A Guardian fashion-endorsed hair trend to watch out for this autumn is what they’re calling “school-bully hair” and everyone else once called the Croydon Facelift. While it is very Prada to take a fashion faux pas from yesteryear, recycle it in the slick packaging of fashion show styling and sell it as a challenge to conventional taste (or “the good taste of bad taste” in Miuccia Prada's words), I remain unconvinced that I can stop myself thinking “Council House And Violent” at the sight of it. Maybe time is on Prada’s side – and crucially less so on mine – when it comes to associations with Vicky Pollard and the stereotype that goes with her. I always admired Ms Prada’s ability to take away the right-twice-a-day transience of fad items and reinvent them in a timeless way but she’s got her work cut out convincing me.
Can we still say ‘chav’? What a difference a decade makes! After all, there’s surely no more mortifying a way to show your age than by parroting views that are no longer considered socially acceptable (“shh! You can’t say that any more, granddad! The correct term is…”) The quintessentially noughties chav trope and the backlash that came with it was a reaction to the obnoxiousness of lad and ladette culture that dominated in the ‘90s. More to the point, it came at a time when we weren’t in recession, dreams were dreams and it was socially acceptable to listen to emo. My point? Having once worked a stop-gap job in a government initiative centre designed to get people off the dole, I can verify that there were people who were simply work-shy. Also, having spent many a euphoric Friday night at one of the only rock clubs in the country I know of, stories of rock fans being attacked for their dress sense and music taste by chavs after closing time at the pub next door culminated in feelings of fear and disgust towards our belligerent, Burberry-toting brethren. That was Coventry, 2007.
Fast forward to the present day (perchance, skip the track if we’re to use remotely up-to-date technology analogies. It sure as hell feels more like a track skip when I think of how quickly the time has passed!) in the age of recession, zero-hours contracts, the poverty wages that necessitate the majority of benefits claims and austerity, and the term, ‘dole-dossing scum’ does not fly (so I like to think – I’m a Guardian reader, go figure). The feminist in me also likes to think we’re also too savvy to trot out the equally offensive chavette stereotype of the fecklessly fecund gym slip mum and the social stigma – not to mention ignorance of personal circumstances – that goes with it. Even those who do continue to tow a right-wing line where chavism is concerned, are sounding more tired than the exhausted downtrodden folk they've chosen to blame for their problems, however many miles the latter have travelled.
Back on the subject of headache-inducing ponytails, could this latest incarnation be doomed to meet the same fate as its notoriously tacky noughties and eighties counterparts? What makes a trend pass the aesthetic threshold that makes it socially acceptable? Nicer materials? Prettier models? Good enough fortune or PR to keep negative associations at bay? Surely Prada’s bejewelled efforts are a separate entity to their sink estate look-alikes?
Well, yeah… but no.
You could argue that visually, a scraped-back ponytail holds a different sartorial meaning when coupled with shoddy bleaching efforts, hoop earrings and a tracksuit to when it’s teamed with a power trenchcoat and diamond brooches. Maybe Prada’s stylists are doing high ponytails in a slightly different cheekbone-enhancing way (could I get a beauty vlogger's take on this?) or maybe, in terms of meaning conveyed, they’re not so different.
Think of the power clothes, in fact any personal styling, has as an expression – and extension – of ourselves. By extension, I’m referring to the grandiose and imposing silhouettes we create and armour ourselves with sartorially. Like the power dressing potential of shoulder pads, it’s the imposing height of the pony tail, like the arch of a cat’s back before a fight, that soars like a searing battle cry. It commands with authority and imposes with purpose, whether you’re a card-carrying school bitch or the scariest mum on the estate. They’re fierce in every sense; combine that with facial tautness, and you’ve got the perfect zen for fashion.