My mother styled my hair when I was a child, meticulously cutting a combed side-part. I didn’t care too much about my style at the time, so I let her have her fun. When I pilfered my grandfather’s bathroom cabinet, I sometimes found his Dippity-do gel. I’d borrow a fingerling or two to grease my hair down; in those brief moments, I somehow imagined my greased hair was hip.
As a teenager, just as the grunge fashion of the ’90s took popular hold, I started caring enough to choose my own stylist. I let my hair grow to my shoulders several times, as did the others on my soccer team—long on top, shaved underneath. I even dyed it.
I would keep my hair long for a while and suddenly shave it. Shaving it and letting it grow out again was an easy way to save money. Before I had to attend an awards ceremony or prom, I’d visit Tina, my childhood hair stylist. But as a teenager and then as a college student, I generally chose whatever route saved the most money—the express route at Supercuts, asking a roommate to shave it, simply letting it grow. In my last year of school, though, I won “Best Hair” at an ’80s themed event party, earning a free haircut and highlights from a hip salon. My locks had been reborn.
When I moved to London, I sought out proper salons and hair-care products. The salons offered a pint of beer or wine as part of the cut, too. After returning to Raleigh, I again needed to save money, so Supercuts became the solution until I saved enough cash to test a few salons. A friend recommended Clare at Atomic on Morgan Street. Thanks to a thrift store next door, I could save some money on clothes and spend more on my hair. There was can beer to boot. I have stuck with Clare since, even after she started her own place just up the road. We’ve tried a few different approaches, but I’ve mostly maintained the semi-long style that I discovered in London.
After my son, Oliver, was born, we decided to try something similar—to let his hair grow and see what happened. It grew slowly, remaining blonde and thin. Before he turned 2, however, Oliver was diagnosed with cancer. When he began chemo treatments, we decided that we would cut his hair as soon as it started thinning. A few weeks later, Oliver had his first haircut in our living room. When it was over, I walked out onto our back deck with a beard trimmer and scissors, shaving my beard and hair to the same length as Oliver’s.
For the next year and a half, Oliver didn’t need a haircut. My hair slowly grew back, but the following year, I decided to do it again for St. Baldrick’s, a group that raises money to fight childhood cancer by encouraging people to shave their heads. I left 6 inches on the ground, raising more than $1,000. Next month, I’ll cut 7 inches off at a second St. Baldrick’s event.
Oliver has been off treatment for a while now, and he’s actually needed a few trims. We’ve taken him to a local kids salon, where he sits in the motorcycle chair and looks like a mod from Quadrophenia. Come April, for the first time in his life, his hair will be longer than mine. Maybe it’s time he gets his own canister of Dippity-do.