Modern Living: A Sweet Neglect

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Such sweet neglect more taketh me Than all the adulteries of art.

With these sentiments, Ben Jonson could hang out his shingle in any American city—as a coiffeur. If the adulteries of art take care of a woman's stockings, shoes, nails, gowns, complexion and overweight, her hair these days is just as skillfully composed to look as if it had been dragged through a thornbush backward. Artfully.

The front is pulled loosely up and back into a topknot. Underneath, along with the remainder of the hair, can generally be found several ounces of wool twine or a nylon mesh cushion, the better to swell the structure to second-head proportions. Hanging down at strategic intervals (at the temples, around the ears, and down the back of the neck), are separate, curling tendrils of hair. The whole thing may look like the work of a bird who flunked nest building. Yet at $17.50 per neglect-job at Kenneth's Manhattan salon, the elegant lady can—and must—look exactly like a charwoman, or the Char, as the style is also called.

French-Fried. In France, where the vogue first caught on, it is known either as Concierge or Goulue, after Toulouse-Lautrec's mussy-haired jolie-laide. It was Parisian Hairdresser Christophe Carita who contrived an early Goulue 18 months ago (never-minding Brigitte Bardot, who had been topping her bikinis with it for a good while before that). Carita's colleague Alexandre got into the Concierge-Goulue act with a high-piled version winding up with a "brioche" for such style-setting clients as Princess Grace of Monaco and Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes.

In London, the name is the Onion, although the look is slightly French-fried. It is the tendrils, insists Stylist Michael of the Michael-John salon, that make the look work. "You have to have softness—a few strands at the sides like those Degas ladies, or you get an effect that is either too Japanese or too much old schoolteacher."

In the U.S., the style is called either Belle Époque (after turn-of-the-century coiffures), or "Oscar's hairdo" (after Designer Oscar de la Renta, who put topknots on all the models at his spring collections last month). Mr. Kenneth finds the look soft, romantic, and most important, "not terrifying to a man. To him, it looks as if it's all up there with just one pin, and he's got to think 'If only I can find it, in a matter of seconds it will all be out on the pillow.' "