A Good Tidy-Up (To Meet The Parents) : Chapter 15

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Sarah peered out from under her umbrella through the drizzle. She had nearly reached work, and was puzzled to see another member of staff dithering outside the door. They too had an umbrella up, but Sarah couldn’t work out who it was, or why they weren’t getting inside out of the rain. The penny finally dropped as Sarah was just a few metres away, and the figure turned.

“Sophie! You cut your hair! It looks really lovely”

“Oh, thank you Sarah, I thought you’d approve.”

“Well of course I do. Is there a problem with the door?”

“No, I’m just a bit nervous about going in. I don’t really know what everyone’s going to say.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. Come on inside and tell me all about it.”

Sarah swiped her card to unlock the door, and ushered Sophie through. The foyer was empty, apart from a few umbrellas propped in the corner.

“So I thought you were going to put your hair up in a bun, didn’t it want to stay?”

“No.” Sophie smiled ruefully. “I tried on Friday night. It took me ages to get it all up, and I covered it in hairspray, and ten minutes later it was all falling down again. I’ve never been any good at putting my hair up, so I wasn’t surprised really.”

Sophie’s mind drifted back to the start of the weekend.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She had initially been quite upset about her failure to put her hair up successfully, but had pushed it to the back of her mind as she packed for the weekend. She had gone to visit her parents, as planned, on Saturday morning. She was keen to keep the peace with her mum, particularly, so she put on a long, pale yellow pleated skirt and a white blouse, that she knew her mum would like. She skipped her normal makeup routine, and finally, used a couple of the hairgrips from her failed bun to pin her hair firmly back behind her ears, so at least it should stay out of her face.

Mum had appreciated Sophie’s efforts to look nice, but had, as usual, tutted over the length of her hair and the ‘messy’ layers and highlights, and made her usual pleas for Sophie to agree to come to the hairdressers’ with her.

“It really is much too long, dear. You need a good six or eight inches taking off, at the very least.”

Sophie hadn’t responded to her, but for once, the comments had hit home, and she was becoming increasingly concerned about her appraisal on Monday. Wendy had made it clear that Sophie’s hair was to be neat and tidy, off her collar and out of her face on Monday morning, and Sophie was well aware that even the eight inches her mother wanted to take off wasn’t going to achieve that. Given her abject failure to put her hair up on Friday night, she realised that she had no option but to submit to a properly short, smart haircut, but was still paralysed by indecision. In any case, she was running out of time, fast.

Things finally came to a head after lunch, during which Sophie had hardly spoken a word. Her mother took her to one side.

“What’s wrong, darling? You’ve really not been yourself since you got here. There must be something troubling you.”

Sophie confessed everything, that she had been clashing with the office manager for months over her high heels, makeup, short skirts and most of all her hair. She needed to smarten herself up for her appraisal on Monday, but couldn’t get her hair to stay up and didn’t know what to do.

Her mother gave an exasperated sigh.

“Isn’t that exactly what I’ve been telling you? You’re working in a conservative office environment, you can’t look like you’re a student, or a hippy, or some kind of fashion model. You need a sensible, short haircut my girl. It’s time you stopped fighting it and came to the hairdressers’ with me. And it sounds like we need to go today.”

Sophie sniffed, and swallowed.

“I’m sorry, Mum. I know you’re right. I do need it cut. I know that my job is more important than my vanity, and it’s time that I faced up to what that means.” She paused. “Will you phone the hairdressers’ for me?”

Mum rolled her eyes, but picked up the phone and dialled quickly. Sophie felt relief wash over her. She might be about to lose most of her precious locks, but at least the worry and anxiety would be gone.

“Judith? It’s Mary.”

“Very well, thank you. Yourself?”

“I’m pleased to hear it. Now, Sophie is here with me for the weekend, and she’s finally accepted that she needs a sensible short haircut.”

“Yes, I know. She’s only just told me, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity after all this time, so I wondered if there was any chance….”

“Oh, no chance at all?”

“Oh well, never mind, yes, I’ll see you soon.”

Mary put down the phone, frustration etched on her face.

“It’s no good. They’re completely full, and one of her ladies has been off sick, so she said there was simply no way they could fit you in.”

Sophie looked at her, and felt all of her calmness drain away, as quickly as it had come. She started to panic.

“What! What am I going to do? I can’t go to my appraisal with my hair like this! Oh, I wish I’d just had it cut ages ago. What am I going to do, Mum?”

Mary decided to take the bull by the horns.

“Right, well, there’s nothing else for it. Go and fetch the high stool and sit yourself up in the kitchen. And get an old towel out of the bottom drawer. I’ll be there in a minute.”

She bustled off without waiting for Sophie to respond. Sophie swallowed, nervously. It was clear that she was facing a home haircut from her mum, but she couldn’t see any way out of it. She was determined that she would present herself as smartly as possible for her appraisal, and knew that she simply couldn’t do that whilst hanging on to her long hair. All the same, she had imagined that her short haircut would at least be done by a professional, and could perhaps even be somewhat fashionable. Instead, she would be getting whatever cut her mum saw fit to give her, executed with what Sophie knew was a fairly limited amount of skill.

“Well,” she thought, in desperation, “I can always go to a proper hairdresser later. The important thing is that I make the right impression in my appraisal. I’ll just have to live with the cut Mum gives me until then.”

Mum returned to the kitchen and was delighted to find Sophie obediently sitting up on the stool, with the towel tucked into the collar of her blouse.

“Good girl.” she said and set down a plastic comb, her large dressmaking scissors, and a bottle of her own Vosene shampoo. She wrestled a rubber shower head attachment onto the kitchen taps, and started to run the water.

“It’ll be much easier to cut your hair when it’s wet, dear, so I’ll just give you a quick hairwash in the sink. Come over here.”

Sophie obediently went over, pulling the grips from behind her ears, knelt on the chair her mum had dragged over, and bent her head down, allowing her long hair to spill into the sink.

“Dearie me, look what a mess this is,” commented Mary as she sprayed Sophie’s hair, leaving her spluttering. “Don’t worry dear, we’ll get this cut up nice and short and out of your face. That’ll be so much easier for you.”

She squeezed a handful of Vosene out of the bottle and proceeded to give Sophie’s head a thorough wash. The medicated coal-tar smell brought back memories of childhood, when Mum would scrub vigorously at Sophie’s short bob, and she would desperately try to keep the stinging suds out of her eyes. Being bent over her mum’s kitchen sink, her hair full of cheap shampoo, was a world away from the pampering she normally received at her trendy high street salon, but perhaps it was for the best, Sophie thought. She knew that it was her vanity that had led to Wendy’s ultimatum, and though it might be hard for her to accept, an old-fashioned home haircut from her mother would certainly help to make her a little less self-obsessed, and a little more humble.

With that in mind, Sophie made no fuss as her mum briskly combed out her towelled-off hair, making no concession to the frequent tangles she had to fight through. Mary was in no mood to waste time, and slipped the scissors into Sophie’s hair at the back of her neck.

“Right. It’s high time you had a proper haircut, young lady. You’ve had this mess for far too long, and it’s time to smarten you up.”

Before Sophie could object, she closed the scissors, and 18 inches of pampered blonde hair slid to the floor. Sophie gasped involuntarily.

“Now, don’t make a fuss dear, I’ve cut your hair plenty of times before, and you really don’t need this ridiculous long mop hanging down your back. You’ll look so much better when I’m done. Sit up straight.”

She carried on combing and snipping, and in no time Sophie’s long tresses were reduced to a blunt chin length bob.

“Much better already. Although…”

“What?”

Mary didn’t reply, but placed her scissors an inch or so higher up, right by Sophie’s hairline,  and closed them firmly.

“I think the shorter the better, for you. We need to make sure it’s well above your collar for work.”

Sophie knew that her mum was right; off the collar was exactly what the dress code specified. That didn’t make it easy though. She could feel the breeze from the open window on her now exposed neck, and realised that she was now a short-haired girl, for the first time since she had left home and escaped the regular enforced trips to her mother’s hairdresser.

Mary wasn’t finished yet, though. She combed Sophie’s hair down in front of her face, and to Sophie’s horror, held the scissors halfway up her forehead.

“Mum! Do I have to have a fringe? That’s too short!” “Now dear, you need it to stay out of your face, and with these silly layers you have, there’s really no option. Now hold still, I want to make sure it’s straight.”

Three more snips and Sophie was back in her schoolgirl bob. She had no mirror, but could feel that her fringe was as high and short as it had ever been. Mary snipped away more, widening the fringe and rounding its corners into the longer part of the bob.

“There, don’t you look like a nice smart girl, now that we can see your face again.”

“Thank you Mum.” The words came out automatically, if a little faintly.

“Now, keep still. We’re not done yet. Bend your head down. Yes, see, that still falls into your face. And there are still lots of these silly layers. I really want to get it all back to a nice neat one length. Head back up.”

Mary pulled the comb down past Sophie’s left ear and held it angled upwards towards her cheekbone. She snipped along the comb to remove the offending hair, and before Sophie could question her, repeated the process on the other side. Sophie gasped again as she realised that her hair was now barely past her earlobes. Mary ran her comb through Sophie’s brand new short bob a few times, and declared herself done.

“Hop down now. There’s no fancy blow-drys in this salon! Now your hair’s a sensible length, it’ll dry quick enough.”

She allowed herself a small smile as she admired her handiwork.

“Yes, that’s much more presentable, especially with those silly blonde bits gone. And if I have anything to do with it, it’ll be staying that way.” She looked sternly at Sophie. “If I see it getting untidy again, young lady, you’ll be back up on that stool for a haircut, and no arguments.”

Suitably chastened, Sophie could only agree. “Yes mum, I’ll make sure I keep it tidy. And thank you for cutting it today. I think I would have been in hot water on Monday if you hadn’t.”

“You’re welcome dear, I just hope you’ve learned your lesson now. Go and show your father, I’m sure he’ll be pleased to see you looking respectable again.”

Whilst Sophie had a pretty good idea what her hair would look like, she still had her heart in her mouth as she peered at her reflection in the oven door, the nearest reflective surface she could find. She felt a pang of sadness as she saw just how plain and matronly she looked and realised that even if she defied her mother, and her boss, it would be a very long time before she had anything approaching long hair again. In her heart though, she knew that this was final. Her hair was short, and it was staying that way. She was now overcome with a sense of relief. It was immediately obvious that her new haircut would require virtually no styling, saving her a great deal of time and effort, and she knew that as well as keeping her mother happy, her hair was now entirely office-appropriate, and her relationship with Wendy should be much smoother as a result.

Sophie’s father was engrossed in the paper, and didn’t look up as Sophie approached him. Feeling rather awkward, she tried to get his attention.

“Do you like my hair, Dad?”

He looked up. “Oh yes, did your mother cut it for you? Very smart. I’m sure you’ll be spending a lot less time in the bathroom now! So, tell me, how is work going? Do you think that promotion might be coming soon?”

“Well, I don’t know about promotion, but I think it’s going OK. Umm.” She took a deep breath. “The reason I had Mum cut my hair was to look smarter at work. My manager told me it was untidy, and I needed it out of my face. So I hope she’ll be pleased with me.”

“Well, I have to say that she was right, Sophie. You didn’t really look very professional with your long hair. But you’ve taken her advice to heart, so I’m sure she will be pleased with you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sophie looked up at Sarah.

“So that was it. I think it took less than ten minutes, and all my hair was left on Mum’s kitchen floor. She made me sweep it all up and put it in the bin, too. It was a huge shock, of course, but also a massive relief. I’d got myself so worked up about what Wendy said, that I was just glad to have all the stress gone, and know that I didn’t have to worry about my appraisal.

“Of course, I got ‘shown off’ at church yesterday, in one of Mum’s Sunday-best dresses, and all her friends were telling me how nice and grown up I looked with a sensible haircut and a dress, instead of my messy hair and jeans, and how much better off I was without all that ‘scruffy mess’ getting in my face. But that was OK, it was just nice to see how happy I’d made Mum.

“I know what you mean,” Sarah sympathised. “I got paraded round at church too. Mum and I had both been to the hairdressers on Saturday, so we had matching shampoo and sets. I think there were a lot of Mums who were quite envious…..”

“Ha! I’ll bet there were. Mum told everyone what had happened, and quite a few of her friends were eyeing up their daughters’ hair and threatening to get their own scissors out when they got home. There were plenty of long haired girls in jeans who were looking a bit nervous when they left!”

“I’m not surprised.” Sarah shrugged. “My mum was never as strict as yours sounds, but she always wanted my hair tidy, and out of my face, and kept threatening to have it cut short if I didn’t keep it tidy. And the number of times I was sent to wash my face, and put on a ‘respectable’ outfit…” She shook her head. “Mums don’t seem to be happy unless they have their daughters in ladylike dresses, faces scrubbed, nails trimmed, and hair cut up short and neat.”

“Well, I think both of us should have very happy mums now!” Sophie laughed. “You know, Mum sent me home with a bottle of her Vosene shampoo. She said that now I had a nice sensible haircut, then I wouldn’t be needing any of the fancy products I’d used on my long hair. And I think she might be right. The shampoo smells a bit funny, but it gets my hair really clean. And it just dries like this by itself. It really is a no-fuss haircut.

“I feel like I left all my vanity on Mum’s kitchen floor along with my long hair. I got home and packed away all of my old hair products, and makeup, straighteners, nail polish, everything. Basically, all I’ve got in my bathroom now is soap and flannel, shampoo and a comb!”

“Well it just goes to show how pointless all our vanity was.” Pointed out Sarah. “Clean faces, and neat and tidy hair are perfect for professional young women like us. And I know just what you mean about your bathroom; mine’s in pretty much the same state, except I do have some lacquer, for when I have my hair set. Today though, I just dragged a comb through it, and washed my face. It’s so nice to not spend an hour getting ready, that’s for sure!”

“Yes, that’s very true, but are you sure I look alright? It’s such a big change, I’ve had my hair long all the time I’ve been working here, what will everyone say?”

“Well, I’m sure most people will say you look lovely. Maria will probably be a bit shocked, but if she’s got any sense, she’ll have smartened herself up over the weekend too. Oh, and Stephanie on reception will probably blank you.“ Sarah smiled conspiratorially. “I don’t think she’s said a word to me since I had my hair cut!”

Reassured by Sarah’s no-nonsense attitude, Sophie headed towards the door to the office.

“Gosh, yes, I hadn’t thought about Maria. Do you think she will have cut her hair? I can’t imagine her with it short.”

“I’ve no idea.” Sarah replied. “She seemed to be doing her best to ignore it all on Friday, so who knows?”

Sarah breezed past Kevin, the tactless security guard. She had no intention of allowing any of his thoughtless comments to upset Sophie, given her lack of confidence with her new haircut. Fortunately, he seemed to have finally learned some discretion, and managed not to blurt anything out as the girls went past. Stephanie, the glamorous blonde receptionist, may have wanted to say something, but Sarah didn’t give her a chance either, simply calling out a cheery ‘Good Morning!’ as she led Sophie past without slowing down.

As the girls approached their desks, it was clear that Maria had made no concessions at all to the office dress code, despite Wendy’s insistence. Her poker-straight hair was as long as ever, and flowing unrestrained down her back. Her tightly fitting skirt stopped well above her knees, and she was back in her favourite 4-inch heels. Sarah and Sophie exchanged glances, surprised that Maria had been so stubborn, apparently not even willing to wear a sensible skirt and shoes, never mind trying to keep her hair tidy and out of her face. She turned as they approached, flicking her hair back with long red nails to reveal a full face of makeup. Her eyes widened as she took in Sophie’s appearance.

“What on earth did you do to your hair?” She demanded, in a fierce whisper. “It looks like your mum cut it with a bowl!”

Oddly, Sophie wasn’t upset by this outburst. She had been reassured by Sarah’s words earlier, and realised that Maria was suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable, as the only one of the three who was still flouting the dress code. She smiled at Maria.

“Well, she didn’t use a bowl, but yes, Mum cut it for me. I decided it was time to grow up a bit, stop being so vain, and have it cut so it’s more appropriate for the office. I know it’s a big change, but I’m actually really pleased. It’s nice to have it out of my face, and I know that I won’t be getting any more flak from Wendy.”

“Well that’s alright for you,“ Maria hissed, “but what’s Wendy going to say about me? I thought that if we both looked like we normally do, she might back down, but she’s going to come down on me like a ton of bricks now!”

“Calm down,“ Sarah tried to soothe Maria. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad. I know Wendy’s always on about hair and makeup and heels, but the important thing is your work.”

Maria simmered down slightly, but she knew that her work ethic hadn’t been all it could have been either. She couldn’t help but try to justify herself to the other two girls.

“I did think about cutting my hair, you know,” she blurted out.“ But then I thought about Andy, my boyfriend. He always says how much he likes my long hair, and tells me how sexy I look  when I flick it around.” She blushed slightly. “And I just couldn’t face it. I couldn’t face going into the hairdressers’ with my long hair, and coming out with it all cropped short, like my mum would have.” She shuddered at the thought.

“Well,” Sarah offered, practically, “there’s not much you can do now. You can’t change your clothes, and I don’t think you’ll get your hair to stay up, even if you had a load of grips and hairspray. You could go and wash your face, but I think that’s the least of your problems. You’ll just have to persuade Wendy that you’re taking work seriously, and that the way you present yourself to customers doesn’t detract from that.”

These words had a significant impact on Maria, who suddenly began to realise that the choices she made did affect how customers, and colleagues, saw her, and that perhaps ‘glamorous and sexy’ wasn’t the most appropriate image to instill confidence in her abilities. Before she could say anything though, Sophie cut in.

“Sarah’s right.” She said. “But I think we’d probably all better get to work, before Wendy gets in.”

They all saw the wisdom in that, and settled down to work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three girls’ appraisals were spread throughout the morning, with Sarah first, then Sophie, and finally Maria at 11:45.

Sarah’s appointment with Wendy was much more pleasant than the previous year’s. Sarah had made an effort to focus more on work in the last six months, which hadn’t gone unnoticed, and Wendy told her once again how pleased she was to see Sarah not merely accepting, but actually embracing the dress code, with her neatly permed hair, scrubbed face and sensible, short, clean fingernails.

“I really hope that you will be keeping up this standard of behaviour, Sarah, both in your work and your appearance. I want you to know that it has been noticed, and is very much appreciated.”

“Thank you Wendy. I’ll certainly try to keep working as hard as I can, and everyone seems to like my curls” – she reached up and patted them gently – “so I think I’ll be staying short and curly from now on.”

She came out smiling, and feeling that the day that chance had sent her into Maureen’s salon, only to emerge with her plain and sensible short layered haircut, had been a very lucky day indeed.

An hour later, she gave Sophie a smile and a thumbs up as she headed nervously into Wendy’s office.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Please sit down, Sophie.” Wendy carried on studying the paper in front of her for a few seconds, then looked up examining Sophie over the top of her glasses.

“Don’t look so nervous. I have mostly good things to say.” She allowed a very small smile to cross her lips.

“I’ve generally been pleased with your work this year; the only criticism has been that you have tended to lose focus and spend a bit too much time gossiping.”

She looked pointedly at Sophie again.

“I have also had to speak to you a number of times about your appearance, and your attitude to the dress code.” She consulted the papers in front of her. “You have been reprimanded multiple times about the length of your skirt, your high heels, long and garish fingernails and distinctly unprofessional makeup, and most of all for your hair, which was far too long, always untidy and constantly getting in your face.

“In the light of that, I have to say that I’m very pleased to see that you’re properly dressed today, and especially that you have accepted that your hair needed to be cut in order to present an appropriate office appearance. You look very smart and very professional; Well done.

“I hope that this means you have turned a corner, and that I will continue to see you fully adhering to the dress code requirements.“

Sophie relaxed slightly. “Thank you Wendy. I was determined to look smart today, even if it meant having all my hair chopped off, so I’m very relieved that you like it. And yes, I will be continuing like this. I’ve no intention of letting my hair grow again. In fact, I might even have it tidied up a bit more!

She nervously ran her hands through the inexpert bob her mother had fashioned.

“You see, I left it a bit late, and I couldn’t get an appointment, so in the end, my mum insisted on cutting it herself. I think the fringe might be a bit wonky, but I didn’t want her to cut any more off!”

“Well I think your mother did a very good job, and I’m pleased that she took charge and made sure that you’d be looking smart and presentable today.”

Sophie smiled ruefully. “Yes, I think I owe her an apology. She’s been telling me that I should have  my hair cut up short for ages, and I kept ignoring her. I wish I’d listened to her now!”

“Yes, well, we all have to learn these things in our own time. The important thing is that you’re here now, smartly dressed, with a sensible haircut and a clean face. Now it would be nice to see that hair taken right up over your ears, so perhaps you’ll bear that in mind when you have it tidied up, but I won’t, ahem, split hairs.” Wendy smiled. “I’m very pleased with how you have presented yourself today. As long as you continue to keep up these standards, and make sure that you stay focussed on your work, then I think you have a very bright future at the bank.”

Sophie left her appraisal feeling more than a little relieved, and returned Sarah’s smile and thumbs up as she returned to her desk.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The bravado that Maria had felt when getting ready that morning, determined to wear her short skirt, high heels and makeup, and to flaunt her long mane, had largely evaporated when she saw Sophie’s prim, matronly bob, and she had been getting more and more nervous as the morning wore on.

She wondered why she had been so determined to antagonise Wendy. She could have easily toned her appearance down as she had after being told off last week, and even made some sort of effort to keep her hair out of her face. Instead, she had dismissed any thought of submitting to a haircut and had instead spent Saturday morning having her nails done. She couldn’t imagine that her appraisal was going to go well, and whilst it might be tempting to put the blame on Sophie, and indeed Sarah, whose efforts had put her in a bad light, she knew that the fault was really hers. She knew that Wendy would not be happy with her, and she really couldn’t afford to be among those made redundant, if the rumours floating around the office were true.

The conversation with Sarah this morning had finally made her begin to realise that as much as she disliked it, the emphasis that the bank, and Wendy in particular, placed on a smart and conservative appearance wasn’t simply designed to frustrate her. More so than most businesses, the bank was reliant upon its customers’ trust, and rightly or wrongly, a super-glamorous image probably didn’t instill as much trust as a plain and sensible one. This had all come a little too late, though. She could certainly try to appear contrite in her appraisal, but given her appearance, how seriously would she be taken? And whilst she was coming around to the idea that she should look smarter at work, how would she cope with the reality of it? Most of all, was she actually ready to face the scissors, and the prospect of losing most of her beloved long locks? She shuddered at the thought, and at her boyfriend’s reaction if she were to turn up for their next date with the kind of sensible and tidy crop that Wendy would approve of.

Before Maria could come to any kind of conclusion, her apprehension was brought to an end as the reminder popped up on her screen that her appraisal was due. Nervously, she headed for Wendy’s office.  

 


 

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