Whatever happened to... Perms

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Curly Whirly

Fashion victims first threw away their rags for the new chemical curls in August 1909, but perms took off in the Twenties and Thirties when the Clara Bow and Gene Harlow look was emulated. Then it was a lengthy process involving cardboard tubes, peroxide and having your head attached to a mini nuclear power station.

Kinky Gerlinky

But perms really came into their own in the late Seventies when Farrah Fawcett flick-ups gave way to tightly curled disco chic. Every professional footballer seemed to sport curls as a right of passage to Tramps nightclub.


Perms have also been the cause of some of the worst hairdressing disasters. If not used properly, the effect is rather like putting your barnet in a chip fryer, resulting in a melted candy floss look, a burnt scalp and, occasionally, permanent baldness.

Curl up and Dye

In the Eighties, perms were the most popular hairstyle a girl could have: you could have anything from a demi-wave to a spiral or root lift. But perms had a tendency for the person's hair to look like straw or to be drowning under a weight of hair gel. The trend also signalled a revolution in the amount of hair care and styling products available, promising to make hair feel natural when in truth it had been stripped bare and bent into an unnatural state. Reaching a non poodle look meant hours upside down under the diffuser with an afro comb and lashings of hair spray. There was no such thing as wash and go and God help you if it rained.

Straight Talking

Since the Nineties, straight hair has been "in" with the "Rachel" look being demanded by 70 per cent of all young women, and now the Geri Spice Girl streaks seem to be taking the lead. Who has a perm now? Aerobic instructors and insurance clerks and people who drive white jeeps.

Split Ends

But some top hairdressers are confident that perms are back, but not as we know them. The trend towards big romantic curls is making a comeback on the cat walk and the belief is that the curly look will eventually filter down. Perms are now designed to give volume to thinning roots. Modern perms are safer and more natural ingredients are used, although it still takes a couple of hours rolling the hair up into tiny curlers, sitting with cotton wool around your head and rinsing the smell of it out for days but, if you persevere, one day you could look like Ailsa from Home and Away.

Victoria Barrett