano, a who-are-we-kidding Lady Gaga or an overly subdued Hillary Clinton. She understood my need for verisimilitude. She understood my need to be that blonde actually having more fun but not necessarily the kind that gentlemen prefer. She neither over nor under processed my hair, and I count among my happier hours in New York hours where Florentina told me about her daughter while wrapping small bits of my hair in individual foil packets and where I percolated to a nice golden blonde with dozens of aluminum boxy antennae pointing outward toward my mother ship.
I miss Florentina.
That said, I have made a marvelous discovery. Most Southern white women want my color. My hair, which is coarse, is every woman’s hair in a Mississippi summertime. Unlike in Florentina’s chair, where I think I had a relatively unusual request, color-wise, my hair is the absolute happy meal of the deep South. Every colorist here trains to give it, so while replacing Florentina the woman is unthinkable, finding a suitable professional was sufficient to guarantee success.
I found hapiness in a stool at Barnettes. My requests for cut and color were implicitly understood. The aging cheerleader who marries the ex-football player — she has this hair. The non-obsessive Martha Stewart matron, she has this hair. The head of the alumni committee for Delta Nu, she has this hair.
My hair has found its roots. The roots have stubborn gray, these days, but the color — the root of it — is the Southern bodacious blonde. While Mississippi remains a disorienting landscape culturally to me, my hair has found its mother ship. Those antennae pointed to a GPS system that guided it home, down home.
I don’t think I look half bad, do you?