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It is a truth universally whispered among denizens of the beauty world that despite what we all see on the catwalks, unless you are (a) Audrey Hepburn or (b) as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn, a chignon – you know, the scraped-back-twisted-up-lacquered-and-unmoving-hair-of-your-grandmother’s-era – will add 27 years to your age. Unless you are over 40, when it adds more like 35 years.
Fortunately, this is rarely a problem these wash’n’go days when great haircuts obviate the need for great hair constructions. Except, that is, during the holiday season, when elaborately imagined party hair is all. A quick blow-dry will no longer suffice. It’s all about Proper Effort: a Heidi-style braid across the front of your head or a French twist so artfully (un)done that it looks like you did it yourself.
You’d expect me to be good at it by now. But no. Still, thanks to YouTube, just about every 12-year-old girl knows six different ways with a pincurl. And while TV audiences marvelled at the recent fly-on-the-wall TV documentary about a UK school called Educating Yorkshire, do you know what I was looking at instead? The amazing up-dos sported by the 14-year-old girls at the back of the class. Day after day, just-messy-enough blonde chignons strangely complemented their school uniforms. There should be a GCSE for that. With an A star to boot.
But if you don’t have real skills in the hair department, fear not: just in time for the holidays, the New York nail bar formula – speed, function, efficiency – has finally caught on to hair. Hershesons Blow Dry Bars, with their foolproof pick-a-style pictures, were the precursors for this but now we also have the Soho House group’s hair and beauty Cheeky Parlour, and Blow Ltd, in addition to the Dry Bar stateside – all offering a great looking hair-up done by someone else in less than 30 minutes. And, better still, there’s value to be had from party hair.
Forget day-to-night looks; today’s party hair is night-to-day; wear it out, wear it to the office, wear it for as many days as you dare. Recently spotted: Laura Bailey with one of those Heidi-esque braids wrapped round her head, rocking the look in jeans, in broad daylight. “I think I’m up to day three,” she whispered.
I knew what she was talking about: my own “halo” braid, a Heidi-style plait artfully woven around my head (from £25), which I had done at the newly opened Blow Ltd in London’s Covent Garden for a rock-star-turned-photographer event, lasted a good couple of days afterwards and, had I had more stamina when it comes to sleeping with pins in, could have gone on for a full week. The more messed-up it became, the better it looked. I was told I resembled a modern-day Frida Kahlo (I think this is a good thing – unless it was a polite way of saying I needed to book an eyebrow tidy) and during the entire 48 hours no one said I looked like Princess Leia’s grandmother.
However, for those in search of a similar effect, and willing to try to do it themselves, I offer the following expert advice on the two most popular up-dos.
The chignon: Joel Goncalves at John Frieda, the man who hairdressing god Sam McKnight once told me was “the best salon haircutter in London”, recommends keeping the finish slightly messy. Apply John Frieda Luxurious Volume Blow-Dry Lotion Root Booster (£5.99) into the hair, then dry it roughly, throwing your head upside-down to get some lift into the roots. Brush to get rid of tangles but don’t overdo the brushing as it makes it look too smooth and neat. “Make the chignon really loose but find a nice hair ornament to balance the look,” Goncalves says.
The ponytail: the most youthful up-do but no longer just for the young. Scott Ade at Daniel Hersheson suggests not washing your hair for at least 24 hours beforehand – “otherwise you wash it, then spend ages backcombing and spraying just to get enough ‘grip’ back into it.” With this style, it’s usually more flattering to lose your parting, so wet hair, then blow-dry it out and add some dry shampoo (Ade likes Hershesons Batiste Dry Shampoo, £5.50). If you’re using a hairpiece, don’t forget you’ll also need to put the texture into it (hairdresser speak for “mess it up a bit”) to match your own hair.
But if this all sounds like too much work and you really want to keep your hair down – “Some women just look older as soon as you put their hair up,” says George Northwood, aka the man responsible for Alexa Chung’s shoulder-length just-messy-enough bob (find him at Josh Wood Atelier) – update your look with a simple fringe trim. Then, says Northwood, tong hair, using WAM Revolving Curling Iron 31 (from £75), on pieces no more than an inch thick in diameter. “You don’t tong the roots or the ends, and when you remove the hair from the tong you pull it straight with your fingers then let it cool,” says Northwood. “It’s when it’s cool that the wave has set.” He loves Redken Powder Grip 03 applied liberally through dry hair to make your hair feel matt and textured. Then, don’t brush – and go.