Sarah looked in the mirror and frowned.
She had been invited to have lunch with Steve’s family again, and couldn’t decide on what to wear. Right now she was wearing the dress she had bought for her first meeting with Steve’s parents, having worn it for church that morning, which had very much pleased her mother. She smiled as she remembered the events of the morning.
Her shampoo and set had withstood being slept on, helped no doubt by her mother’s insistence that she wore a hairnet to bed – a first for Sarah. She had actually really enjoyed walking in to church with her mother, with their matching hairstyles on show, and had lost count of the number of times she’d heard some variation on how nice it was to see a ‘smartly turned out young lady’ with a ‘proper hairstyle’. That was from the older ladies, of course, who had also often taken the opportunity to bemoan their own daughters’ appearance. The daughters themselves had, by and large, widened their eyes, raised their eyebrows and steered clear, flicking their long hair back with manicured nails.
Several of the ladies had echoed Mrs. Heathcote’s comments from the day before; that they would love to have their daughters’ fussy long hair taken right off, leaving them with smart, practical and ladylike styles. Sarah wondered whether after seeing her today, some of them might be even more determined to get their daughters into the hairdresser’s chair. She smiled at the thought of one or two of the trendier girls submitting reluctantly to comb and scissors. She knew that a good deal of the congregation found the tight jeans or revealing short skirts, and ostentatious long hair inappropriate for church, and would much prefer to see all of the young ladies showing a bit more respect, and attending the service with sensible, tidy hair and modest, conservative dresses.
Mrs. Heathcote herself had clearly decided to take matters into her own hands. Her daughter was looking slightly uncomfortable in a rather old-fashioned dress which Sarah felt could only have been chosen by her mother. Her long ombre-dyed hair, which normally hung down to the small of her back, had been scraped tightly back into an immaculate bun, revealing a plain scrubbed face, and a single pair of pearl studs in her ears. Her expression, as they approached Sarah and her mother, suggested to Sarah that she was less than thrilled with her mother’s efforts.
“Hello Mrs. Eavis, hello Sarah. You’re both looking very smart. I suppose you’re learning, Sarah, that there are benefits to traditional hairstyling, like the way your hair is always neat and tidy, with very little effort.” She frowned at her daughter. “I made Rachel put on a decent dress, for once, but getting her silly long schoolgirl hair up out of her face, and looking presentable was such an ordeal!” She lowered her voice slightly, and addressed herself to Sheila. “Mainly because she wanted to leave it hanging down her back like rat’s tails. I’ve never known a girl so desperate to look untidy. She’d never sit still to have her hair combed when she was younger, and frankly, she’s not much better now.”
Rachel was rather embarrassed by this, but held her tongue, and just rolled her eyes at Sarah.
“I do know what you mean,” Sheila sympathised. “Sarah used to be much the same, but as you can see, there’s always hope that one day, they will realise that neat and tidy hair is nothing to be scared of!”
“Exactly! Now see, Rachel, it is possible for a young lady to wear a smart, traditional hairstyle. And it suits Sarah very well. Don’t you think so?”
“Mmmmm…. Yes, it’s very, errr, smart.” Rachel was somewhat lost for words. She didn’t want to be rude to Sarah, but also didn’t want to say anything that might encourage her mother to take more drastic action, such as booking her in for a nice tight perm of her own! There was a small part of Rachel that was thinking that the short tight curls did actually suit Sarah, and that she unquestionably looked more at ease with herself than Rachel did, with her uncomfortable tight bun. What she was mostly thinking, though, was that she wanted to get home, where she could swap the frumpy dress for her usual jeans, and feel her hair back around her face.
Sarah caught up with Rachel after the service.
“Hello Rachel, I just wanted to say how lovely your dress is.” She caught Rachel’s grimace. “Yes, I know you only put it on to keep your mum happy, but you look really nice in it. I do sympathise about your hair though, I know all too well what it’s like having a bossy mum who just wants it tidy and out of your face!”
“Well, thank you Sarah, and you look lovely too. I would never have imagined it, but you do actually really suit having your hair like that. And I guess it means no more fights with your mum.”
“Aww, thank you Rachel. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t have imagined it either, but I actually really like having my hair permed. And it’s really nice to see how proud Mum is too. Certainly beats constantly arguing with her.”
“Mmmm, that would be nice.” She leant closer, and lowered her voice. “Now, don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, but I was actually thinking about having my hair cut a bit shorter. Nothing like as short as yours,” she added hastily, “but we’re having some family photos done in a few weeks, for my mum’s 50th, and I know how much she’d like me to look nice and smart and respectable in them, so I thought I’d have it done as a surprise for her.” She lowered her voice even more. “And to be completely honest, I’m a bit fed up of faffing with this long mop. I could do with something that takes a bit less time.”
Sarah raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Well that sounds like a lovely idea!” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “You need to be careful though; one thing can lead to another. I popped into the hairdressers’ for a quick tidy up, and a week later, here I am with a tight perm and a proper shampoo and set.
“But seriously,” she continued, “cutting my hair off is the best decision I’ve made for a long time. It takes so much less time, and I don’t need to worry about how it looks – I know that it will just be in neat little curls whatever happens. So if you do want less fuss, then a nice simple short cut is definitely the way to go, even if you don’t have it permed.”
Rachel had thanked Sarah for her encouragement, and said that she had given her a lot to think about. Sarah smiled to herself as she imagined what might happen next. She suspected that if Rachel did submit to the scissors, then her mother would take this as encouragement, and that Rachel would find not only that her hair would be kept short, neat and tidy, but that her makeup and ripped jeans would be quickly replaced with soap and flannel, and ladylike dresses.
She shook her head and brought herself back to the task at hand. She was sure that her dress would be entirely appropriate for lunch, but Steve had off-handedly mentioned that they might go for a walk afterwards, and Sarah didn’t think that her court shoes, even with their low heels, were the best thing for walking any distance, especially if it was at all muddy. But if she took some sturdier shoes to change into, they wouldn’t look right with her dress. She explained this to her mum.
“Well dear, if I were you, I’d take a change of clothes as well. That pleated tweed skirt, and a nice twinset would be more practical for a walk, and they’d go with your brown lace-up shoes. I’m sure you can find somewhere to change, if you need to.”
Sarah saw the wisdom of this, and quickly packed the required items in a bag.
She came downstairs nervously, hoping that Steve would approve of her ‘sensible’ walking outfit. He hadn’t been quite sure what the ground would be like, but conceded that Sarah’s ‘smart’ court shoes might not be the best thing. It was Barbara, however, who she met at the bottom of the stairs. She nodded approvingly.
“Very smart, dear. And how sensible to bring a change of clothes.”
It turned out that it was only Steve and Sarah going for a walk. As they headed out of the door, she looked up some clouds in the distance.
“Do you think it will rain? I don’t have a coat with me?”
“No, you’ll be fine. The forecast said it would be dry all day, I think.” Sarah looked doubtful, but shrugged, and put her arm through Steve’s.
The rain held off until the worst possible moment, just as they were about to turn and head back home. It was only a mile or so, but that was quite long enough for them to get thoroughly soaked. They headed for a small stand of trees, which was the only cover nearby, but it soon became apparent that with the swirling wind, they weren’t anything like substantial enough to ward off the heavy shower, and the rain soon came dripping through the leaves anyway.
“Dry all day did you say?”
Steve shrugged helplessly.
“Well we might as well just make a run for it. It doesn’t look like stopping soon, these trees aren’t doing any good, and I’m sure my hair’s ruined already. That’s the last time I trust your weather forecasting!” Sarah frowned at him, but really, she knew it was her own fault for not bringing a coat. She just hoped that she wouldn’t look too bedraggled by the time they got back.
“Sorry.” Steve looked suitably shamefaced. “I’m sure that’s what they said on the radio this morning…” He saw Sarah’s face and decided it was wisest to stop there.
“Oh Goodness! What happened?” Barbara opened the door to them with a shocked expression.
“Well, it started to rain, and we hadn’t taken coats….”
“Didn’t you see the clouds Steven? They were looking very threatening just before you left, and now look, Sarah’s lovely smart hairdo has been ruined!”
“Oh dear, do I look awful?” Sarah started frantically patting at her curls.
“Oh no dear, it’s not that bad, it’s just that your set has been rather washed out, I can see your little poodle curls trying to take over! What you need to do is go and get out of those wet clothes, and have a nice hot shower to warm yourself up. Give yourself a quick hairwash and you’ll just have a lovely neat little head of curls. Steven will find you a towel. At least you’ve got some dry clothes to change into!”
Sarah stepped out of the shower, and towelled herself dry. This was the first time she had washed her hair since it was permed, and she didn’t quite know what to expect. She saw that her hair was still formed into the tight little poodle curls that Maureen had given her. She wasn’t quite sure whether to be relieved, as this is, after all, what a perm was supposed to do, or still slightly in shock at the idea that she was now a girl with a short, tight curly poodle hairdo, and there was nothing she could do to change it.
She was at least pleased that her naturally fine hair, now being cut so short, was drying very quickly, and by the time she was dressed again, a couple of minutes with her fingers and a comb had her back in a perfectly neat little head of curls. She looked in the mirror, and examined herself. She remembered how she had doubted that this dress suited her at first, but that once she had her hair cut short it had suddenly looked much better. She was surprised to realise that it actually suited her even better now, with her tight curls that had been shaped to leave her ears and forehead fully on show.
Sarah smiled to herself as she thought that if this had happened to her a week ago, not only would she have been struggling to restyle her hair, but also desperately trying to reapply her makeup. Today, though, her clean scrubbed face perfectly complemented her plain and simple bubblecut. She started to make her way back downstairs, confident that she looked perfectly presentable, but also wondering how Steve would react to her wash and go curls. He had, after all, been keen that she had her hair put into an extra smart and formal style for meeting his grandmother.
She met Steve on the landing. He had changed his clothes and run a comb through his hair, restoring the clean, straight side parting and leaving it perfectly sleek and shiny. He couldn’t contain his smile when he saw Sarah.
“I’m really sorry about getting you wet, but you do look lovely with your hair like that. Thank you so much for having it done for me.”
Sarah blushed slightly at Steve’s obvious enthusiasm. “Well I suppose I can forgive you.” She smiled. “It’s a good job I did have it cut and permed. I can’t imagine how long it would take to re-do my old hair and makeup after a soaking like that, but these curls just look after themselves. Do you think your grandma will approve though? I know you wanted me to look really smart for her.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be fine. You look lovely, didn’t I say?”
“Oh Sarah, you look just like a darling little poodle!” Grandma was clearly delighted to see the newest prospective member of her family looking so homely and mumsy. “Now tell me, are you lucky enough to be naturally curly, or do you have it permed?”
“Oh, it’s permed. In fact, I had it done just this week. Steve said that you’d really appreciate me having my hair done to look extra smart, so I let the hairdresser go really short and tight.”
“And she did an excellent job on you.” Barbara chipped in. “You can see how it’s been shaped so that you don’t have to do any styling. It just dries by itself back into a perfect little head of curls.” She turned to Tina. “And that’s exactly why I had Eileen give you a proper little bubblecut when you needed to look smart. No fussy styling needed, just neat and tidy curls all the time.”
“Mmmmm, yes, I do remember that, Mum. You do look lovely, Sarah, and it’s certainly paid off today! I hate to think how my hair would look if I’d been caught out in that rain.”
“Indeed. And that’s exactly why you should…..”
Tina laughed. “Yes, I know Mum.” She took a deep breath. “Alright. I’ll have my hair permed like you want. A proper little bubblecut, just like Sarah’s.” She gave Sarah a mischievous look. “We’ll just have to bring the poodle cut back into fashion after all!”
Steve gave Sarah a lift home, and agreed to come and and say hello to her Mum.
“Oh! What happened to your hair?”
Steve wasn’t sure which of them said it first, but he immediately realised that Sheila had also been caught out by the sudden shower. Like Sarah, her prim and formal shampoo and set had turned into a plain and simple head of short, tight poodle curls. Sarah and Sheila both burst into laughter and began speaking over each other.
“Did you get caught…”
“…didn’t have an umbrella…”
“…sure the forecast said…”
“..really should have known better…”
“..thank goodness for perms!”
Steve waited for a gap, and dived in. “I’m glad I’m not the only one who believed the weather forecast! Still, it turned out well, and you both look lovely with your hair like that.”
“Thank you Stephen. Would you like to stay for a cup of tea? I was just making one.”
“No thank you Mrs. Eavis, I’d better be getting back.”
“I’ll have one though, Mum, if you’re making one.”
Sheila bustled back into the kitchen to make the tea.
Sarah frowned. “I know you said you wanted me to have my hair permed, but do you mind that I look just like my Mum now?”
Sarah’s doubts were creeping back again. She rushed on.
“It’s not just that we’ve got the same hairstyle, but you know that she persuaded me to get rid of all my old clothes? And the new ones she bought are all the kind of thing that she’d wear; long dresses, pleated skirts, low heels. It’s all really conservative, and modest, and I sometimes feel a bit, well, frumpy.”
“Oh Sarah, I love the way you look now. You look wonderfully ladylike in your conservative dresses, and I thought you looked really smart in that tweed skirt on our walk. The rest of the world might think clothes like that are frumpy, but I’m delighted to have a girlfriend who is happy to dress modestly and not worry about what the fashion magazines tell her.
“And your hair suits you perfectly. I know how much of a commitment it was to have it cut and permed, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. It might sound a bit strange, but it’s lovely to see you looking just like your mum. I know how much she wants to see you looking like a respectable young lady, and the two of you look so happy, and just so right together.”
Sarah smiled up at him, reassured.
“Thank you darling. You’re right about Mum, and if it makes both of you so happy, then I guess I’ll be sticking with long skirts and short curls!”
Steve put his arms out to her. “Thank you so much,” he whispered. “I’m so proud of you, and I absolutely love the new, gentle, homely Sarah.”
After a long hug, and a few brief kisses, Steve took his leave and set off back home, already wondering when he would see Sarah again.
Sarah, feeling thoroughly content, went to find her mum, and swap stories about getting caught in the rain, and the benefits of a good old-fashioned short, tight perm!
Late that evening, Sarah and her mum were sitting on the sofa, watching a David Attenborough documentary. Sarah had spoken to her Nan earlier, who had told Sarah how pleased she was to have all three generations of her family in matching short, tight perms, thanked Sarah effusively for her part in persuading her mother to join them in the poodle club, and had insisted on arranging a ‘ladies day out’ when they could all have their hair done and then go for a cream tea. Sarah had also been told off for allowing her set to be ruined by the rain, and had been made to promise to always carry a plastic rain hood in her handbag from now on!
Sarah couldn’t keep herself from repeatedly stealing glances at Sheila, especially her hair. Even though Sarah had only ever seen her mum’s hair short, neat and tidy, the tight poodle perm had made a huge difference to the way she looked. Suddenly she didn’t look elegant and stylish, but rather plain and unassuming. Sarah’s fascination grew as she realised that since her hair looked exactly the same as her mother’s, everyone would now see her the same way. The only difference was that the contrast from her previous appearance was so much greater. She might even find that people who had known the old, sassy and fashionable Sarah might struggle to recognise the sweet and gentle plain-jane that she had now unquestionably become.
Sarah was now entirely comfortable with the phrase ’plain-jane’. She knew that both Steve and her mum loved her new modest and ladylike appearance, and she had very quickly come to appreciate the practical, time-saving benefits of her wash-and-go, short tight curly perm. And knowing that she was now perfectly in line with the office dress code, and would always present a completely professional appearance at work meant that she had no concerns at all about the impending staff appraisals.
Much as she had recently been astonished to realise how much time she had always wasted on styling her hair and applying makeup, she was now equally surprised to realise how little she cared about what Cosmo, Vogue, and the celebrity-obsessed media in general thought about how she, along with all other women, should look. If she was happy to keep her hair in tightly cropped curls, to dress modestly and conservatively, and to reject makeup in favour of a well-scrubbed face, then who were they to tell her that she was wrong?
Sarah went to sleep that night with a smile on her face, actually looking forward to going to work the next day, not least because she was wondering what Sophie and Maria, her two fashion-obsessed colleagues had done over the weekend to prepare themselves for their appraisals from Wendy.
Also published at: https://f35hstories.wordpress.com