Hair Gestures: Essay

Tucking in Our Ends by Ann-Marie Voina

by Central Saint Martins .

Fairytales usually present girls with a series of exotic characteristics, making them highly desirable to princes and predators alike.

When Phoebe Philo took her bow after she presented her Autumn/Winter 2011 collection for Céline, she managed to popularise two things; the reincarnation of an infamous pair of white sneakers (that will remain unnamed due to overexposure) and a hairstyle that takes more effort to achieve than it looks - the hair tuck.

The tuck is supposed to be perceived as an effortless gesture - something caused by hitting the snooze button too many times, putting on a turtleneck and leaving the ends of your hair trapped, perhaps because you fell asleep with damp hair and want to disguise the madness created in your four and a half hours of ‘beauty rest’. The tuck is the only way to save your hair from continuing to frizz in the rainy weather, whilst making you look effortlessly chic - right? That’s the nonchalant image that Philo managed to convey. Yet after seeing the look on the runway seasons later, after reading multiple articles on how to achieve effortless hair á la parisienne and after having Leandra Medine aka The Man Repeller create a step-by-step .gif (which includes more steps than you would imagine) of how to achieve the look, there’s no question this is more of a considered style than a quick solution. Sure, the hair tuck might be a stark contrast to flaunting your bombshell locks, but like the latter it still takes effort, precision and repetition to get it just right.

The hair tuck goes against our reflex to pull out the hair from our jumper, in the style of a ‘loose and free’ L'Oréal advert, and thus creates the anti hair-gesture. So, this Philo-ism a trend? Or is it a newfound attitude towards hair that stems from apathy towards the thousands of identical shampoo commercials currently screened on our televisions?

As children we are presented with fairytales about beautiful girls who all have their own signature hair traits. Snow White had hair as black as ebony that contrasted with her fair skin and Rapunzel had, well - you know how the story goes.


Fairytales usually present girls with a series of exotic characteristics, making them highly desirable to princes and predators alike. However, what we usually forget is that fairytales also present us with fugitive girls, running partly because of their seductive beauty. We have all come across the clichéd image of the girl running through the woods, only to momentarily but very dramatically get her locks caught in a branch, desperately struggling to break free as her predator approaches. Hair enfolds their femininity and its conventional links to youth and beauty - it shows us their strength whilst highlighting their weakness as prey;

'What joy it is to see hair of a beautiful colour caught in the full rays of the sun, or shining with a milder lustre and constantly varying its shade as the light shifts. Golden at one moment, at the next honey- coloured; or black as a raven’s wing, but is bunched up in a thick luxurious mass on a woman’s head or, better still, allowed to flow rippling down her neck in profuse curls!... unable to restrain myself a moment longer I now planted [ there ] a long passionate kiss.' - Apuleius, The Beast to the Blonde

Teenagers and young adults grow up with catwalk images featuring bombshells and blowouts. They are aided by wind-blowing instruments, dynamic music and sharp turns at the end of a runway. Over time, we realise that having a glam-team on a daily basis is not a possibility, that wind on a rainy day is more damaging than forgiving, and that life is definitely not a catwalk.


Still, the image of a Victoria's Secret blowout is heavily engrained in our minds and often becomes the image that many bring to the hairdresser, expecting miracles. As Caroline Evans mentions in her writing on the historical origins of the fashion model, it is on the contemporary catwalk that the performance of identity through superficial detail and spectacular gesture finds its apotheosis. However, apart from the occasional commercial fashion show, nowadays there is an obvious decline in personality models on the runway. No longer are models chosen for their bubbly sense of humour, but rather for their ability to be moulded to perform whatever the designer tells them to do.

Today, the ’modern woman’ does not live in a fairytale or on a catwalk, she lives in a far more peculiar place - the big city. Like her childhood hero, or her adolescent girl crush, she is a woman on-the-go, yet running for completely different reasons. And those reasons may be reflected in the way she carries herself. It’s in the smallest details that fashion reveals the deepest principles of modern thought. So in that respect, the ‘hair tuck’ says a lot.

It tells us that we don’t want to get caught in a stranger’s coat whilst on an overcrowded train, that we would rather sleep an extra twenty minutes in favour of pulling out the old curling iron, and that loose hair simply isn’t practical. That doesn’t mean that we don’t care about our hair, but perhaps that we care too much. Wanting to shield it from the unpredictable weather, from strangers and ourselves - keeping it close to us and our bodies.

The hair tuck can imply an active lifestyle, just as it can be a sign of self-awareness. Its specific arrangement is pushed by our constant desire to appear effortless, but it’s okay for women to embrace styles that are based on look rather than function. Creating everyday performances intended to disguise any thought or effort is the modern woman’s take on playing dress up.