The following is an excerpt from Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick by Molly Ringwald — yes, THAT Molly Ringwald — which is on stands today.
When I was seven years old, I was a tall leggy kid with short shaggy hair and permanently stubbed toes, and for a good deal of time I sported a woman’s stocking (my mother’s) attached to the top of my head with two precisely crisscrossed bobby pins. This seemed to be, in my seven-year-old brain, the best solution as to how to exist in California in the seventies with a gorgeous blue-eyed older sister with long blond hair. I was sure that she knew how it tortured me as I lay on the bed and watched her brush her long straight tresses, and then flip it back over to have it land on her back, as if in slow motion. I was mesmerized by the perfection of it. It was the perfect color, the perfect weight. It even smelled nice. (Farrah Fawcett Shampoo, which I’m pretty sure was just Herbal Essences with a picture of Farrah stuck on the bottle.) I asked my mother if I could grow my hair out like my sister’s.“Maybe later,” she’d tell me. “This time we’ll cut it short, then you’ll see. It’ll grow in thicker!” This lie, handed down from the ages, clearly senseless and yet somehow, at that age, irrefutable. And anyway, who doesn’t want thicker hair? So off to the barber I’d go, where they’d chop off my honey-colored wisps and fashion my hair into a boy’s cut.
“A pixie,” my mom would say.
“What’s his name?” everyone else would say.
In our neighborhood, in every direction out of our cul-de-sac, there was a home that housed a set of siblings: Joanie and Jennifer to the left of us; Lorie and Lisa to the right; and Karen and Krista in the middle, across the street. (Not one of which, incidentally, had anything short of shoulder-length hair.) Our games mostly consisted of freeze tag and cartoon tag, and I occasionally could corral them into taking part in a backyard vaudeville show. I had copied out scenes from classic Abbott and Costello sketches from a local show that my brother and sister and I performed in on the weekends. I would direct them into the proper timing and sometimes have to explain the joke. “Yeah, you see his name is Who … and see, the other guy doesn’t get it!” This would keep us occupied until the ice cream truck or another distraction came along. And then home for dinner.
Then one day while playing inside the house, rummaging through my mother’s things, I came across a long ponytail curled up in a hatbox that I was pretty sure wasn’t real, but nevertheless intrigued me almost as though it were a living, breathing thing. Treating it with reverence, I carefully presented it to my mother for explanation. (I don’t even think that it matched my mother’s hair color.)
“Oh, it’s a fall,” she said. “We used to wear those all the time a few years ago. Nobody wears them anymore.”
This information I accepted gladly, since it basically gave me free rein to claim the thing as my own. I would attach it to my head, and no one would be able to pry it loose. Unfortunately, there was precious little to attach it to. Every time I thought I had it fixed, the second I attempted to copy my sister’s hair swing (that I’m sure she copied from Susan Dey), the flick from one shoulder to the other, the hairpiece would fly off my head and sail across the room. (Apparently this unhappy event actually happened to a famous singer/dancer on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show,” which my mother remembers helped to deter her from wearing the elaborate updo. “And they were really going out of style anyway…”) This did little to deter me until I had to face the fact that as much as I loved this piece of hair and wanted it attached to me, the thing had no interest in me, preferring to hibernate indefinitely in the hatbox.
I reasoned that the real problem was the weight of the hairpiece, and if I could just find a less weighty version … unfortunately, my mother had not invested much in her hair accoutrements. There were only two that I could find, and one of them I figured was a Halloween wig and of little interest, since it was a short curly do that looked like it belonged to “Bewitched”’s Samantha’s frisky cousin Serena. But I did happen upon a pair of stockings—one for each leg. While panty hose were becoming more commonplace, my mother still owned the old-fashioned singular nylons, which along with the “fall,” I never saw her wear. The thought occurred to me that it was about the same length as the fall and a much better color match. Two bobbies later, I was in business. I flicked my head around and admired my handiwork. Then I ventured out into the neighborhood.
My friends made no mention of my new hairdo. If they even noticed, they didn’t let on. I was filled with a combination of relief and disappointment. Relief that I wasn’t about to be made fun of mercilessly (I still can’t quite believe it. I don’t know if it was the age or the place or the fact that I had exceptionally kind friends) and disappointment because … couldn’t they see I had LONG hair? Then a couple of days later I noticed Jennifer sporting a black stocking in her hair. Soon, all the girls tried it out, even pinning their own hair up in order to show the stocking hanging down. Joanie went so far as to put panty hose on her head, but we all agreed that was ridiculous.
It was at that time when I realized that I had set a trend. I had an idea that was different; I executed it; and I watched it catch on. It was magical the way we all entered into a tacit understanding that stockings on our heads was cool, even when the evidence should have clearly showed us otherwise. I think I discovered at that moment that fashion was fun and ridiculous, but most important, that as long as I set the trend, instead of following it, I’d be OK.
Want your own copy of Molly’s book, Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick? It’s available on Amazon.