A few weeks ago, the New York Times' published a piece from a middle-aged woman who wears her hair long and naturally grey examining how her family, friends, and strangers all vehemently disapprove of her hairstyle. Beyond the questions of middle-age-related gender expectations, it made me think about how women's hairstyle choices always seem to elicit discussion, disdain, and efforts at conformity. Including, of course, our wedding day hairstyles.
As a bride, short hair is transgressive. Long hair is the youthful, romantic, Rapunzel-esque wedding ideal, despite the fact that many of us are no longer young, not terribly romantic, and we've managed to discover that short hair can be sexy as hell. Jason still thinks my sexiest haircut was when I chopped it all off and debuted it by striding into his office holiday party with four-inch stiletto boots. And he'd be right because short hair is brave and daring. Short hair is punk rock. Short hair is what happens when you finally get the bad ex out of your system and go out barhopping with girlfriends.
And then, somewhere along the way, as discussed in the New York Times piece, long hair becomes daring for a middle-aged woman and short becomes de rigeur. And as for natural... natural is always daring. Whatever age of race you are, natural is daring. And by natural, I mean natural color, natural kink, and minimal product. (And yes, this post is mainly going to lean on my white-girl hair perspectives, so I apologize in advance, though I'd love to hear more from non-white readers in the comments.) And for those of us getting married, even if we've made some sort of peace with our hair before now, the wedding raises all sorts of new questions about hair expectations and cultural beauty transgressions.
A few years ago, a girlfriend got married. Aside from the big white dress, they did things their own way. When I mentioned how beautiful she looked, an uncomfortable friend made a comment about her hair. Instead of really talking about how she was uncomfortable with a wedding that wasn't "typical," she said our friend "should have had an updo" because her (gorgeous) blow-out didn't fit the big dress or the occasion. This was my first introduction to bridal expectations, and I was shocked. A year later, when I was talking with my mother about our budget, I mentioned that I might do my makeup myself and that I should probably start learning how to do fancy things with my hair. She. Was. Horrified. My mother offered to immediately pay for my hair and makeup because it was absolutely necessary and because - wait for it - I couldn't do an updo on my own.
Oh the bridal updo. I think my mother got a little bit teary when I broke the news that I have no intention of having an updo (though I have decided to splurge on professional hair and makeup). Each intentional curl feels a little bit strange and overdone for my sense of style. I like understated style with an unexpected element or two, and updos don't really fit that. And yet, updos persist as the dang bridal expectation.
From the day we get engaged, there's this weird wedding hair expectation looming over all of us, imbuing each haircut with the potential for irrevocable bridal doom. When I got bangs a year ago, my stylist warned me against it because of the wedding. I got them anyhow... but only because I knew I had time for them to grow out if something went terribly wrong. Since then, I've refrained from my normal I'm-bored-and-want-to-chop-off-all-my-hair tendencies. I'm suffering through everyday hair ennui, all in pursuit of having longer wedding hair. I'm jealous of all the other women who just got married and are now rushing pell-mell to their hairdressers, begging for bangs and short hair. I'm tired but resigned to putting my personal style on hold until after the wedding. Because I want something like this:
For the moment, this is my front-runner hair option. I've been holding onto the unfussy fussiness of this hairstyle since I saw it. It plays with the edges of bridal and it hints at wildflowers in the hair. It reminds me of how I used to weave tiny braids in my hair. I like it because I appreciate the way my hair frames my face when it's down, but I'm practical enough to know it will become a wind-whipped tangle if I don't DO something with it.
A wedding is one of those turning points that allows you to pause and see glimpses of an entire presumed lifetime. We feel the weight of the wedding as a (presumed) turning point from childhood to adulthood. We look towards our future and can feel the weight of upcoming expectations, as people begin asking about children and mortgages. The signposts for important life-moments approach ever more quickly as you swing past Wife and possibly into suburbia and "matronly" short hair. It's a surprise to realize that long-haired updo expectations are going to shift quickly into short hair expectations.
Part of me really wishes I were brave enough to say screw waiting for the post-bridal chop. I could start to think beyond the wedding. I would be forced to live for today. I could celebrate my short hair while it's considered something worth noting and not simply the norm. And yet, although I like playing with expectations, my rebellions are a bit more subtle. I definitely want to let my hair down and release it from the updo. So I'm looking for what that sly bridal transgression might look like, when accessorized by a flower and a merest hint of tulle. How did you wear you hair? And how did you find something that felt right for your wedding while balancing who you really are with all these hair expectations?
Reference for short-haired brides: I love the list of short hair images Ariel pulled together at Offbeat Bride, even if I can't quite embrace it myself... at least until after the wedding...