Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hairy stuff

Some of the braids draw inspiration from nature: crabs, flowers, rain that comes cascading down over the ears. But many styles also document the way in which human effort in one field, like engineering, leads to inspiration in another, like fashion. Hair is fashioned into shapes inspired by suspension bridges and skyscrapers, which became common only after buildings started to get tall in the late 1960s. 

I was astounded, not just on account of the time and labour involved in creating such hairdos, but the fact that this was everyday fashion. Many young women wore fantastic styles on the street and to work, which is how the photographer spotted them. Other styles were created for special occasions like birthdays and wedding parties.

There is no denying, of course, that hair is linked to economic status and power. If you’re wearing an elaborate style, chances are, you had help with it, and if you maintain complex styles on a daily basis, chances are you need help very often. If you can’t pay a professional to do it, you most certainly have help within the family.

Still, it must have really mattered to each individual for a culture to invest so heavily in hair. I cannot think of a parallel in India. Even the wealthiest and most fashion conscious among us do not wear the nation’s architectural or engineering triumphs on our heads.

These paragraphs are extracted from a longer column I wrote about hair art and self-image for GQ India magazine. Link here (you may need a subscription): https://www.gqindia.com/content/hair-culture-body-image/

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