Sunday, 18 August 2013

Flat Hair vs Fluffy Hair and Other Reflections on French Style

While I was in Scotland the other week, I decided to take advantage of spare time and small-town prices to go and get my hair cut. And the consequence of this, as should have been obvious from the start, was that I ended up with a British Girl haircut and all sorts of thoughts going around in my head about the differences between French and British style.

I remember a British friend who had just moved to France once commenting how nice it was to see that French teenage girls seemed to be less obsessed with their appearance than their British counterparts. (My friend is a secondary-school teacher.) As examples of this, she cited the way her former pupils in England nearly all dyed their hair blonde, used fake tan and wouldn't leave the house without a thick layer of makeup on their faces. And it's true that, apart from those who go for full-on bling, the average French adolescent female does seem much more likely to wear slighly geeky glasses (as opposed to contact lenses) and go around with just-got-out-of-bed hair. Particularly outside of Paris, I'm also continually surprised by the popularity of sensible flat shoes with a comfortably thick sole among not-particularly-middle-aged French women.

But let me go back to my haircut. It's not that I don't like it, exactly. It's just not quite what I would have chosen. The first surprise came before the hairdresser even got the scissors out. I didn't need my hair washed and was expecting her to spray it with water, but instead she got the straighteners out. This is a trend that has been around since I was a student, where even people who already have straight hair (like me) feel the need to make it go really straight. As in flat.

The second thing she did was put back in the layers around the back of my head that I once let a stylist cut and spent the best part of a decade trying to get rid of without cutting my hair ridiculously short. The idea of this, like the straighteners, is of course to reduce the volume and add more shape. The thing is, I quite like the volume and I preferred the shape I had before. But now unless I start using straighteners, I risk having volume in the way a haystack has volume, rather than thick, luxuriant locks.

It's not a hairstyle that looks bad on other people (or even, objectively, on me). It's just that I don't feel it really makes the best advantage of what I like about my hair; instead, it takes a style that might be great for somebody else and puts it on my head. If I want it to look the way it's "supposed" to be, I'll have toput in a lot of effort (for my low-maintenance self) in order to not look like me.

And this, I think, is where French style is different from British. For all we Brits are renowned for our eccentricity, a large majority actually tend to follow the crowd and assume that what someone else is doing (especially if they're on the pages of Hello and Grazia) must be good for them as well. I don't actually believe that French women obsess less about their appearance, or spend less time on it, but I do think that they perhaps direct their efforts more towards making the most of what nature gave them (eg buying expensive face cream) rather than trying to change it altogether (by covering themselves in fake tan). I would also say that I see a lot less flat hair in Paris than I did in the UK. But I suspect that I have readers who are far more stylish than I am, and appreciate the nuances of a look much better than I do, so what do you all think?

P.S. Don't forget to click on the links to my other blog to find out what confetti really means at an Italian wedding and how to make the most of a summer trip to Liguria.


  1. I'm not very stylish either. I have very think hair and I don't style it at all, just wash and go. I hate getting haircuts in Canada because it's expensive, you must tip and they always try to sell me products or services I don't want. French haircuts are more... straightforward I find.

  2. Haircuts in Paris are expensive too, and I'm never sure how much to tip, but yeah, I've never had a cut in France that was anything but exactly what I asked for. That definitely makes things more straightforward!

  3. You really don't have to tip in France for haircuts. I usually go for generic salons, i.e. Franck Provost and the like. At least, prices are shown on the window.