One of the skills we need to develop if we are to be insightful observers of culture is recognizing that cultural artifacts (the things humans make) are not neutral. They embody, shape or legitimate certain understandings of the world. I was reminded of this fact while listening to some of the recent reports of the death of Vidal Sassoon (1928-2012 ).
Sassoon was a hairdresser who came to fame in late 1950s in London. He revolutionized the way women’s hair was cut. Previously, the predominant styles were heavy, high and labour intensive (curlers and hair-dryers). Sassoon pioneered “wash-and-wear” cuts that required little styling or ongoing care. In an interview for the Los Angeles Times in 1993, Sassoon explained his thinking as he developed his hair-cutting philosophy in the 1960s:
“Women were going back to work, they were assuming their own power. They didn’t have time to sit under the dryer anymore.”
Sassoon’s haircuts legitimated and reinforced the huge cultural changes of the 1960s. They made a statement about the type of world we live in. Haircuts matter. So does Fashion generally. As famous designer Coco Chanel has said:
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
There is a place, then, for Christian hairdressers and fashion designers. For the creation of styles that embody something of the gospel vision of the world and shape those who wear them according to that vision.
I am not quite sure what a Christian haircut would look like (though I have some idea what it won’t look like), but I am convinced that we are called as part of our faithful cultural engagement to not just observe culture, but create it.