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My Mom Had the Same Hairdo for 60 Years

I finally know why.

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photo of mother and daughter, same hairdo, hairstyle
Ethel Staff (Courtesy Rudzinski)
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I was 12 when I bought my first beauty book, Cheryl Tiegs’ "The Way to Natural Beauty." It was 1980 and its glossy cover photo sold me — a close-up of Cheryl with her wavy, perfectly feathered blonde hair. That’s exactly what I needed my hair to do. I was going to study this book like a bible.

My thick, wavy hair presented a daily styling challenge, and my mom was no help in this department. She kept a perfectly coiffed, immovable hairdo with weekly appointments at the beauty shop. She’d told my dad before they married that this expense was non-negotiable. Her teased brunette hair was a huge part of her identity.

While I was poring over Cheryl’s black-and-white photos, noting volume, layers and bang length, I wondered: was she using Aqua Net? What size hot rollers would I need? My mom relied upon an arsenal of protective gear like these to keep her hairdo intact. There was a satin pillowcase for the night to keep damage to a minimum, a carefully folded rain bonnet in her purse for weather catastrophes, and a scarf for defense if pulling on a sweater overhead.

My mom, up until her last few months at age 89, always looked put together. But it annoyed me that she never experimented with frosted hair color or softened her style. On a trip to Canada one year, we stopped at Niagara Falls. She wouldn’t get out of the car, alarmed by the visible mist in the air and what it might do to her hair. “I can see it from here,” she assured me from her seat, quickly rolling the window up.

If the choice was to behold a natural wonder or protect her hair, there was no contest. This wasn’t Charlie’s Angels, and her hair wouldn’t be bouncing or blowing in the wind. She had the same style, same agenda for 60 years.

Kacey Klos, a hairstylist in Hollywood, says this is not uncommon. “Some clients keep the same style because it just works for them,” Klos said. “They feel like, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I can’t imagine Goldie Hawn with any other style.”

If my mom was in that camp, I was firmly in another. I didn’t care about protective maintenance. I’d wash my hair at night, go to bed with it wet and wake to a jungle scene up top. Every day was a chance to start anew. Through the years, I tried straighteners, perms and body waves. My hair has been long, short and shaved, and I’d graduated from Sun-In Spray-In Hair Lightener to Clairol dyes, ranging from warm tones to blonde to black.

One year my hairstylist asked if I’d like to be in a hair show. This would entail being onstage with several other stylists and clients, as we got our hair cut in front of a live audience. I was thrilled at the chance to have a randomly assigned professional choose a flattering new look for me. I gave her carte blanche, even recklessly mentioning that I liked Julia Roberts’ then-recent pixie cut.

Once the show began, five of us sat on a stage with no mirrors. One by one the stylists finished their cuts. Everyone soon exited the stage except me and my assigned cutter. I could feel panic setting in — both hers and my own — as she tried to land the plane of my transformation. We both silently realized things were not going according to plan. She was in over her head, and I had no idea what was happening on mine.

As she removed my cape, I warily lifted my hand up to feel what was left of my hair, because clearly, most of it was on the floor. Verdict: It was like Carol Brady’s hairdo from The Brady Bunch. It was, at best, three different hairstyles colliding and at worst, a hair catastrophe the likes of which my mother — with her unwavering loyalty to a signature style — had never seen.

That cut marked the end of my exploration era. I now knew my sweet spot and it was about two inches below my chin and a good six months away from this newest chop.

Mullets have thankfully gone the way of weekly shampoo, set and perm parlor appointments. The look now is much more casual, compared to our mothers’ era.

“Daughters don’t want their mother’s hairstyle. Now they just want long straight hair like the stars on TV,” said Susan Romeo, a stylist at Venus Hair in Houston. “Even at awards shows, the celebrities will be wearing millions of dollars worth of jewelry with their Versace gowns, and they just have a ponytail. It probably cost $500, but it’s still a ponytail.”

Now that I’m in my 50s, I get it. While my hair can withstand the elements and a cotton pillowcase, I found an easy style that I always return to — shoulder length, with blonde highlights and my natural waves.

In Joan Collins’ new book, “Behind the Shoulder Pads,” she recounts a conversation she had with a famous film star from the 1930s and 1940s: “The great Claudette Colbert once said to me, 'In my 30s I adopted a hairstyle that suited me, and I’ve not changed it ever since'."

The right cut and color can make you feel like the best version of yourself. Colbert would be in good company today. I still have my Cheryl Tiegs book, and some 40-odd years later, Tiegs still has the same hairstyle.

Sometimes, when you find what works, you keep it.

How many of you have had the very same hairstyle for years? Let us know in the comments below.

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