MY heart quickened when I read yesterday that the perm is making a comeback.
For decades the frizzy Eighties hairdo was deemed as naff as the decade’s shellsuit.
But the look has been the subject of a DIY tutorial in fashion mag Cosmopolitan, while top model Cara Delevingne got one from celeb stylist Mara Roszak.
Big-screen stars Emma Stone and Olivia Munn have embraced the bubble bonce and perms were seen on the catwalk at designer Julien Macdonald’s 2020 show.
Before the latest lockdown, salons reported doing multiple perms a day. And since they closed, DIY kits have been flying off shelves.
When I was young, perms had fallen out of fashion. Big hair had come and gone. Like slippers with Velcro fastenings, perms were mostly favoured by old ladies.
As teenagers, we ironed our hair flat with straighteners. If we wanted curls we used tongs — a temporary look for a single night out.
But true perms are . . . permanent. They last a year at least, while your hair grows out. A chemical process resets the bonds in your hair to take the shape of whatever size curling rods you use.
Perms were being done as early as 1872, although the method — using tongs heated over a gas fire — sounds risky. In 1938, Arnold F Willatt developed the “cold wave perm” and curl fans could get the look without risking a singed scalp.
Willatt used a chemical called ammonium thioglycolate to break down protein structures in hair and create curls. The perm really took off in the Seventies, with the arrival of gentler “acid perms”.
And boy, did it take off.
Likewise on the big screen: Think Jennifer Gray in 1987’s Dirty Dancing, Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990).
But the perm’s popularity was also its downfall. When everyone had one, it stopped being cool.
And by the time Corrie’s Deirdre Barlow got it done, the look’s days were clearly numbered.
Nobody wants the same haircut as their nan.
In the Nineties, poker-straight locks took over, like those of supermodel Kate Moss.
But now a generation of girls sick of straighteners are opting again for the bouncy curls — though with less of the coiled, corkscrew look, preferring something more natural.
New techniques limit the damage to hair, such as the Japanese “digital perm” which uses infrared light and doesn’t last quite so long.
It had a bad rep but I am thrilled the perm is making waves again. See how I got on with a DIY perm kit, right.
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‘Fumes nearly knock me out’
I was terrified at the thought of giving myself a perm, writes Georgette Culley.
Ending up with a head full of tight curls and looking like footballer Kevin Keegan in the Seventies is the nightmare.
But to win a bet with my sister, who is in my bubble, I decided to give it a whirl.
All the local pharmacies had sold out of kits and I had to try several big stores before I found one.
Once home, I wash my hair and towel dry it before separating it into six sections. It takes me and my sister 20 minutes to get one perm rod in place.
After devouring several YouTube videos on how to do it we get a bit better.
Then we slather the perming lotion over the rods. The ammonia has a pungent eggy smell which nearly knocks us out.
We are supposed to leave the lotion on for 25 minutes. It feels like hours are passing and I’m sweating as I envisage the worst.
We gently rinse my hair, leaving the perm rods in.
Then we add the neutralising lotion and leave for another ten minutes before taking the perm rods out and washing my hair.
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My new curls spring up and feel really short. I start to panic and my sister’s face says everything.
“Add a purple rinse and you’re ready to get down the bingo,” she says, laughing.
Good job I’m working from home. I’ll just have to style it out until the salons open next month.
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