The scene at the annual fall Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria was an overwhelming pastiche of sequins, satin, and six-foot-long trains. On one side of the ballroom was the actress Patricia Clarkson in a red plaid gown trailing yards of fabric; at another table Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, the event’s lead organizer, wore a red lace floor-grazing number; while the evening’s cochair, Anne Hearst McInerney, went with a draped blue look that had a strappy black bodice. The theme of the event, after all, was Hollywood glamour.
But while their outfits spoke to the night’s dress code, their hair fell a bit flat—literally. Sleek blowouts, tousled strands, and Veronica Lake waves were about as sophisticated as things got from the neck up. Where were the Audrey Hepburn French twists, the Grace Kelly ballet buns, the high and tight chignons of Faye Dunaway? Go to any number of society events and scan the room during dinner. Until the ladies stand up in their five-figure dresses, they could just as easily be at Sunday brunch, judging by their casual locks. It seems as if the once glamorous updo has gone the way of the dodo.
“I think women believe it’s more modern to leave their hair down,” laments Stefanie Henriquez of Frédéric Fekkai, who gets a lot of requests for a “messy curling iron look” from her gala-hopping clientele. “Some women feel more comfortable having their hair down. It’s a security blanket.”
Count me as one of those girls who like to hide behind their hair. For years I ignored pleas from my mother to pull my hair off my face. And even with a job that has me regularly making the black-tie rounds, the highest I’ll go is a low ponytail or a half loop. I’ve always chalked up my low-maintenance approach to youth—I’m a 30-year-old often wearing a dress worth more than my entire savings account, so the nonchalant ’do helps me maintain my downtown cred.
Lately, however, I’ve started to realize that I don’t look effortless; I just look like I didn’t make an effort. I decided it was time to up the ante and attempt a proper going-out ’do. I headed to the Kenneth salon, whose founder has crimped and coiffed into elevated extravaganzas the locks of everyone from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Marilyn Monroe. I was curious to see what magic could be performed with my stick-straight hair. As a girl who doesn’t even own a blow-dryer, I was slightly terrified by the prospect of helmet head. Turns out, a mushroom cloud of hairspray isn’t the only reason women fear the updo.