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Power Hair Do's and Don'ts : How Hair Makes the Difference in Winning Friends and Influencing People

October 14, 1990|KAREN GRIGSBY BATES | Karen Grigsby Bates is a frequent contributor to this column. and

Power: How to get it, and how to let people know you've got it, are motivations that fuel this country. And "power hair" is definitely one of the surest ways to project or bolster an image; it identifies--even for those who don't follow the game--who's on first.

That doesn't mean you have to rush out and get the 'do du jour. "I don't think power hair has anything to do with fashion," says Kenneth, the legendary New York society hairdresser who has coiffed fashion icons such as the late Babe (Mrs. William) Paley and Jacqueline Onassis. "You usually find power hair on the heads of people who are pretty sure of who they are," he says. And while the actual profile of a power head varies from individual to individual, there are a number of common denominators. "Power hair is usually very neat," he explains. "It looks clean and expensive. And it's very well cut, if nothing else."

Power styles vary from city to city. What's powerful in Los Angeles might look over powering in Washington (where, with very few exceptions, the influential pay little attention to the vagaries of fashion) and simply silly in New York. Georgette Mosbacher, wife of the secretary of commerce, sports a flamboyant red coif, for example, that is more Beverly Hills than Capitol Hill.

But Washington often sets the standard for politically powerful hair: Jack Kennedy, our first telegenic president, definitely had it. His youthful, chestnut locks emphasized a break with the buzz-cut establishment and spawned a bevy of imitators. Former cabinet secretary Jack Kemp's Kennedy-esque coif did him no harm with the voters; nor did former California Sen. John Tunney suffer as a result of his thatch. Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, sets a power-hair precedent--his inky waves complement his forceful, often theatrical profile.

George Bush has power hair that is in total sync with who he is: His gracefully aging profile, with its lanky athleticism and receding hairline, bespeaks generations of wealth and breeding--summer homes, yachts and private tennis courts. Which, of course, is the stuff of which he's made.

It's probably testimony to Ronald Reagan's personal persuasiveness that he was able to project a powerful aura--despite his arcane, pomaded pompadour. And dye is usually a distinct power-hair no-no, but tell that to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), "the senator with the hair color of the month," notes one Washington insider.

Nancy Reagan's aggressively sprayed and back-combed Bistro Gardens look was powerful while the Reagans were, but, according to one observer, it "has returned to the wealthy suburbia from when it came. Thank God." In its place is Barbara Bush's defiantly gray mane, which might be considered dowdy on nearly anyone else but which earned her an admiring sobriquet: the Silver Fox.

Heavy-hitters in the business world usually sport a variation of John Malloy's dress-for-success look, but there are exceptions: Donald Trump's long, disarrayed honey-blondness works because his personality is equally outrageous. (Estranged-wife Ivana's brassy old bouffant was not powerful, but her new Bardot-ish buttery upsweep definitely is.) David Rockefeller's slicked-back, no-bother look suggests that he has more important things than hair to worry about in running a financial dynasty.

Power hair on Angelenos is harder to categorize: Creative Artists Agency president and CEO Mike Ovitz has it, because, as one producer points out, " every goddamn thing on Mike Ovitz is, de facto, powerful." Jack Valenti's splendidly silver hair is definitely powerful--he looks as if he should be deciding the fate of movies' ratings.

Media personalities are acutely aware of the believability quotient and have, by and large, sincere, if not flawless, hair. Dan Rather's side-parted salt-and-pepper coif is carefully boyish (although viewers watching his coverage of the Bay Area earthquake last year discovered that he's going bald on top); ABC anchor Peter Jennings' hairline is clearly receding (the studio stylist is going through mighty machinations to comb it forward and over), and NBC's Tom Brokaw's hair, though often barely kempt, is all there and graying nicely.

Perhaps the most powerful male hair in network television is the most-often ridiculed: Ted Koppel's. The "Nightline" anchor's coppery helmet has been likened to Howdy Doody's. Measured against the prevailing fashion wisdom, Koppel's head may look a little silly, but it is immediately identifiable--and different from his competition's, which means power in his industry.

Network women are not allowed such flexibility. It's widely accepted that network execs are still looking for blond beauties. The early ascendancy of such reporters as Lesley Stahl, Diane Sawyer and the late Jessica Savitch indicates that maybe the folks at Clairol knew what they were talking about--not only do blondes have more fun, but they also get to be substitute anchors first.

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