On Jheri Curls

I went to high school in the mid-80s.  Looking back, it was a hilarious and iconic time in fashion and music but we did not know this then.

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*photo courtesy of Ed Smith.  This was a night in 1984 in downtown Mill Valley as all of us kids converged at the Bus Depot on weekends.

We only knew that we identified ourselves by what kind of music we listened to and where on campus we hung out.  My high school largely self-segregated during breaks and lunches.  People were known by the specific part of school you sat with your friends.  You were a “front parking lot” person (Prince fans, Madonna look-alikes, cheerleaders and football players) , a “back parking lot” person (rockers and stoners/Heavy Metal), an “Orange Court” person (Dungeons and Dragons, brainiacs) and on and on.  I sort of wandered between the “front lawn” (skaters, surfers, soccer players, beachy types)  and off-campus, being sure not to associate myself too much in any particular area.

Our school was mostly white but there was a small contingent of African American kids (Tupac went to Tam High!).  These kids mostly hung out in the front parking lot and a few wore one glove like their idol, Michael Jackson.  Secretly, the music they listened to and break danced to was my favorite but because I was not a “front parking lot” person, no one knew.  My love for Vanity 6 was my little secret.

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When we were Freshmen, we had PE and PE was divided into segments.  We had Gymnastics, Square dancing (oy) and Swimming.  Gymnastics came first in the rotation.  The gym was full of bright blue mats and we were forced, in our very awkward 14-year old bodies, to do somersaults and such.  During Tumbling training, the oil from our classmates with Jheri Curls would famously streak the mats and one day, someone slipped on the oil.  That person sprained their ankle causing a school dilemma.  What to do with all the kids who have to do somersaults but have Jheri Curls?!?!

Do you know what a Jheri Curl is? Let me remind you.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jheri_curl

Jheri Curls were hugely popular right in the mid and late 80s thanks largely to Michael Jackson who rocked one famously on the cover of Thriller.

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In a nutshell,  a Jheri Curl (technical name is Soft Curl Permanent) is when you relax curly hair and then perm it into a new curl pattern.  What was inconvenient about Jheri Curls, in addition to being time consuming, was that to keep them rocking you had to have an activator in your hair at all times to keep it from drying out.  This was called, by some, Jheri Curl Juice.

So, the schools solution to keep Jheri Curl wearers in class and not cause any more injuries was to have all the kids with Jheri Curls wear shower caps during PE.  That didn’t stand out…

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I was reminded by my friend Kimberly that after that incident, those guys worked that style all day long and soon enough wearing a shower cap became cool.  Of course.

When I started Beauty School, I was a little lost.  I was raised by Hippie-types and went to a Hippie college.  When I started Beauty School, I didn’t know what a flat iron was.  Actually.  I had never done a perm and didn’t own a blowdryer.  Most of my fellow students were more typical Hairdressers meaning they had already been doing hair their whole lives and were finally there to get a license.  Many had been cutting or coloring hair at home, wrapping their Mom’s perms and doing all the make-up for friends for years.

When I learned about what is called the Soft Curl Perm and that I had to do them, I thought-Holy Shit, that’s a Jheri Curl!  Getting a Cosmetology License is still largely an archaic experience.  You must learn things you will never, ever do after you graduate and you practice procedures that go entirely out the window the minute you work in a salon.  That said, I was fascinated to learn the history of the Soft Curl Permanent which my friend Lee calls, the two-step Perm.  As a red-headed white, gay man he had to find two-step perm models for his Vidal Sassoon training in LA and he would venture into Compton asking strangers if they would come and get a perm from him.  Talk about a racial divide!

The business of hair largely divides itself by race and ethnicity.  You get good at cutting  “Asian Hair” or you specialize in Extensions which are more Caucasian while Sew-Ins are more for Black hair.  You may do fades, clipper cuts or $100 scissor-over-comb men’s cuts and all of the above is skewed by race, class and economic status.  As a Colorist, you learn that there is only hair texture to contend with.  Ethnic background can certainly play a part in texture but hair is hair.  Marketing of hair products is absolutely race-related and may not be as blatant as it once was in the 80s (see below) but it still aims at a target audience, just as all products do.

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I actually have Hot Sticks.  But let’s keep that between you and me.

 

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