THE BIRTH OF THE BOUFFANT by Peter Nolan Smith

In the late-18th Century Marie Antoinette’ coiffeur sought to camouflage the queen’s baldness by upsweeping her thinning tresses to cascade over her ears. The femme fatales of the ancien regime imitated ‘le bouffant, until the royal coif lost its popularity with the Marie’s final haircut by the guillotine.

Almost two centuries later Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s wife, reincarnated the fashion during her tenure at the White House.

American women idolized the glamorous First Lady regardless of their politics.

Overnight millions of housewives hit their local hair salon to acquire the look.

Movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak further popularized the rage and within months the only women rejecting the coif were Durgin Park’s gang of crew-cut bull dyke waitresses and the nuns at my grammar school, Our Lady of the Foothills.

The bouffant died out with the advent of the hippie era.

Young women grew long hair and coif was once more threatened with extinction, except for brief respite from the lead singers of the B-52s and the late English singer Amy Winehouse.

Last year Jamie Parker and I were happy-houring at Solas in the East Village. We had the Irish bartender to ourselves. Moira liked a good laugh and Jamie told her stories of his go-go bar in Pattaya.

After our second margharita an attractive woman walked into a shadowy bar. Her bleached blonde hair was stacked high on her head. Stiletto heels added another five inches to her Amazonian height.

“A model.” Jamie Parker smirked at the passing beauty in designer drag.

“Probably coming from a shoot.” The actresses in TV show MADMEN had revitalized the early 60s, although few woman in present-day America could pull off the time-travel make-over.

“She looks like a 1960s transvestite.” The lanky ex-con squinted down the bar.

“And that’s a bad thing.” I caught the scent of Chanel No.5. She was high-class.

The goddess sat at the end of the bar and Moira went to attend to her need. She was into girls.

“Not in this light.” It was almost night that deep in Solas.

“You don’t like the bouffant?”

“Not at all.”

“And why not?”

“Because the Mr. Kenneth who re-invented the hair style for Jackie Kennedy was queer.”

“You have something against gays?” Back in the 60s gays were feared by young men, unless they were looking for a good time. This was the modern times. Gay-bashing was not in fashion.

“Me, I love gays, but gay hairdressers used the bouffant hair style as a strategy to turn straight men gay.”

“What do you mean?” I wasn’t following Jamie’s line of thoughtlessness.

“Just that it’s not a really natural look and women refused to have sex to avoid ruining the helmet of hair on their head, so men sought release elsewhere.”

“With other men?”

“The sexual revolution freed us from our chains.” Jamie was a couple of years older than me, although he didn’t look it.

“I had a girlfriend with a bouffant in 1965.” Jo and I met in the Mattapan Oriental Theater. We were both 13.

“And you went all the way?”

“Not even close.” Steel-rimmed bras safeguarded against any attempts by unschooled boys to reach ‘second base’.

“See.”

“It had nothing to do with the bouffant.”

“You’re from Boston. Men from Boston love Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant. You probably went to bed jerking off to the First Lady.”

“Not that I can remember.” Jackie O rode horses and spoke French. Women like her were destined to marry rich regardless of their hairstyle. “Jo was my muse. I know my place.”

“Don’t we all.” Jamie was in the States visiting his mother. She lived in the Bronx and thought that he was teaching school in Thailand, instead of running the Pigpen A Go-Go featuring fat pretty bar girls and skinny ugly pole dancers.

“My mom had a bouffant.”

“Mine too.”

“It had them feel like a queen.”

“Better than knowing your place.”

“Send the princess a drink on us,” Jamie told Moira.

“Happily.” Moira played for the other side.

“Do you like the bouffant?”

“It’s very Kim Novak.” The blonde had mesmerized Hitchcock in his film VERTIGO.

“Wasn’t she gay?” Jamie asked eying me.

“I think so.” Moira played for the other side. She was holding the model’s hand. They looked like a nice couple.

If only for happy hour.

“Ah, here’s to the bouffant.” Jamie raised his glass.

“And Jackie O.”

At my age I might think about her once in a while.

After all she was the mother of the modern bouffant.

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