I wore my hair long and straight for most of my life. Given it’s kinky nature this meant a once-a-week wash, blow and swirl. “A what?” Wait, let me explain.
Wearing a swirlkous and learning how to swirl your hair is an essential part of every coloured girl’s life. I presume that the name ‘swirlkous’ came about when someone thought to combine the English word ‘swirl’ – the act of brushing or swirling your hair around your head until it forms a neat pile – and the Afrikaans word ‘kous’, translated as ‘stocking’ in English – the thing that keeps the neat pile together.
Swirling one’s hair is mandatory if you’d like your freshly done hair to last beyond your night rest. At the Elle Ed’s Breakfast yesterday I learned that black girls employ similar tactics. Instead of a swirlkous though, they use a duku. Derived from the Afrikaans word ‘doek’, which is translated ‘scarf’, the duku is wrapped around the hair before going to bed.
I invite you to try swirling your hair tonight, even if you don’t need to. Get a pair of old but clean stockings and cut off its one leg. The biggest opening in the stocking is where your head will go. Brush your hair in one direction until it’s piled on top of your head and secure it with the stocking (use some hairpins if needed or ask a friend to hold your hair in place). Tie a knot in the stocking above your head and cut off the excess. Now swirl! Twist the stocking in the same direction as you brushed it. A word of warning though, do not swirl the stocking too tightly around your head – you may wake up with a bright red line above your eyes that might draw some unwelcome attention. Believe me, it’s not a pleasant experience.
Now before I could swirl my hair I first had to sit in between my mom’s, cousin’s or aunt’s legs. This would happen every weekend. First they would set my hair with curlers. Then followed a 60-minute drying expedition and a further 60 minutes spent straightening my locks with a brush and hair dryer. I don’t know who deserves more sympathy – these faithful matriarchs or the one who had to sit still for almost three hours!
When I got to varsity where I was sans the infinitely patient mom, cousin and aunt I ran into a little trouble. I often tried cheating: trying to get myself out of three solid hours of grooming. But I’d usually end up with very voluminous hair. And the moment I stepped out the door it would start curling at the roots. When this happened your hair was mincing. Hair with a bit of a kink is very sensitive to moisture in the air. So a humid day, a bath or shower could leave me with volume that Tina Turner never thought possible.
After a few Tina Turner moments in my mirror I decided to have my locks chopped. What a relief! It felt gloriously light and my styling time was now cut in half!
It was only when I made friends with some curly-haired girls on the fairer side of the race spectrum that I started thinking of letting my hair go. Up until then I grew up believing that wearing my hair curly was a sign of laziness. My gran, who was always dressed to the nines and never had a hair out of place, especially disapproved of the wash-and-go approach. It had been ingrained in her (and as a result, in me) that long, straight hair was the only sign of beauty. No wonder I always envied girls with straight hair.
But as Moses once cried out to Pharaoh in Egypt, I too cried, “Let my people (ahem, my hair) go!”
My fairer-skinned friends schooled me in their routines, their products and their thoughts about curls. I learnt that curls were friends not foes. I experimented with advice and products and once I found what worked I firmly established my carefree approach and grew comfortable in my skin and long hair again.
This increase in length, however, brought new struggles. Besides the drying time – I would walk around with still-wet curls by lunchtime – it also started drying out from all the washing. This did not bode well for the approaching grey and cold of winter. I had to do something!
Because budget was a problem at that stage I opted for a DIY solution. I googled “how to cut your own hair.” Thankfully curls are very forgiving when it comes to home jobs and even kitchen scissors.
I did many DIY kitchen-scissors jobs after that and allowed myself some indulgence every now and then in Cape Town salons like SCAR and MOP. But then I met the curly-haired man who travels with professional hairdresser scissors. And from him I’d learn how to let my hair go completely.