It was not long after moving back to Dallas from New York that I began taking notes about the way women looked. The pageantry of beauty may be old news to natives, but six years in the fashion capital of the country gave me a fresh appreciation for how intense Dallas can be.
I scribbled in the notepad I carried at all times: the towering heels. The crisp white pants. Eyelashes like butterfly wings. But there was one thing I didn’t see, and it puzzled me. Where is the big hair?
I grew up in Dallas in the ’80s, when a girl didn’t become a woman without destroying a chunk of the ozone. Mall bangs, we called it. (Also, The Claw.) As a child, I was in thrall to the razzle dazzle of Morgan Fairchild and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Later, I defined myself against it. But whether you loved that platinum flash or felt warped by it, no one could deny this was Big Hair Country.
These days, I see none of that glorious poof. I see slick, glossy hair cut to a V at midback. I see French braids slung over one shoulder like ropes. I see soft, wavy curls and sleek ponytails, styles plucked from Bravo and the pages of Us Weekly and accomplished with the modern tools of seduction: blowout bars and Brazilian straighteners and clip-in extensions. It’s a lot of hair. But it isn’t big.
“There is no big hair here!” a friend said over coffee at the Lakewood Whole Foods. She was clutching her head in frustration, because it’s a story that gets told so often. Meanwhile, she is an adorable tomboy who looks way too cool and down-to-earth to ever get cast in a Dallas reality show. And yet, she has lived here all her life.
We were complaining about the stereotypes this place gets saddled with—shallow, image-obsessed—and it’s not that those qualities don’t exist so much as they aren’t all that exists. People see a town according to a Hollywood narrative: Paris will seem romantic, even if it’s hot and too expensive. New Yorkers will seem angry, even if they’re just bored. And Dallas women will jack their hair to Jesus, even if no one under the age of 40 does that anymore. But, hey, I saw it on GCB.
And so I set out to disprove this myth about our city, but I didn’t get very far. Because no one I spoke with agreed with me.
“Oh, I wish that were true,” said Paul Neinast, who opened his first salon in Snider Plaza in the ’70s and has been fighting to lower Dallas hair ever since. “It’s not as bad as it used to be,” he admitted. But recently he went to Marquee Grill and was aghast at how many young women back-combed their hair into a sculpted orb. He pointed to the popularity of the Lady Godiva look, curls cascading down to the bra line—identified in my notebook as “that mermaid thing”—as evidence of the city’s over-the-top dos.
“Dallas women like their volume,” said Alli Webb, who opened an Oak Lawn location of her California-based Drybar blowout salon. She has a direct comparison with both markets, and I was hoping Webb would confirm my sense of changing times, but, instead, the opposite occurred. “You know that ‘higher the hair, closer to God’ saying?” she asked me. “We’ve heard that in our Dallas salon.”
I drove to NorthPark and dropped into every salon I passed. Do you think Dallas women still have big hair? Yes, yes, and oh, honey, please. Out of a dozen interviewees—which included, bizarrely, News 8 Daybreak co-anchor Ron Corning, who was getting his hair cut at the Neiman Marcus salon—I found only one naysayer.
“Dallas women are obsessed with their hair,” said Sara Newell, who manages the Renew Beauty salon. “But it’s not big. That’s not the fashion now.”
See, that’s what I think, too, but maybe we’re missing something. Maybe big hair isn’t a matter of physical height but a commitment to making more of your hair than what you were given. Maybe big hair ebbs and flows with the times, but it’s built into the bones of a city that always aspired to be more than a Texas cowtown, that became a thriving metropolis despite having none of the waterways and infrastructure generally required to do so. Maybe big hair is a willingness to walk into the buzz saw of Mother Nature every morning armed with nothing but a blow-dryer and a bottle of Biosilk, and, if so, big hair will live on as long as there is a girl in Carrollton or Mesquite or Plano with a barrel iron and a dream.
I was ranting about this one afternoon when a friend cut me short.
“You know, you kind of have big hair.”
No wonder I didn’t see it.
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