VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE
Terri White on the trials and tribulations of living with a high weave in NYC
My look – cultivated, tweaked and distorted over a decade – lifts all the best (and arguably most questionable) bits of Ronnie Spector, Paul Weller, Poison Ivy and Divine and weaves them into one often eyebrow-raising tapestry. A London girl for over a decade, the brows I encountered were never more than semi-arched. Then, three years ago I moved to New York – home to the outsiders and the freaks, right? – and they shifted to full forehead-shifting startled arch. But that’s not the only challenge as you try to keep your style beliefs held firm in this city. Here are the odds you face when trying to be a rockabilly-mod-girl-group hybrid with a weave in NYC.
The weather (part 1)
January 2014 will long be remembered in New York as the month of ‘ARRGH’. This was the scene when I arrived in the city in a short sleeve Fred Perry, Harrington jacket, Mary Jane shoes and a five- inch beehive, stuffed with socks and held tight with the strongest lacquer. Cue unfortunate comedy scenes as I skidded over black ice into snowdrifts (‘For the love of God, woman, buy some snow boots,’ came the incredulous refrain from colleagues, friends and strangers) and held my hive gingerly between my cupped palms, like an unsure new mother shielding her baby from the world. Did I buy the snow boots and toss on a thick sweater? Did I hell. I mean, who would I be in snow boots? Where would I even find snow boots? Actually, what even are snow boots? The humiliation of pairing them with a wiggle skirt far outweighed the humiliation of ending up arse-first in a foot of snow, so I continued to shiver, skid and stumble all winter long. Weather: 0, Me: 1. Kinda.
The weather (part 2)
Sadly, friends, your woes don’t end with the reappearance of the sun. As I write this, it’s 89 degrees in New York City. With the tightly-stacked buildings, bubbling concrete and packed-in people, the humidity is more like 130 degrees. Polyester knits, silk linings, crinolines, nipped waists, knee-binding skirts and twill- weaved wool dresses all conspire to make your skin feel like it’s trapped in the seventh circle of hell come May. You sweat on the subway, you sweat in the elevator, you sweat on the stairs, you sweat at dinner, you sweat in the park. You sweat sitting so still you’re convinced you can’t sweat. Gigs, bars, parties? Christ. It’s like being boiled alive. Your days become one long attempt to stay dry, and the beehive fares no better.
The structural support you’ve relied on for years – and has seen you through the seven distinct types of drizzle that England has to offer – begins to come undone. By 11am, it’s wilted, tilted and wonky. Sometimes it sinks in the middle like a disappointing Yorkshire pudding. It’s the worst kind of indignity.
A serious lack of boundaries
Newsflash: Americans, not so good at knowing where the line is, especially after the merest sniff of booze. Evenings go a little bit like this: Is that your hair? Is it real? How doyou do it? Will you do it to my hair? Can I touch it? Can I put my fist in it? What will you do if I put my fist in it? Hey Joe, come and put your fist in Amy Winehouse’s hair!
New York is secretly square. Really square
Yes, it’s the home of the Chelsea Hotel, CBGBs, Mars Bar and Skid Row. The place where outsiders long sought refuge and where punks set the pace and drag queens ruled downtown. But it’s not 1981 anymore and my, how times have changed. The other New York dominates now: the one made from sketches of men in matching suits with business cards on competing paper stocks. Manhattan can feel like an island of property developers, bankers and trust fund kids. Brooklyn? Not so different. There are slacks, button- downs and ironic band T-shirts for miles. If you’re looking for a subculture to submerge yourself in (or even get a nod of recognition for the one you’re enjoying solo), you’re looking in the wrong place. Shout out to the lass who, noting my scooter dress, shouted: ‘Oh my God, you’re from the 1900s!’. Right on, sister.
New York is all about New York, not you
And here’s what it all boils down to. New York is unyielding, New York is hard, New York is not about individuality (and certainly not your individuality). New York is about New York. The architecture, the pace, the people who pound the sidewalk. Every aspect of New York is about New York. And you can either fit in, or you can sod off, and quite frankly it doesn’t care which you do and what frock you’re wearing when you do it.
Terri White has just returned to London from New York City and is editor-in-chief of Empire Magazine.
Illustration Fanny Gentle