Down Memory Lane: Good/Bad Hair Daze

I have an idea for a new party:  We bring photos of the worst hair we ever had.

An advantage of being in the middle years is you can laugh now — mostly — at what you did when you were younger.

I recently went down memory lane with my stylist, about all the bad things we’d done to our hair over the years.  She is half my age so she has a lot of ground to cover yet. But she is a stylist so she had access to some major hair enhancement chemicals I didn’t, so maybe we’re even.

The Modified Bowl

girl with collar

This is preschool, I think.  I’m really rockin’ that #RBG* collar by the way. I’m not sure what to call the style. We got our hair cut at the local Beauty School in those days.  Which #thanksmom, was a coping mechanism I have pulled out from time to time when I couldn’t afford haircuts.

Remember the late 1960s where the thing was long, straight, blonde Beach-Boy-Song hair? I was out of luck.  This was the decade of Lady Clairol bleach blondes.

But I saw the curls come back in eventually (see 1980s below). Lesson learned: Ha, take that American beauty products industry!

*RBG=Ruth Bader Ginsberg

The Shag


Note the combination here of the “America’s mom” Carol Brady shag and the John Lennon glasses, which by this time had last their “pinko pot-smoking hippie” associations.

The Dorothy Hamel Wedge


Here’s a contest: For those of you who were alive in the late 70s, and have a yearbook, let’s see who has the most wedge hairstyles on their school yearbook page.  They were everywhere.  Remember having to figure out how to get perfectly feathered bangs? I believe this era saw the invention of the round brush.

The Liberal Intellectual Wannabe

IMG_2572 2 copy


The college years. Yes, those years when I experimented with long hair. And I started going gray, actually. For some reason unkempt hair made you cooler. I voted socialist in college once, for someone I knew who I thought would make a pretty good city councilperson. But other than that I was pretty much a pretender.

The Star is Born Poodle Perm

This phase of my life was short and the photo is MIA. I lost an entire decade’s worth of photos in a move and my perm phase was among them.

The “Star is Born” move with Barbra Streisand came out in the mid-70s but hairstyles can take a while to work their way into the middle class.

Perming my coarse, graying, wavy hair left me looking like a poodle. Especially in my new home, San Antonio, where 80% humidity simply elicited comments like, “At least we’re not in Houston.”

Also MIA: My “Lila” Phase

Ah, the struggle of graying hair in your 30s and 40s.  I went red in 1995 as I prepared to move to La Paz, Bolivia, to live on a shoestring salary, because the gray at my part wouldn’t show as much.


I decided to save money by coloring at home, so I went shopping for hair color. That in itself wasn’t hard, hair color is in every store in La Paz. I ended up with a bottle of something that wasn’t exactly the red shade I wanted but hey, let’s adapt to the culture. I picked it from the photo.

The color was called “lila,” which they don’t teach you in Spanish class. (The Spanish speakers among you now know how this story turns out.)  I will say that the box, which because I bought it on the black market ,had undoubtedly crossed into Bolivia over the Chilean border, most likely without having paid the requisite duties. And having ridden into town on the back of a large open truck, most probably, it had seen both water and sun damage. So the picture was pretty darned faded.

A friend I met in language school, who had been in the country precisely as long as I had (that is, one month) helped me put in the color, over my red hair, and we chatted and waited. And then she started gasping as we rinsed.  “Lila” means lavender. Think “lilac.”  I had dyed my hair a wonderful light purple.

She gave me a baseball cap to cover my hair and I made my way downtown to look for a salon. I found one, walked to the desk, dramatically lifted off the cap, and simply said “¡¡¡¡Ayúdameeee!!!!” (Help meeee!).  And several lovely ladies gathered around to hug me and play with my hair and tell me it was OK. It took four hours of scrubbing and I went from a redhead to flat out black because that’s all that would cover the purple. (Ayúdame [Aye-YOU-dah-may] is a really, really helpful Spanish phrase to have in your verbal dictionary, by the way.)

I cut my hair short so it wouldn’t cost so much to color, and found a lady to take care of things in my neighborhood for a reasonable price.  Lesson: Never panic when hair is involved. Lesson two: Women “get it” when you have a bad hair day and will always be there to hug you.

The “They Raised My Rent 15%,” aka the Pepé le Pew


Eventually I went back to red, which involved a lot of scrubbing and frequent haircuts. During my first year in Phoenix, my landlord raised my rent nearly 15%, #rentalbubble. Something had to give in the budget so I finally said, screw it, it’s time to go gray.

So yeah, I went about eight months with weird red tinges on the ends of my hair, as captured in this photo next to an exit sign in Nairobi.  (I hid out for several weeks in East Africa with this hairstyle, another suggestion for when you want to go gray. Find another continent to do it on.)

So there you have it, the “how I went gray” story.  Several years ago I bought groceries at the Safeway at Shea and Scottsdale Roads.  A woman behind me in the checkout line tapped my shoulder. “Who’s your colorist?” she asks.

“God,” I said. I love saying that.



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