Claire was still pondering the implications of Sheila’s supposedly reassuring speech, and wondering if she really was ready to commit fully to being the smart and conservative young lady that everyone seemed to want her to be. Everyone except, perhaps, her boyfriend, who almost certainly wasn’t expecting his girlfriend to turn up for their next date with a prim and proper little poodle cut! As she was thinking, however, the decision was being taken out of her hands, as Carol put down her scissors and turned to Sheila.
“How’s that for you? Enough taken off?”
Sheila looked, frowning. “Well it is off her collar, but only just. I think we can do better than that. Can you raise her hairline up a bit please? I want to see plenty of nice clean skin above her collar. Let’s make sure that hair stays off her collar for a good while.”
“Yes, I think that will be better for her. Head down, please.”
Carol bent Claire’s head firmly forward, and ran her comb and scissors repeatedly up the lower part of Claire’s neck, until she was happy that her hairline was raised high enough to make sure that she complied with Mrs. Jones’ strict requirements. She then picked up a small pair of electric clippers. They made a sharp buzzing noise as she flicked them on.
“Hold still, now.” Carol applied the vibrating clippers to Claire’s neck, carving out a sharp hairline and ensuring that there was nothing but clean skin between there and the collar of Claire’s blouse. She then lowered the chair, and bent Claire over towards the shampoo basin.
“We’ll just give this a quick wash, and then get you rolled up nice and tight.” She started to run warm water over Claire’s newly-cropped head and quickly had her lathered and rinsed. Claire couldn’t quite believe just how quick and easy the hairwash was, compared to the long and messy process that her previous long mane had required. Perhaps there were some benefits to short hair after all!
Carol sat her back up again, quickly towelled her hair and combed it through. She then took the front and centre section of Claire’s hair, folded a small piece of paper around it and rolled it tightly on a small plastic rod. The rod was fastened in place with its rubber strip, and Carol moved on to the next section. She had done this hundreds, if not thousands of times before, and it showed. She worked quickly, and before Claire knew it, she had a head full of tightly-wound perm rods and a protective strip of cotton wool around her head. Without any further ado, Carol snipped the top from a bottle of perm solution and carefully soaked each of Claire’s rods. Finally, Claire watched as a plastic cap was stretched over her rollered head and Sheila beamed at her.
“There, that wasn’t too bad, was it? You just need to sit there a little while for the perm to do its job, and make your hair nice and curly. Would you like a cup of tea, while you’re waiting?”
“Yes please.” Claire was feeling relieved, if anything, now, as she felt that she was past the point of no return. She was going to be leaving here as a young lady with a short, tight, old fashioned perm, and there was nothing she could do about it. She simply had to focus on the positives; her mother would be delighted, Mrs. McCluskey would be placated, and she would save countless hours every week from not needing to wash, dry and style her long locks. She sipped her tea and wondered, again, how Frank would react to suddenly having a girlfriend with short curly hair. Well, he would just have to accept it, like everyone else. It had been made very clear to her that she needed a smart, practical hairstyle for work, and if that meant that she no longer looked like a glamorous, trendy girl, and instead appeared as a plain, neat and tidy conservative young lady, then so be it.
She finished her tea just as Carol bustled over to her to check whether the perm had taken. She unwound a single curl, examined it closely, and then pronounced herself satisfied.
“Right young lady, back to the basin, and we’ll get you rinsed off, and then neutralised.”
Once rinsed, Carol gave Claire a gentle warning. “Now I’m afraid this is the bit that no-one likes, especially the first time. I’m afraid the neutraliser doesn’t smell too nice, but it’s only on for a few minutes, and it’s the most important part of the process; this is what makes your curls permanent.”
Carol was right; Claire didn’t enjoy the neutraliser, but she knew that she had no choice, so she gritted her teeth and waited patiently until Carol once again declared that it was time to rinse her hair. Once rinsed, Claire was turned away from the mirror, and Carol carefully removed each of the rods. She turned to Sheila.
“Did you want to have her hair set, or are we just going to send her home looking like a sweet little poodle?”
Sheila considered. She had half expected Claire to balk at the suggestion of a perm, and end up just having her hair cut neatly off her collar and over her ears, as Mrs. McCluskey had required. Since Claire had submitted to the perm rods though, there was now the question as to how she should be ‘finished off’. Sheila expected that the plain and simple, short curly perm would be the more practical style for Claire to wear most of the time, but then again, she was rather enjoying the degree of control she had over Claire, and quite liked the idea of prolonging the experience.
“A proper set I think. It will be good for Claire, and her mother, to see just how smart she can look if she needs to. Nothing fancy, just neat and tidy and out of her face.”
Claire rolled her eyes, but said nothing. So she was going to end up underneath one of the big hood dryers she had seen through the window, and would be leaving here with not just a short, tight perm, but with her hair primly set into (she assumed) the kind of stiff, lacquered bubble that her mother would occasionally wear for formal occasions. Oh well, she thought, she could always wash it out! Carol picked up her comb again, and began to section Claire’s hair, winding each section onto a spiky plastic roller. As the rollers were bigger than the perm rods, it wasn’t long before Claire was completely rolled up. Carol quickly applied setting lotion to each roller, fastened a net around the rollers and finally removed Claire’s cape. She was then led across to one of the dryers.
“We’ll just pop you under here for a few minutes, then get you combed out and ready to show the world what a smart young lady you’ve become!” Carol smiled as she pulled the hood down over Claire’s head and turned it on, leaving Claire isolated from the rest of the world.
With Claire unable to hear, Carol turned to Sheila once again, and raised her eyebrows.
“Well that went better than it might have done. I was expecting her to kick up quite a fuss, but she seems to have accepted that she needs to look respectable, and is happy to do whatever you tell her.”
“Yes, she’s been a very sensible girl. Just like Christine, she just needed a little push, and someone to guide her, and make sure that she got properly smartened up.”
“Well it certainly makes a change for me to be sending a young lady home looking so smart. It doesn’t seem to occur to most of them these days that they would give a much better impression of themselves by dressing respectably and keeping their hair cut short, so that they look sensible and tidy.
“I quite agree. You just have to look around the town to see so many silly girls with absolutely no sense of decorum. All fake hair and nails, and showing far too much of themselves. Still, not this one though. Claire here is going to be looking very neat and tidy from now on with that lovely tight perm you’ve given her, and I somehow think she’ll find that when she’s wearing such a conservative hairstyle, anything other than conservative clothes will just look silly.”
“Oh yes, you’re quite right. I think it will be sensible skirts and blouses from now on for her. And you were quite right to make her cut her nails and scrub her face before she came. She’ll be leaving here looking every inch a smart, presentable young lady.”
“Well she’s certainly going to make her mother very proud, looking like that. Smart daughters make happy mothers!”
“They certainly do. I should adopt that as my new slogan! I’d love to get a few more mums bringing their scruffy, long haired daughters in for a good smartening up.”
They chatted away for a few minutes, until the timer attached to the dryer pinged, and Carol walked back over to release Claire from her captivity. She was led back to the worn salon chair where Carol placed a smaller, lace-trimmed cape around her neck. She quickly removed the rollers from Claire’s head, leaving perfectly formed tubes of hair, which she then began to vigorously comb and tease into a classic ‘shampoo and set’ look. Claire’s hair was forced back and away from her face, and the tight rolls were eased together, leaving a smooth bouffant helmet. The curls at the sides were, as required by Mrs. McCluskey, above her ears, and the tightly curled hairline at the back was comfortably above the collar of her blouse. When Carol was satisfied that Claire looked respectable enough, she put down her comb and handed Claire a clear plastic shield. Claire looked puzzled.
“Hold that in front of your face, dear. You don’t want to get lacquer in your eyes!”
Claire did as she was told, and Carol picked up an enormous can of lacquer and proceeded to thoroughly coat Claire’s primly set curls. She eventually finished, leaving Claire with the feeling that her hair would now withstand hurricane force winds. She gingerly put up a hand to feel it but was sharply admonished by Carol.
“Don’t touch it yet! We need to let it dry, and then give you another coat.” She fussed with her comb where Claire had touched her hair, returning the few stray hairs that had been dislodged back to their prescribed place.
“I always like to give my ladies two coats of lacquer, just to make sure that they stay looking as smart as possible for as long as possible. It’s especially important after a perm though, as you can’t wash your hair for three or four days, so we have to make sure that the set lasts.”
“So much for washing it out”, Claire thought. It seemed she would be stuck with the stiffly lacquered set for several days, whether she liked it or not. She wondered again what kind of reactions she would get to her new appearance. She was sure that as well as her mum, the rest of her extended family would approve. She had been something of an exception in the family, as her aunt had an identical perm to Claire’s mum, and her two daughters, Claire’s cousins, had followed family tradition and submitted to neat and tidy short haircuts shortly after their eighteenth birthdays. Claire recalled them both being somewhat apprehensive about losing their long locks, but neither put as much stock in their appearance as Claire did, and once they had been cropped, as far as Claire could tell, they were happy to have their hair kept short and neat.
Claire had spent the last few years fending off suggestions that it was high time for her to follow suit, and dreading any family gathering, knowing that it would result in pointed questions about when she was finally going to toe the line, and defer to her mother by agreeing to a short haircut of her own. She smiled to herself as she thought of the next such occasion, and how pleased her aunt and grandmother would be to see that she had now fallen into line, and in fact had gone further than either of her cousins by allowing Carol to give her a no-nonsense tight perm. Her smile got a little wider as she realised that she could even turn the tables, and ask sweetly when her two cousins would be fully embracing the family tradition and honouring their grandmother’s often-expressed wish to see all three of her granddaughters with neat little heads of short curly hair.
The reaction from her friends, of course, was another matter entirely. Most of them kept their hair and nails long, just as Claire had, and wouldn’t be caught dead without full make-up, fashionable outfits and high heels. With the dramatic change in her appearance, she could imagine walking past some of them unrecognised, but if and when she did speak to them, she imagined their reactions would range from laughter to scorn. She somehow couldn’t imagine many of them telling her how nice she looked, or indeed wanting to spend much time with her. However, as Claire pondered on this a little more, she realised that this might not be absolutely true of all of her friends.
Over the last couple of years, there had been a few girls who had become rather more settled down, partied rather less and started to dress a little more conservatively. As she had, until now, remained firmly in the young, free and partying crowd, she had seen much less of these girls, but now that she put her mind to it, she realised that one or two of them had even gone so far as to sacrifice their long hair and opt for smart and practical short cuts. None had, as far as she knew, been committed enough to adopt an off-the-ears tight curly perm like hers, but perhaps among these young ladies she might find a kindred spirit or two.
Coinciding with Claire’s newly positive frame of mind, Carol once again began to coat her tidy curls with the sticky lacquer, until she was satisfied that Claire’s hair would keep its shape until she was able to wash it.
“There!” she pronounced, thoroughly satisfied with herself. “I think we can safely say that Mrs. McCluskey, and your mother, will be pleased with how smart you look. Don’t you think so, Mrs. Jones?”
“Oh yes,” replied Sheila, “There’s really nothing nicer than seeing a long scruffy head of ‘rat’s tails’ all cut up short and turned into a lovely neat little head of curls. I’m sure your mother will be absolutely delighted!
“It really is lovely to see a young lady looking so smart, especially knowing that it isn’t going to be a one-off. Now you’ve adopted a traditional ladies’ hairstyle, I’m quite sure that you’ll find yourself naturally dressing in nice, smart conservative outfits, and keeping your nails short and your face clean. And that, I’m quite sure, will make your mother very proud and very happy!”
As Sheila was gushing over Claire’s appearance, Carol had removed the small cape and allowed Claire out of the chair. She looked across the salon, and saw herself in a full length mirror. Odd as it may sound, Claire hadn’t really looked in a mirror while she was in the salon. Everything had passed in something of a blur, and she had just let it wash over her. Now, with Carol’s handiwork complete, was the first really good look she had at her new appearance. There was no mistaking that she now looked very smart and very conservative, and quite unlike most girls her age. There was also no doubt that her mother would, indeed, be delighted with the hairstyle she had been given.
Her neat, lacquered bouffant was very similar to the way her mother and aunt would have their hair styled for special occasions, and Claire suspected she may well find herself with a matching style on the next such occasion. If so, that would at least be preferable to the ordeal of her grandparent’s wedding anniversary dinner last year. On that afternoon, she had spent over an hour in the salon having her long hair pulled, tugged, pinned and sprayed in order to have it put up to her mother’s satisfaction. Claire had known that any complaints would result in her mother pointing out that short hair would be much easier to deal with, and suggesting that the hairdresser get her scissors out, so had consequently kept quiet! A smart shampoo and set, as she now realised, would not only be much quicker and less uncomfortable, but would also mean that she would fit in much better with the other ladies present, which hadn’t ever been the case with her long hair, even when it was put up as neatly as possible.
It was also immediately clear that Sheila had been correct that Claire’s new appearance was not going to be a one-off. She tried to picture herself wearing some of her favourite outfits with her new hairstyle, and realised that she would look ridiculous. She tried again, mentally replacing the formal set with the tight curly perm which she knew would appear when her hair was washed. That didn’t really make any difference. The conservative skirt and blouse she was wearing now though, looked perfect. Claire reluctantly concluded that as that her hair matched her mother’s, then her wardrobe would have to match too. It followed that she would likely be wearing very little makeup, if any, and her nails, as Sheila had suggested, would be staying short and clean. Claire consoled herself with the thought that this would save her both time and money, and also with the knowledge that she would be making other people very happy. She was well aware that her continued refusal to adopt a smart, presentable hairstyle had been a cause of considerable frustration to her grandmother. Now that Claire had finally put her commitment to her family ahead of her own vanity, she knew that she could look forward to a much happier relationship with her grandmother, having demonstrated that she really did respect the traditional values that were so important to her.
Feeling entirely positive about the morning’s events, Claire turned to Carol with a big smile on her face.
“Thank you Carol, you’ve done a wonderful job. I’m quite sure that this is the smartest my hair has ever looked. I’ll be very proud to go into work tomorrow, and show Mrs. McCluskey that I can look neat, tidy and respectable. And you’re quite right Mrs. Jones; my mother, and especially my grandmother, will be so pleased to finally get their wish, and see me looking like a conservative young lady. So thank you too. I’d never have been confident enough to walk into a hairdresser’s and ask them to cut my hair off, never mind having a perm, but it was absolutely the right thing, so thank you for taking charge, and making sure that I ended up with the hairstyle that I needed, even if it wasn’t what I thought I wanted.”
Sheila beamed back. “You are very welcome, my dear. It was an absolute pleasure to help you smarten yourself up, and it’s even nicer that you appreciate it, and understand how much it will mean to your family. No, no, put your purse away. Carol, please charge this to my account. It hardly seems fair for you to pay when you didn’t get any say! Just promise me that you will be keeping yourself looking like a properly smart young lady from now on.”
“Well I don’t think I’ll have much choice in that. I’m sure that Mum will make sure that my hair is kept neat and tidy now, and I expect she’ll be keeping on top of my wardrobe, too. No jeans, nothing revealing, and no heels if she gets her way. Lots of nice smart dresses, skirts and blouses though.” Claire smiled though, realising that she was actually looking forward to this. It would be nice not to argue with her mum about what she was wearing, and sharing clothes, as they were bound to now, would only bring them closer together.
Claire thanked Carol and Sheila one final time, and strode confidently out of the door. Once out on the pavement, she took out her phone and dialled.
“Hello Christine, it’s Claire from the optician’s”
“Oh, hello Claire. How are you?”
“Well I’ve had a very interesting morning, and I thought you should be the first to know…..”
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