Stephanie’s New Start

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Stephanie nervously eyed up the entrance to the office. She was early for work, unable to sleep thinking about this moment. In fact, it had hardly left her mind all weekend.

 


 

She had found her way home on Friday in something of a daze after Wendy, her boss, had uncovered her affair with a colleague, and the illicit booking of hotel rooms to facilitate it. Rather than facing the sack, Stephanie had been taken to Jean’s, a thoroughly old-school hairdresser, where Wendy had ordered a dramatic change in her appearance.

Stephanie counted herself lucky that she hadn’t bumped into any neighbours as she let herself in. She hadn’t dared to look in a mirror until she’d sat down and made herself a cup of tea, but soon realised that she couldn’t put it off forever.

She finished her tea, and took herself upstairs to her bedroom. She sat down in front of the cluttered dressing table, carefully keeping her eyes away from the mirror until she was ready.

“Right, my girl.” she told herself. “This is it. This is how you look now, and how you’re going to look in the future. So you’d better just get used to it.”

Suitably braced, she stared straight into the mirror. Whilst she had seen herself in the salon mirror, she had been numbed by the process, and hadn’t really taken it in before Jean had ushered her out of the chair. She knew perfectly well that her long blonde tresses had been left behind on the salon floor, but seeing herself again, now in familiar surroundings, came as a considerable shock. She didn’t move for a few moments, allowing everything to sink in.

As she had expected, the resemblance to her mother was startling. As long as Stephanie could remember, her mum had worn her hair in a short, tight, curly perm, regularly trimmed to keep it neatly off her ears, and now Stephanie’s hair was virtually identical. Even the mousy brown colour was now the same, the only difference being the few grey streaks that had recently started to appear in her mother’s hair.

Mum had never been one for makeup, either, and Stephanie suddenly appreciated why. With her tousled peroxide blonde waves, she had never looked right without a facefull of warpaint, but her clean scrubbed face actually looked perfectly at home framed by her neat and tidy head of curls.

She tried imagining her usual office makeup with her new hair, and had to stifle a giggle. No, it was going to be soap and water for her from now on, at least for work, and maybe for good. With a burst of determination, she fetched a black bin bag, and swept all of her old cosmetics into it. As she did, she noticed her short, clean nails and nodded to herself. Those would be staying, too. The nail polish followed the makeup into the bin bag.

The previously cluttered dressing table now had nothing left but a comb and a can of hairspray. She looked thoughtfully at it. Light hold for soft and flexible hair. Hmmm. Not quite what Jean used, she suspected. Oh well, she could pick up something more suitable at the supermarket. She unconsciously patted her curls again, slowly becoming used to the feeling.

Feeling energetic, she looked around for what else she could do to cement the new Stephanie. Her eyes lighted on her wardrobe, and in no time she’d filled three more bin bags with her shortest, tightest and most revealing outfits. She bared her teeth in a grimace as she added several items of underwear which Adrian had bought her. Even if he’d bought the right size they wouldn’t have been remotely comfortable, and he’d made her thoroughly embarrassed by asking her to wear them to the office.

So, a trip to the charity shop was needed. Perhaps she could even pick up some replacement outfits there. Clothes that were more suited to her new look. She went to bed, much earlier than normal for a Friday night. She drifted off, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and realised just how much her relationship with Adrian had been getting to her.

The next day had been the most productive Saturday Stephanie could remember. She had, of course, wasted no time on her hair or makeup, just given her face a good wash and checked that her curls were in order. She’d put on one of her few long skirts, and a blouse she’d forgotten she had, smiling as she buttoned it all the way up to her neck. She hadn’t even bothered with her contacts, braving the outside world with the thick, plastic-framed glasses she normally never wore out of the house.

The staff at the charity shop had been delighted with her donations, and she’d left with a large bag of skirts, blouses and cardigans. Before buying each item she had asked herself ‘What would Mum think?’ Feeling thoroughly empowered, she had gone to Tesco. Along with her usual shop, she had surprised herself by venturing into the clothing section, and popped into her trolley a multipack of large, comfy-looking knickers and a couple of plain white bras. She’d then spotted some sensible opaque tights and picked up packs in navy and tan. She was sure that they’d last a lot longer than the ultra-sheer glossy ones she normally wore.

She had a brief panic when it occurred to her that she might bump into someone she knew, and wondered how on earth she would explain the way she looked. She quickly decided, though, that with all the changes, no-one would recognise her.

It was interesting, in fact, to see the difference in reactions to her. Previously, she would have put on makeup, teased her hair out and put on heels and a short, tight skirt, even to visit the supermarket. And she would have (mostly) enjoyed the many admiring glances she attracted. Today, she seemed to pass unnoticed. The quiet, mousy girl with the long skirt, short curly perm and thick glasses didn’t attract anyone’s attention.

 


 

She wasn’t going to get away with that at work, though. Everyone who came through the office door today would see her, and she dreaded to think what reactions she would get. She fished a compact from her bag and checked her reflection. There was, as Wendy had insisted, not a scrap of makeup on her pink, scrubbed face. Her curls were still perfectly in order, helped by a thorough coating of the extra-firm hold lacquer she had bought at the supermarket. She was slightly regretting her decision to go all-in, and leave her contacts at home. She had decided that her glasses looked more serious and professional, but now she just thought they made her look even more frumpy. She glanced down, checking that her long pleated skirt was straight, and her new, sensible, navy court shoes were still clean and polished.

She couldn’t find any more ways to procrastinate, so she nervously pushed open the door.

As she’d expected, Kevin, the security guard, was there. He was usually the only one in when she arrived. He glanced up, and his eyes widened.

“Er, Stephanie?” He really sounded as though he didn’t recognise her, which she supposed was only to be expected.

“Good morning, Kevin.” Stephanie had intended to sound confident, even assertive, challenging Kevin to pass comment, but instead her words sounded more timid, even shy. She dropped her eyes, confidence evaporating.

Kevin wasn’t normally the most tactful of people, but for once, realised this was exactly the kind of situation where he’d normally say something insensitive. His mind raced, tring to work out the best thing to do.

“You, er, you. Um. You look nice, today, er, Stephanie.” He stumbled out.

“Really?” Stephanie looked up. Her hands went automatically to her tight curls, patting them to ensure they were in place. Kevin gratefully latched on to her movement.

“Oh, er, yes. Er. Your hair, it, er. It suits you.” He smiled, blushing slightly.

“Thank you, Kevin.” Stephanie was blushing too. “I think I’m still getting used to it.”

Slightly awkwardly, she made her way past him, and through to the reception desk. She went automatically through her routine, hanging up her coat, putting her handbag away and logging on to the computer. As she did, she couldn’t stop thinking about what Kevin had said.

He was, frankly, just about the last person she’d expected to say anything nice to her. He was normally pretty thoughtless, verging on rude. Well, perhaps he’d turned over a new leaf. Or, a nagging little voice, insisted, perhaps he really did think she looked nice.

She was still mulling this over when Sarah arrived. Sarah had been through her own hair and style transformation a few months previously, in her case to fit in with the traditional values of her new boyfriend’s family. It had worked out well for her, Stephanie had to admit; she was now very happily married, and didn’t seem to have any regrets.

It had been quite a shock, though, when Sarah had first turned up with her sassy highlighted bob cropped into a frumpy short haircut, her face scrubbed and nails snipped short and clean. Stephanie regretted that she had given Sarah the cold shoulder at the time, feeling that her transformation had left them with little in common. She hoped that Sarah wouldn’t hold it against her.

“Stephanie! You look wonderful! You’re going to love having curly hair, you know. It’s so much less fuss.” Sarah brought her hands up to touch her own tight perm.

Stephanie felt a wave of relief flood through her. “Oh. Thank you Sarah. It still feels a bit strange, you know.”

“Oh, I do, trust me. So… what brought this on, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Stephanie took a deep breath. She had known this was coming, and had thought long and hard about what to answer. She couldn’t very well tell the whole story, without implicating both herself and Adrian, and probably Wendy too.

“Well. Let’s just say that I needed a new start. There was a situation that I was better off out of, and I decided that it’s time to focus on my career, and my family.”

“Well good for you. It takes a lot of courage to make decisions like that.” Sarah paused. “You really do look lovely, you know. You never needed all that makeup and big hair.” She smiled. “And the glasses really suit you. I never knew you wore contacts.”

Stephanie laughed nervously. “Yes, blind as a bat without them. I never dared to wear these out of the house before. I just thought they looked, well…” She tailed off.

“A bit too ‘sensible’ for the old Stephanie?”

“Yes, I suppose so. But the new Stephanie is all about sensible. Tidy hair, a clean face and my glasses. Look, I’m even wearing flats!” She stuck a leg out from behind the desk to show Sarah.

Sarah smiled. “Yes, my heels all went to the charity shop. I expect you’ll be needing a wardrobe overhaul too?”

“I had a trip to the charity shop, too, but yes, I probably need to do a bit more shopping.”

“Would you like to go after work, on Friday? Payday, you know.”

“Oh, that would be lovely. Thank you Sarah.”

 


 

“Er, Stephanie?”

She looked up from her screen. It was four days since Stephanie had first appeared in the office with her tight curly perm and clean, soap and water face. She’d had overwhelmingly positive reactions, apart from Adrian, unsurprisingly, who had completely ignored her. She allowed herself a tight little smile as he walked past her each morning, his face sullen below the gleaming, neatly side parted hair.

She had heard the rumour that it was Adrian’s wife who had nagged him into cutting his hair. She was pretty sure that she knew better, and wondered if it was Adrian or Wendy who had started the rumour. She had simply told anyone who asked about her dramatic makeover that it had been time for a change, and thankfully, no-one seemed to have made a connection between her and Adrian.

“Yes, Kevin, what can I do for you?”

“Er, it’s er, your um. Your ID badge.” Kevin seemed inexplicably tongue tied, and unable to look Stephanie in the eye.

She glanced down at the badge.

“What about it?”

“Well, you, er, that is, Wendy said that you need a new one.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Well, er, you, um. You don’t look much like the picture any more.”

Stephanie considered the photo. The girl looking back at her had long peroxide blonde waves falling over one eye, and a heavily made-up face. She bore little relation to the girl currently wearing the badge with her tight brown curls and thick glasses. Stephanie smiled.

“No, I suppose I don’t. Do you need to take a new photo then?”

“Er, yes. We can do it now, if you can spare a minute?”

Stephanie followed Kevin over to a quiet corner where the light was good. She stood up straight in front of the blank wall, and tried to smile naturally.

“Uh, yeah, that’s great. One more, just in case…. Great, I’ll, uh, get a new badge printed up. Shouldn’t take long.” Kevin waved the little digital camera aimlessly.

 


 

Stephanie’s eyes flicked back and forth between the two badges. Kevin had been as good as his word and printing the new badge had only taken a few minutes. The contrast between the old and new images was even starker when they were right next to each other, and for the first time she started to wonder whether she’d made a terrible mistake.

Whilst she knew that she was better off out of the disastrous relationship with Adrian, she would, at some point, like to have another boyfriend, though this time definitely not married, and less of a prat. But who would give her a second glance when she looked like this?

“It’s, er, quite a change.” Kevin was hovering around her desk, Stephanie wasn’t quite sure why.

“Yes.” She sighed. “And I do wonder if…” She tailed off.

“I think you look really nice.” Kevin suddenly blurted out. “Without all that makeup, and with your hair like that, you look really pretty.” He blushed, and looked away. Stephanie was bewildered.

“Uh. Really?” She asked, doubtfully. “You think I look better now?”

“Yes!” Kevin insisted, taking the chance she offered. “Much nicer. Ever since you, well, since you changed everything. Before, you were a bit, well, oh, I don’t know.” He took a deep breath, steeling himself. “Er, would you like to come out? For a drink or something? With me?”

Stephanie blinked. Had he really just said what she thought he’d said? And if he had, then what should she do about it? She really hadn’t thought that way about Kevin before. She suddenly felt ashamed as she realised that the old Stephanie, obsessed with glamour and prestige, wouldn’t have considered dating the security guard. Well, she’d seen what happened when she dated her high-flying boss. Perhaps she would be better off with someone more down to earth. And now she actually looked at him, Kevin wasn’t unattractive. And he had been genuinely nice to her all week.

Kevin was desperately trying to keep a lid on his emotions. He had never been very confident around women, and it had taken a lot of nerve to ask Stephanie out. He had no idea what she was thinking, and was almost on the point of blurting out the question again when she finally answered.

“Yes, Kevin, I’d love to. And thank you.” She smiled, shyly. “How about The Swan? Saturday? About eight?”

“Yes. Er, yes, that would be, er. Great.” He left, beaming, almost tripping over his own feet as he went through the door. Stephanie watched him go, shaking her head. What had she let herself in for?

 


 

“What do you think?”

Stephanie was trying to sound confident, but this really was new territory for her. All of the clothes she’d normally wear on a first date had gone to the charity shop, and anyway, Kevin had made it pretty clear that he preferred the new, toned down and smartened up Stephanie.

So she had enlisted Sarah’s help. Her relationship with all of the other girls in the office had improved enormously since her makeover. She had realised that in the past, she had been rather judgemental about her colleagues’ appearance, in particular when some of them had, at Wendy’s insistence, brought themselves into line with the dress code. She had been rather dismissive of the sensible short haircuts, clean faces and trimmed nails, seeing this as a surrender of their identity.

Since her own transformation though, she had been welcomed with open arms, and now felt much more a part of the group. Sarah had been especially welcoming, and Stephanie truly felt that she had made a new friend.

They’d gone shopping on Friday, and she’d bought a new dress. Stephanie really hadn’t been sure, although Sarah assured her that she looked lovely in it, and her doubts were only increasing. Sarah had offered to come and help her get ready, and provide some moral support.

“Oh, Stephanie, you look wonderful!” Sarah sounded much more enthusiastic than Stephanie felt. She looked doubtfully in the mirror. The dress fell well past her knees, had long, full sleeves buttoned at the wrist, an elasticated waist, and a high neckline. It could hardly be further from her usual ‘going out’ outfits.

“Do you really think so?”

“Yes, of course. Look, if Kevin liked you in short skirts and tight tops, he’d have asked you out before. It’s pretty obvious that he likes the new Stephanie – ladylike and conservative.”

“But isn’t this a bit, well, prim and proper?”

“Yes it is. Wonderfully prim and proper, and I’m sure that Kevin will love you in it.”

“Well, I hope so. And you really think that I shouldn’t put any makeup on? Not even a bit of lippy?”

“That’s right. You’re really pretty, you know. You don’t need makeup to look good.”

Stephanie sighed. They’d been through this three times already, and Sarah was adamant that she should go on her date bare faced, something the old Stephanie would never have even considered.

“Oh well,” she sighed. “I suppose at least it saves me some time.”

She crossed to the mirror, and briefly fussed with her hair. She had at least been able to wash it a couple of times now, since the perm, and the chemical smell had faded. The curls, though, were as tight as ever. She picked up the extra firm hold hairspray, and gave her curls a good blast.

“Something else that doesn’t take any time.” Sarah smiled.

“No, it still seems strange to not have to spend an hour doing it every morning.”

Sarah laughed. “You’ll get used to that. Mind you, I did spend an hour in the salon with Mum this morning, having a shampoo and set.”

“Mmmm, yes, you do look very, um, smart.” She tailed off.

“But a bit old fashioned?” She waved away Stephanie’s attempted apology. “Don’t worry, I know what you mean. But Mum really loves that we go to the salon together, and I quite like to have it done a bit more formally for church.” She patted her primly set waves, a little self-consciously.

Stephanie’s expression spoke volumes. She might just about be getting used to the idea of short hair and long skirts, but she couldn’t imagine walking out of the hairdressers with the kind of stiff, lacquered bubble that would make her look twenty or thirty years older.

 


 

Stephanie let herself back in and closed the door behind her. She’d had the most wonderful night. She and Kevin had got on terrifically, and he’d been the perfect gentleman.

Much to her relief, he’d told her that he loved her dress, and had, slightly stammeringly explained that he had always been a bit intimidated by her ultra-glamorous appearance, never feeling that she was the kind of girl that he could possibly ask out.

She had coyly asked him what had made him change his mind, and he’d told her that the thing that had really struck him was that she’d changed her hair colour, from the bright peroxide blonde she’d painstakingly maintained for the last few years back to her natural, plain, boring brown.

“It just made you seem more, well, real.” she remembered him saying. “Like you suddenly weren’t pretending to be someone else, and you were happy to accept yourself. And without all that makeup on, you look, well, less glamorous, I suppose, but much nicer.”

Despite what Sarah had repeatedly told her, and the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Kevin had asked her out a week after she had cut her hair, Stephanie still hadn’t quite believed that anyone would actually find her more attractive with her face scrubbed, and her extremely plain, short, tight curly perm. But that was what Kevin seemed to be telling her.

Now, as she happily got herself ready for bed, she smiled ruefully as she thought of all the time, and money, that she had been throwing away on trendy hair salons, nail bars and expensive designer outfits. If Kevin was to be believed, she should just have had her hair cropped short and neat at the local hairdressers, kept her nails short, her face clean, and filled her wardrobe with sensible skirts and blouses from M&S.

 


 

“Hello dear, pop your coat over there and I’ll be right with you.”

Stephanie did as she was told, and settled into Jean’s chair. She slipped her glasses off, realising that without them, she couldn’t see a thing, and would simply have to trust her hairdresser. She was bent forward over the basin, and given a quick but thorough shampooing.

“Just a good tidy up is it dear? This colour has taken very well. And it’s a good match. You’d never know that you used to have that horrible bleached mess on your head.”

Stephanie winced. “Er, yes please. I just need to get it looking neat and tidy for work on Monday.”

“That’s no problem at all. I know that Wendy likes all you girls to have it right off your ears, and a nice clean neck.” Jean started to work away with comb and scissors, trimming Stephanie’s hair neatly off her ears and collar.

“Are you doing anything nice this weekend, dear?”

“Oh, well, I’m meeting my new boyfriend’s parents, later. I’m a little bit nervous about it, to be honest.”

“Well, we’d better make sure that you’re looking your best then. Don’t worry, just leave everything to me.”

Stephanie relaxed, allowing the rhythmic snips of the scissors and the noise of the busy salon to lull her into a daze. It wasn’t until Jean was winding the third or fourth roller into her hair that she twigged that something was up. She squinted into the mirror.

“Uh, what are you doing? Surely I don’t need another perm yet?”

“Oh, no dear. This is just a shampoo and set. We want you looking your best to meet your new mother-in-law, don’t we?”

“Oh, er, no, I er, I really don’t want to…”

“Shhh, dear. Don’t worry, this is my treat to you. It’s a pleasure to be giving a young lady like you a really smart and formal hairstyle. I’m sure that your boyfriend, and his family, will appreciate that you’ve made the effort to look your best for them.”

Stephanie sighed, imperceptibly. She was aghast to think that she might end up with the kind of stiff, formal, lacquered bubble that Sarah seemed to think was appropriate for church, but couldn’t see how she could get out of it without causing a scene. Oh well, she supposed that she could always wash it out if she hated it. She sat back and tried to relax as Jean continued to roll her hair up on the spiky plastic tubes.

Jean finished winding Stephanie’s hair, covered it with a thick white hairnet, and led her across the room. She squeezed into a vacant seat between two older ladies, their white hair tightly rolled and netted just like hers. Jean lowered the elderly hood dryer over her head and fiddled with the controls until a gale of hot air surrounded her.

Stephanie put her glasses back on and nodded and smiled at the ladies on either side of her, not quite sure whether to say anything.

“Hello, dear. I don’t think I’ve seen you in Jean’s before?” The lady on her left spoke very loudly. Stephanie wasn’t sure if she was a bit deaf, or if it was just to counter the noise of the dryers.

“Er, no, I, er, I haven’t been coming here very long. And this is the first time I’ve had a, er, a shampoo and set.” The words felt strange coming out of her mouth.

“Well don’t worry, dear. Jean does the best sets. My hair always stays lovely and tidy all week.”

She peered owlishly at Stephanie through her old-fashioned bi-focals.

“It’s nice to see a young lady in here, getting a proper hairstyle, don’t you think, Mary.” She addressed the lady on Stephanie’s right.

“Eh? Oh, yes, you’re quite right, Doris. I’ve been trying to drag my daughter-in-law down here ever since she and Charlie got married, but she won’t hear of it.”

Doris nodded sympathetically. “Oh yes, I know just what you mean. Youngsters these days just don’t seem to appreciate traditional hairstyling, I can’t think why.”

“Well she insists on keeping her hair halfway down her back, in those awful stringy rat’s tails. And the way she’s always flicking it back out of her face, it drives me potty. She’d look so much nicer with a neat little shampoo and set, like you’re having, dear.” She smiled approvingly at Stephanie.

“Oh, er, thank you.” She smiled back as Jean bustled over and lifted the hood from Mary’s head.

“That’s you dry, Mrs. Wilson. Let’s get you combed out.”

Stephanie watched, captivated, as Mary’s pristine white curls were teased out into a series of tight waves, swept firmly back from her forehead and over her ears. Jean picked up the hairspray and doused her creation liberally, shielding Mary’s face with her hand.

“There you go Mrs. Wilson. That’s you neat and tidy for another week.” Stephanie’s eyes followed her out of the salon. Would Jean do the same to her? Would she be walking out of the door with the same style that Jean gave to all of her little old ladies? She checked her watch. At least she should have time to go home and wash it out before Kevin picked her up. She smiled nervously as Jean came to take her out from under the dryer.

“Right then Stephanie. Let’s see just how smart we can make you.”

Stephanie’s rollers were quickly removed and Jean started to vigorously tease her curls out. True to form, she set about replicating the style that she gave to most of her older clients, who still preferred the formality of a traditional shampoo and set. It simply didn’t occur to her that she should do anything different. Stephanie was just another head of hair to be made neat and tidy.

Stephanie watched in the mirror as she was turned into a brunette replica of Mrs. Wilson. Looking in the mirror, she thought that she looked at least twenty years older with the tight waves, primly set high off her forehead and ears. Jean was coming to the end of her labours as Stephanie’s phone pinged. She thumbed the screen to see the text from Kevin.

Hi Babe, Mum just called, they’ve got to go out later, so she asked if we could come over earlier? I told her that was fine. I’ll pick you up from the hairdressers, OK? Kx

Stephanie suddenly felt a wave of panic. No chance to wash this out now. Kevin, and his parents, were going to see her with her hair in Jean’s very best formal shampoo and set.

Oblivious to the turmoil in her client’s head, Jean picked up her hairspray and proceeded to cement Stephanie’s immaculate waves into place, leaving her hair gleaming in the fluorescent lights. She whisked the cape away.

“There you are, and don’t you look lovely!”

Stephanie turned her head back and forth to better examine the style that Jean had given her. She reluctantly admitted to herself that it was very well executed, and she did look extremely smart. Her panic subsided a little, and she tried to think rationally about how Kevin would react to her looking like one of Jean’s usual little old ladies.

Well, she thought to herself, if he doesn’t like it, he’ll just have to live with it. He knew I was having my hair done so I looked neat and tidy for meeting his mum and dad, and I expect Jean’s right; his mum will probably love it.

“Thank you Jean.” She tried to sound as though she really meant it, not quite sure who she was trying to convince. “It does look really smart, and I’m sure that Kevin’s family will appreciate it.”

“You’re very welcome, my dear. It’s so lovely to give a young lady a proper, traditional hairstyle. Now, there’s a little bit of drizzle in the air. I don’t suppose you have a rain bonnet, do you?”

Jean didn’t wait for an answer, but plucked a clear plastic hood from a display and tied it snugly over Stephanie’s curls. She smiled broadly and led Stephanie to the cash register.

 


(with thanks to hairscribe)

Also published at https://f35hstories.wordpress.com/  

3 responses to “Stephanie’s New Start

  1. Mmmmh, this truly gives me a hard time, my hair down mid back and yeah your traditional make over scenarios and your writing is like mouthwatering, taken place next to stephanie and getting the hair cut to 1 1/2 inch and then the red rods will do the deed ….. grrrr ….. and for the tale, yes men are out and appreciate a lovely prim and proper dressed girl with a perm style hairdo ….. i personally love those victorian back buttoned lace ruffle blouse, like McClintock designed in the 70’s and 80’s and add a long pleated skirt, that’s perfect ….. so great tale, thank you

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