Suddenly a whole crop of disastrous coiffures are all the rage. What's a girl to do? Ruth Picardie untangles the problem
Having a "bad hair day" used to be every girl's nightmare. Hair that had gone frizzy in the rain. Hair that went lanky on the day it was washed. A fringe that stubbornly flipped the morning after the night before. Curls that bounced uncontrollably after a disastrous experiment with a new shampoo. On days like this, all a girl could do was stay in and wash her hair - again.

These days, however, bad hair is all the rage. In February, Kylie Minogue - that busy barometer of fashion's spinning wheel - appeared at London Fashion Week sporting a crop so messy it looked as if she had done it herself with a pair of kitchen scissors. Last October, the French designer Martine Sitbon sent Kate Moss down the runway as a backcombed blonde with black roots, a look also favoured by Linda Evangelista. At Gucci, Amber Valetta sported a hairstyle far beyond the tousled, just got out of bed look: she appeared to have parted company with both comb and shampoo some months earlier. Meanwhile, Kirsten McMenamy and Nadja Auermann are currently experimenting with salt 'n' pepper hair: natural roots, bleached tips.

All this is confusing for those of us who've spent a lifetime dreading bad hair days. Is regular bad hair the same as high fashion bad hair?

Should we be celebrating our liberation from the tyranny of expensive restructuring serums and hours under the drier? And what does it all mean - is it a feminist statement, post-modernism's last stand or fashion desperately chasing its own tail?

First, the bad (hair) news: the new bad hair is not the same as the old bad hair. Last autumn's catwalk looks were not an exercise in DIY by a new generation of punkily rebellious supermodels but painstakingly created by the hairdresser to the stars, Julian D'ys. Indeed, these hairstyles are probably more high- maintenance than the long 'n' glossy look that dominated the early Nineties - personified by Cindy Crawford's call for women to "Take Action!" with "Triple Action Flex". Tricky to construct in the salon, attempting to reproduce them at home with hedge, pinking shears and a bottle of Jolene creme bleach - remember, the tangled look only works on blondes - will result in the wrong kind of bad hair. Far wiser (if more expensive) to make an appointment with Andrew Jose, a fashionable London hairdresser who has come up with a handy trio of bad hair monikers: "The New Crop" (see Kylie Minogue and the new face of Chanel, Stella Tennant); "In Between Hair" (see Kate Moss's zebra look); and the confusingly named "DIY Do" (see Amber Valetta's birds nest).

So much for the practical side of the new bad hair: what about the symbolism? It certainly represents a break from the Eighties power bob, just as Bardot's straight-out-of-bed look in And God Created Woman (1956) - a style shared by Marilyn Monroe - was a powerful rejection of the rigidly perfect grooming that film stars had to endure until the late Fifties. Roman Polanski was so obsessed with maintaining Faye Dunaway's sleek bob in Chinatown - set in late-Thirties Los Angeles - that he once spent half an hour trying to tease a single stray hair into submission. Finally, in fury, he ripped the offending hair out by its roots. Dunaway was outraged and stomped off the set, closing down production for a day.

Now it seems even the supermodels - who replaced Hollywood stars as icons of perfection - are fed up.

However, as we have seen, the new bad hair - like the Seventies "no-make- up" look, which requires acres of foundation, lipgloss and brown mascara - is an illusion. First, the look is so ugly that only supermodels can carry it off. Second, it takes forever. Why, all you have to do is cut the hair into lighter layers around the face, take the weight out, then individually tailor the final snips to suit the face shape of the wearer. No wonder the stylist Jennifer O'Shea calls it "Bespoke Hair". She claims that, "Women are walking out of here with years taken off them, and a big smile on their face." Perhaps not as big as the smiles on their hairdressers' faces.

And does the new bad hair really express rebellion? The crop may signal powerful androgyny, personified by Annie Lennox. But the blonde bird's nest? Bardot and Monroe shook off remote perfection in favour of sexual availability: I've just got out of bed, it said, but I wouldn't mind if you got me back into it. Which is fine for evenings, but won't necessarily cut it in daytime - especially as blonde always signals bimbo in the boardroom. And the new "DIY Do", along with "In Between Hair", takes the look a step further into trampy, trailer-park trash, the look of someone who has just been beaten up by her boyfriend. So much for feminism.

One shouldn't get too upset, however. The new bad hair is not so much misogynist backlash as an accompaniment to the new bad clothes. On the cover of this month's Vogue - which is celebrating "high street style" - Kate Moss is wearing a "hot pink sleeveless top" from Debenham's, price pounds 22.50. Inside, her top 10 buys include a tight polyester shirt from Miss Selfridge, a black lace short-sleeve shirt from Top Shop, and snake-print wedge heel sandals from Ravel. Ugly, ugly, ugly, even on Kate. As for her hair? Freshly blonded - carefully avoiding the roots - with a spray- in lightener. "They just go on and on working," wails poor Kate, "and now my hair looks like shite." You said it, dear, not us. I prefer the old kind of bad hair.