On Saturday it was snowing in New York: not quick-melting flakes, but the kind of snow that makes the sky look like meringue. I zipped myself into an extra long ("evening-length") down jacket and walked to the East Village to see American Hustle, which seemed like a nice seasonal thing to do.
It proved to be the ideal snow-day movie: lots of plot, lots of misbehavior, lots of Electric Light Orchestra on the soundtrack. Even if you don't enjoy these things, it's worth a ticket if you're interested in an edited survey of beauty practices in the late 1970s. The movie is beauty-obsessed. If you took a shot every time Jennifer Lawrence's character talks about nail-polish topcoats, you could get dangerously sauced in dangerously little time.
It starts with the first scene, which shows Christian Bale styling his character's comb-over with the help of a teasing comb and a tuft of auxiliary hair that he glues to his scalp the way Martha Stewart might glue cotton balls onto a craft bunny. I'm sure I wasn't the only audience member to feel a sense of satisfaction and relief when Bale finished the style off with a heavy misting of hairspray.
In the case of Amy Adams's character, hair is an emotional barometer: it's bouncy when she is, pinned up in curlers when she's vulnerable, and corkscrewed in pinky-width spirals when she's on edge. Jennifer Lawrence is styled like a long pour of dessert wine—everything smooth and liquid, with sunlamp skin and hair that crests her forehead like a wave (of Vin Santo). Both women have a hard sexiness, everything polished and set—lacquered nails, lacquered hair, lacquered face. Nothing touchable. The look also has a funny age-neutralizing effect, making both Lawrence (age 23) and Adams (age 39) look roughly 28 years old. The makeup, I could take or leave; the hair, I wanted to replicate. Especially because it was still snowing, and what else was I going to do indoors? Play Twister with myself?
I started with two packages of curlers, both Con Air Flexible Roller Spiral Curls (the kind that look like pool noodles) and Brush Rollers (the kind that look like sea urchins), both 1/2-inch thick. I shampooed my hair twice to expel volume-depressing oil, skipped conditioner, combed Privé mousse through to the ends, and waited ten minutes to let it dry a bit before applying all 24 curlers while listening to a Rewrite podcast with the journalist Danielle Sacks. I used jumbo bobby pins to pin the rollers in place, and kept my hair parted in the center. Disco women liked their hair the way they liked their dance moves: symmetrical.
When using non-heated rollers, I try to wait four or five hours before releasing my hair—if yours dries faster or slower, adjust accordingly. While waiting, I washed dishes, practiced piano, dropped a bottle of vermouth on the floor, and cleaned it up.
Now for the fun part! Removing rollers. If you're following along, here's how to do it:
1. Remove curlers. You'll have clown ringlets.
2. Give your head a light 360º hairspray misting. I used Tresemme.
3. Now select a ringlet and separate it into four or five sub-ringlets. You can spiral the sub-ringlets with a finger if they need help separating.
4. Repeat for your whole head.
5. More hairspray. Quickly rub the surface of your hair with hands to add a layer of disco frizz. (Optional)
And that's it. What fun! You know you've succeeded when your hair obscures your peripheral vision. Just be careful when crossing the street or escaping predators. If you like, you can combine the look with a plunging neckline. (Two words: vintage Gucci. One more word: eBay. Three words total.)
Is it a bold look? Yes. And after six hours of prep, it'd better be. In moments like this, I think of a New York magazine interview with Miuccia Prada from last year, where she shared this wisdom: "Clothes have nothing to do with success. You can dress however you want and still be successful. Basically, clothes are a pleasure." Well, same goes for hair. When it's not a pain in the ass, it should be a lot of fun.
To briefly take a dark turn, I should warn readers against using the Con Air Brush Rollers, which were distressing to remove and ripped out a lot of hair. After extracting, I threw them into the trash. The Spiral Curls worked great.
Now…how the hell do I replicate Jennifer Lawrence's hair? To be continued, maybe.
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures.