Wednesday, November 05, 2003
For the past couple of years I've sported my own version of the Compton Street Crop, that low-maintenance haircut of the metropolitan gay man with incipient bald spot and sod-all imagination. Number two on top and number one at the sides please, mate (or a four and a three for queens like me who could never take seriously all that "straight-acting" bollocks in the first place).
It's all so simple, you see. A brief buzz of the electric clippers, a quick click-clicketty-click of the scissors, and it's all sorted, and you're out of the door before your pint of Stella next door has even gone flat. No need for pomade, or styling gels, or any other poncey products. And, what's more, you lucky old homosexual, you, you get to look just like everybody else on Old Compton Street. My, and isn't that nice?
But now I feel it's time to reassert what’s left of my individuality and independence, and grow my hair back again. I doubt I'll ever let it get as long as it was in the early nineties though, when I dandified my downtown way in frock-coat and breeches, tresses tied back with dark-green velvet bow, coming over all Byronic but looking just moronic.
So, a few days ago, I decided that, if I really was going to go with the over-the-collar look, then I'd better get the thing cut and restyled properly. And so, for the first time in about three years, I contemplated that urban nightmare known as: Getting Your Hair Cut At A Posh And Trendy Salon.
The intimidation begins even before you enter the place, when you telephone for an appointment. Back in your long-hair days when you were a regular at this particular establishment, you would normally ask for your usual stylist. But he's left, they inform you (or doesn't want to see your split ends ever again), and will Matt do instead?
Having not the slightest idea who Matt is, you agree, and then wisely enquire just how much Matt is going to cost. The cluck of disapproval in the background is a fault on the line, you convince yourself, and not the receptionist suggesting that, if you have to ask, then you certainly can't afford, and surely Sandra's more in Sir's price bracket anyway?
Ever eager to create a good impression, you arrive a good ten minutes early for your appointment, and consequentially walk around the block a couple of times, checking yourself out in every shop window to make sure your hair is just so. After all, Matt is Stylist to the Stars and you wouldn't want him to think he's dealing with some scruff, would you?
Stepping nervously through the salon door (and on-time, so there goes your fash cred, sweetie), you are greeted with total disdain by the receptionist, who's having far more fun swapping celeb goss over the phone with Beryl. Eventually, a junior will take pity on you and relieve you of your coat (which you will never see again), before helping you into the sort of gown that's currently all the rage down Holby morgue.
Of course, Matt isn't quite ready for you yet, you're informed, as he is far too busy charming an enormous tip off one of his blowsy blondes of a certain age (and cheque-book); but would you like to flick through an out-of-date magazine while you're waiting? As, even in your campest moments, you're never really been much of a Cosmo girl, and the only butch magazines on offer are Loaded and Classic Cars, you turn down the offer, and study instead the tasteful black-and-white model portrait shots lining the salon's minimalist chrome-metal walls. Each and every face is more beautiful and handsome, more sophisticated and air-brushed than you could ever hope to be. You feel as out of place as Lon Chaney settling down on the Calvin Klein casting couch.
After twenty minutes, and just as you're reading last July's Cosmo agony piece on how to cope with rejection and being ignored, Matt slicks over for a "consultation". Matt is tall, and even better-looking than those monochrome bastards on the wall, and you feel unworthy just to be in the presence of his three-day stubble. He also has possibly the worst taste in clothes you've ever seen in a man his age, apart from MTV presenters, that is; and his dark unkempt hair suggests he's been dragged through several bushes sideways.
Considering that this mal-soigné look is thought the pinnacle of perfection in Hairdressing Land, you begin to wonder what you're doing here handing over forty quid for a salon cut anyway. But it is too late. Already Matt is asking you what you want him to do to your hair. Matt's oh-so-square-cut jaw drops, and then drops further still, and his mouth gapes ever wider, as you outline exactly the style you want. Yeah, like right, you just know he's thinking, you really think someone like you would look good and be able to carry that off?
Matt mutters something about "layering", and "depth", and "structuring" (while tactfully avoiding words such as "mutton" and "lamb"), and, meekly, you nod your agreement. After all, he's a stylish and sophisticated coiffeur to the cognoscenti; and you, well, you're just a nobody and what do you know? Your follicles are his fiefdom now, as you feebly allow him to lead you away to have your hair washed and conditioned.
The Nicorette-chomping trainee awaiting you at the wash-basins holds you down, and then pulls your head backwards over the sink, in the swift, practised and uncaring move she probably learnt that time she was earning a bit of cash on the side down Fleet Street way. As she wets your neck and your classic Agnès B menswear (and occasionally your hair) with water (inevitably either too hot or too cold), and then applies invigorating peppermint conditioning treatment (which is neither invigorating nor made of peppermint), she'll ask you what you do for a living. When you tell her you've nothing to do with the telly or rag trade, she will lose all interest, and will pout off to answer her mobile, leaving wrapped around your head a wet towel which smells nothing of peppermint, but everything of Parazone
Finally, after she's sorted out her social and sexual arrangements for this Saturday, she'll return and assist you out of your chair, towel still turbaned around your head, and guide you back to Matt, who is awaiting, clippers and scissors in hand, in his eyes an eager gleam to make even Torquemada have second thoughts.
Oh, but it's not just the clippers Matt is wielding, but power. You know that, if you upset him just one bit, then that neat (yet stylish) trim you requested will be turned by him into a green and savage Mohican; and, urban professional that you are, just how are you going to explain that to Mamma Boss tomorrow morning as she hands you your P45?
But now here comes the scariest bit of them all. Surprisingly, it 's not being forced to make small talk with Matt, who, despite giving the impression of being as queer as a bottle of chips, is irretrievably and irredeemably heterosexual, and will tell you that being bent, well, it ain't natural, is it, but them gay boyz, well, they’re all right, aren't they, and they always know where to score the best gear, knowhatimean, and well, I tell you, mate, you wouldn't believe what some of them wooly wofftahs -
No, the scariest part is being forced to stare constantly for thirty minutes or more at your own reflection in the harsh, unforgiving light of the salon. While Matt is doing behind you whatever Matt apparently does so wonderfully well behind people, you have no choice but to contemplate your pale and waxy complexion in the mirror; to evaluate those dark circles under your red-rimmed eyes; to follow the London Underground network of wrinkles which, you finally realise, are here for keeps, as well as that suggestion of a double, or even triple, chin, which you've never noticed before, but mainly because you make a point of shaving in a bathroom into which you only ever allow candle-light or, when you're feeling particularly brave, a 60-watt lightbulb.
This is not the most pleasant way to spend forty quid (not to mention the tip, and the host of hair-improvement products which will be foisted upon you before you even make it past reception and escape once more into the wonderfully normal world of the dishevelled).
As I said: a few days ago I did indeed contemplate that urban nightmare known as: Getting Your Hair Cut At A Posh And Trendy Salon.
And what did I do in the end?
Well, what do you think? In the end it was a number two all over, mate. Cheers. That's perfect. In and out in under ten minutes.
And, you know what, my dears? I even got change from a tenner.