No Hot Towel Shave or Prosecco Blow Dry at Gender-neutral Tidy Penguin

We came here 5 years ago to live, from Brighton, and I was commuting back and forth to work in a unisex haircutters there, but then I decided to open up here. There was nowhere here I could feel comfortable to get my own hair cut in Worthing – as an androgynous woman.

Tidy Penguin’s Mural by Glimmertwin, on Facebook

Women with short hair are stuck between male barbers and traditional ladies blow-dry stylists. (And the barbers often refuse to cut your hair, even if you’re having exactly the same style that they’d do for a bloke). And in women’s hairdressers, the pricing is crazy.

Vicki’s right. I paid out £60 quid once for a cut because I was having professional work photos taken, but honestly, those photos don’t show my hair looking any different from usual. It was plain to me that I was paying for a Lindt chocolate, posh coffee, a smarmy male hairdresser to chat me up and an ‘experience’ of feminine luxury and hetero-desirability – which I didn’t even want. It’s good to hear Vicki tell me – with a laugh – that, I do tints and colour, but you’re not going to get a full head of highlights in here. Right now, she’s doing loads of pink and silver dye: there’s so many shades of silver, you can do really interesting things with it.

Vicki is finding that a lot of women don’t want that highlight-and-blow-dry look any more, and also that more and more women are keeping their hair short and simple. Keep your bloody prosecco and just cut my hair, seems to be the contemporary woman’s stand.

She’s also noticing a wide cross-generation and cross-sex trend towards more edgy styles and daring cuts. She’s done fade cuts and undercuts on plenty of women in their 50s and 60s, who are tired of the ‘natural’ colour hairdye and blow-dry routine. I really do think that’s going out, disappearing. I guess, just as the blue rinse passed away, so too will faux-blonde as thresholding women reclaim and rework the silver and white.

What’s coming next in short hair, then? Is the fade over? Give us an insider tip? (WoBy readers like to be a step ahead – we’re trying to shake off the idea that we’re two steps behind the Other place). Vicki reckons you need to be working into thinking about more length on top. She’s seeing a trend for short sides and playing around with more length and texture on top. Whatever Pink and Ruby Rose are doing – that’s what the younger women are coming in and asking for. They want a copy, or I can adapt and play with that idea of short side, long top.

So that’s the inside track. You’re welcome – I look forward to seeing you all tousled and surfer-sexy over summer. But what about maintaining that bloody texture? What about ‘product?’

This becomes another point of discussion. I’ve just got products for hair – no gender labelling in here. Some brands of waxes or clays are labelled ‘for men’s hair’ – pointless! Products are for everybody. We have a snorty laugh for a moment about the worst excesses of gendered branding. Anybody remember that Bic Pen? (Vicki’s first career was as tree-surgeon; you can imagine what someone who has worked both as a lumberjack and as a hairdresser makes of gender binary straightjacketing).

They’ll dry your hair – but no 1980s ‘blo-dry’. Mural by Sean Glimmertwin.

Is W the new B, then? Sarah and Vicki and their kids came over from the Other place, so they must have an opinion. I did perceive it as an older person’s town, but I was wrong. I’ve got so many young clients. And Worthing is getting more quirky, more alternative – and younger, too. It’s more vibrant. I’m not the 1st, or the only one – there’s so many independent new businesses coming up. The whole town is changing.

And the wheel? (Or the wheel of horror, as it is to some folk). I’ve got no problem with it – it’ll encourage people in.

The core values I’m finding at TP – as in so many of our other growing small businesses – is hospitality: a desire to help make Worthing into a diverse and open-minded town and to offer an open shop door where nobody feels unwelcome or too intimidated to step inside.

I want to be accessible to everyone – everyone should feel comfortable in here … And I also think it’d be good if we could all have exactly whatever hair we all wanted, regardless of sex.

Published by Caroline

After 30 years as an academic anthropologist doing ethnography in India and the Gulf, Caroline now avoids airports and spends a lot of time walking, cycling or quad skating around for conversations and stories in their adopted home of Worthing. Caroline writes, coaches postgrads, and does public sector consultancy work and project evaluation, using creative research methods.

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