Look at Life: The Fringe

12th February 2016

Taming the Militant Fringe

By Eluned Thorne

There are some rules absorbed during childhood that, however hard you try, stick with you forever. They lodge into your psyche like tiny post-its, giving you a fluorescent nudge at relevant moments and shaping your adult behaviour in ways you scarcely notice.

It’s very hard to oust them, and they can be fairly run-of-the-mill or a little more outré. Here’s one of mine: at some point when I was very small, someone observed: ‘Eluned looks much better with a fringe’.

I’m not sure who said it first, but it was repeated often enough, and stated so convincingly, that by the time I had reached adulthood, my fringe and I were, literally and emotionally, inseparable.

Here is what it means to be part of the fringe fraternity. When you visit a hairdresser, he or she will usually have a system for trimming your fringe. This will involve a kind of pie-chart division with the comb at the front of your crown to determine what should be fringe and what shouldn’t. A very tiny sliver will then be cut off.

Now… Fundamental Fringe Law 1 says that fringes are only the right length for about three hours in every eight weeks. This means that another trim will be required very, very soon.

Fully aware of Law 1, the hairdresser will tell you that you are welcome to come in for a free fringe trim before your next cut. However, you and they know that you will not do this. This is because a) it’s too much hassle and b) it contravenes Fundamental Fringe Law 2: one of the perks of having a fringe is cutting it yourself.

Have you ever thought how odd it is that we quite happily cut our own fingernails and toenails and yet we outsource the cutting of our hair? Yes, I know some of it’s round the back where we can’t see it, but so are zips and bra straps, and we generally manage those ourselves. The fact that cutting my own fringe feels clandestine is ridiculous, but nevertheless it is something that I do rather more often than I might let on.

Over the years I have tried several techniques. The most basic involves pulling it all forward, grabbing a great wodge of it all in one go and chopping at it rather as you would a hank of rope. The huge advantage of this method is that the cut-off bits come away all together and you can dispose of them easily before they stick to your face like prickly glitter. The disadvantages are – well – obvious, when you think that the hairdresser never does it that way.

A more precise method involves cutting straight across, slowly and carefully. There are a number of pitfalls here, the main one being that unless you are very experienced, it is hard to keep level. I did once, in my teens, hit upon the bright idea of fixing a strip of spirit-level-straight sellotape across my fringe and then cutting along the bottom. Do not try this at home. Sellotape and hair do not good bedfellows make.

So if fringes are so difficult to maintain, why do people have them? Well, here we come to Fundamental Fringe Law 3: like bad politicians, fringes never bow out willingly. Sadly, you cannot simply cut one off, as one helpful male friend suggested I do, without outlining your hairline with stubble. You’re forced instead to let it grow into the mass of hair on the rest of your head. Like an island that doesn’t want to be linked to the mainland, a fringe will do everything in its power to maintain its independence. As you grow it out, it will poke you in the eye, hang limply over your nose, flirt wantonly with the wind and generally behave in a thoroughly attention-seeking way. If you can resist cutting it back in a Psycho-like frenzy you will be quite the hero.

That’s why I have never managed to lose my fringe. However, I’m starting to wonder whether it might be bringing me some – ahem – fringe benefits. As I grow older, nobody can see the wrinkles on my forehead, or the grey bits creeping in at my hairline, or notice when my eyebrows are less than perfectly groomed. Maybe my family was right after all.

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