The Joan Didion Haircut

 
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Joan Didion, 1956

People with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve. They display what was once called character.

When anyone asks me who my literary icon is, I have an entire list of wonderful, literary women ranging from Anais Nin, Francois Sagan, Jean Rhys, Colette (as most readers do, I have a soft spot for Paris), but when anyone asks me who my style icon is, my first thought will always be Joan Didion. I adore her writing, of course, which has kept me company through a number of dark, sleepless nights but there is something about her photographs, so widely familiar in the back cover of her books, in magazine profiles, all over the internet, that stays with you.

In the documentary about her, The Center Will Not Hold, a friend of hers remarked that every morning she would come down the stairs in their shared house, open the fridge, take out a cold can of coke, and drink it quietly with her face covered in sunglasses. This Didion, which is shown only to those who knew her best, lives on in our imagination as a nonchalant, elusive, and beautiful figure.

We know her iconic photograph: her expression dead-pan, her hair immaculate, with her hand-crossed and a cigarette in between. Then, there’s the one where she is standing in front of a beautiful white muscle car in a dress that covers her entire figure. There’s also the one of her, showing a rare smile, with a scarf knotted around her neck. Every photograph of her is beautiful, striking, and quietly aggressive.

It was not an accident when, out of the blue, I was dared to cut my hair by a former lover, and as I sat in front of the salon mirror, searched a photograph of Didion, and showed it to the hairdresser. Okay, Schatzi she said to me, and within 30 minutes, I had the same bob haircut. I grew out of my nonchalant affectation years ago, thankfully, as I don’t think I have the same firmness and single-mindedness that others might have (I care about things, a lot) but regardless, I have a Didion bob, I have a pair of sunglasses, and I have a cold can of coca cola –– which is as close to nonchalance I will ever get.


This is part of a Didion series, in which I write about the things that I adore about her. For the first instalment, it’s her iconic haircut. Next, the way she dresses, perhaps. I don’t know yet, but I highly recommend reading her books and watching her documentary.*