The Sliding Scale

Banana clips, French combs, bobby pins and snappers. Leanne Cloudsdale takes a nostalgic stroll back to the days of power cuts, three-day weeks and strikes to discover why mane candy was such a powerful antidote to troubled economic times.


The 1970s Victoriana revival was probably the reason I was walking around with waist-length hair by the age of 6. My sister and I spent most of the decade trussed up in home-made Laura Ashley-esque chintz, frilly pristine pinafores and perfect plaits as long as the M1. Bonny as it was, mum’s nod to Little House on the Prairie looked a bit incongruous when we were outside roller-booting around white dog shits, or pulling wheelies on our Raleigh Grifters.

Mum worked part-time at the local chemist, so we had access to all manner of heavily discounted bonce accessories, most were sold in matching pairs, apart from the odd partner-less, shop soiled renegades that were given to us for free. My sister always opted for brightly coloured snap clips because she loved the gaudy plastic novelty nonsense stuck to the ends, which looking back, rarely lasted a week or tended to break, leaving lumps of brittle gluey residue which she enjoyed picking off. Being a sensitive soul, I always hated the sensation of snapping the metal next to my scalp, so much preferred the traditional hair bobble and ribbon method of keeping an unruly childhood mane under control.

"I really do envy the broads who can effortlessly twist a chignon and secure it with a HB pencil, and those who can work the heavily side parted half woman, half child Margot look from The Royal Tenenbaums."

But then Fergie happened, and my hair game suddenly got serious. Long before the toe-sucking scandal, the Duchess of York was in the tabloids for services to pre-tied satin bows instead, which were secured to her low-slung ponytail with an aggressive barrette (which, for anyone who’s never used one, they should be detached with extreme caution) and inspired a nation of awkward teenagers like me to get involved. The mechanism on those Fergie bow slides was so strong that I once got one tangled in my tresses during a Mel & Kim dance-off at an unauthorised house party. I had to be cut out of it by a friend who’d spent most of the night on the bathroom floor after necking some manky old Ouzo from the parental drinks cabinet. Suffice to say, I never used one again.

Once I’d hit the pretentious 6th form stage, things started moving rapidly towards a love of all-things-French. It wasn’t long before I was hankering after some genuine tortoiseshell numbers to give me a taste of that all-important Eric Rohmer just had sex-appeal. I wanted to look intelligent, mysterious, wistful and well-travelled, so a loose side sweep up towards the crown at either side of my head with a pair of those laid-back pleat combs seemed like the easiest route to Francophile heaven. I never quite got the knack though and they’d often be missing in action or hanging off the back of my head by lunchtime.

I really do envy the broads who can effortlessly twist a chignon and secure it with a HB pencil, and those who can work the heavily side parted half woman, half child Margot look from The Royal Tenenbaums. I’d always imagined that by the age of 44 I’d have graduated to owning a few beautifully classy, extortionately priced combs and clips from a posh foreign pharmacy, but no, I’m still baselining through middle-age using supermarket kirby grips and a jaw clip with a couple of teeth missing, bought from the ‘authentic’ local market that I visited on a crappy Euro mini-break about five years ago. I’m a grooming disgrace. You, however, should throw caution to the wind and aim for high impact. Leave the measly two slide rule for wimps like me.

Photography James Deacon
Hair Roku Roppongi using Guts 10 Volume Spray Foam, Shine Flash 02 Glistening Mist and Forceful 23 Super Strength Hairspray by Redken
Hair Clips soured from individual vintage shops
Beauty Kristina Ralph Andrews
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