?When I was the in the sixth grade, I used to style my hair in a long, hot dog curl. Not as in a ponytail; that would have been cute. Instead, I brushed it all forward as flat as I could get it and once it reached my forehead, I curled the entire thing upward to create mock bangs. Yeah, it was pretty horrible. If you don’t believe me, check out the inset picture of the blog. That’s me, in all my hair glory.
Mind you, I wasn’t trying to look bad on purpose. I just didn’t know how to do my own hair. Not only was it feathery fine, it was crazy curly, too. It was a complicated situation; one that my mother, who was born of Norwegian descent (and was blessed with the most perfect, stick-straight-slick-gorgeous hair,) didn’t know how to handle.
Even though she made me wear pig-tails way past the appropriate age, she was not having any part of my current hair situation. Every morning before school, she would ask me: “Why do you insist on wearing that hot dog curl?” after I’d easily just spent more than an hour caring, combing and coiffing it. Hastily, I would reply in exasperation: “It’s the best I got, Sue.”
I used to call my mother by her first name when I was frustrated. God love her, the woman had so much patience and the truth was, I was more than frustrated; I was mad and embarrassed that I didn’t look like the other girls at school. They had silky, smooth, long hair that swung back and forth. Mine was frizzy, frantic and ‘fro-like. We stopped having the argument when she got my sixth grade graduation picture.
In all fairness, I did go behind her back and “extra” hot dog my hair out for the pictures. I also spruced up the color with a good dose of ‘Sun-In Hair Lightener.’ I went from dirty blonde to a putrid, yellowy orange in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t at all what the advertisement on the box promised, but I did it the night before, so, I was kind of committed to it. Besides, I had no idea how to fix it.
The next day, my mother drove me straight to a hair salon across town. On the way, we had a talk or rather, she talked and I listened. She told me that the fact that my hair was “different” was a good thing and even though we were about to change it, that didn’t mean she wanted to change me. She said: “I love you just the way you are, but sometimes we need help with things we don’t understand.”
What my mother meant by “different” and “understand” was, although I was adopted and raised by my step-father (who’s Mexican, and for all intents purposes, the most amazing father a child could ask for,) my real father was from the Middle East and she felt that I had inherited his hair attributes, not hers, and she didn’t quite know how to help me.
She told me: “Let’s improve your hair, so you feel better about yourself and you’re not so angry with me.” Even though I hesitantly agreed, it turned out to be a pretty good experience. I loved the salon and drank an icy cold Coke as different hair dressers, each with their own expertise, explained to me that my hair was “ethnic” and that I needed to learn how to take care of it and in return, it would be more manageable.
I’m not sure I understood everything that was going on that day, but I do know that when I left the salon, I’d never felt better about myself. In the course of just a couple of hours, they cut, colored and chemically straightened my hair. I wasn’t like the other girls at school, but I was a brand-new me and I knew that my hot dog hair was a ‘do of days gone by. It was a big relief.
Of course, Sue couldn’t afford to keep up my monthly hair maintenance, but she did manage to learn how to do it herself. We did, however, run into a few minor/major problems here and there. Like, don’t overlap lye products (that was the main ingredient in hair straighteners back in the day,) because too much of a good thing can chemically cut your hair. I took it all in stride, though. I knew for whatever reason, I wasn’t blessed with the good hair gene. At least, that’s what I thought back then.
Most of my teen years were marred with painful hair problems. Especially my short-lived pageant stint. Instead of celebrating my uniqueness, the pageant board (the people who make decisions in the best “interest” of their beauty queen,) backcombed, colored, curled and created a Stepford Wives cotton candy version of my coif. When it finally burned down to Q-tip-like status, the board asked me if I would consider wearing a turban. “With or without my crown?” I replied sarcastically. Not the best way to introduce me to a fashion-forward style.
After my reign (of what I’m sure some thought was of terror,) I tossed my crown back like a frisbee and sheared my fried, limp locks. Actually, it was more like shorn and shaven, without the religious implications. I was practically bald, but with my new-found freedom. I finally found some peace. I didn’t break out on my own, though…
The day after I gave up my title, Sue showed up. She drove all night through the New Mexico desert, to its Southern most part, to get to me. That’s where I was being held up in what I call “pageant prison.” The town is actually named “Hobbs,”(and for the record, I’ve never lost anything there and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, either.) Anyhow, that’s where I trained or, rather, was beaten into beauty pageant submission.
Sue was like the Tasmanian Devil that day; she came into town like a whirlwind, packed my things, put me in the car and drove me North toward Santa Fe. It took her awhile, but once she got me home, patched up my broken spirit and fixed what hair I had left, she sent me on my way and told me: “Go and find yourself.”
I headed East where I found success in modeling and for the first time in my life, “my different” was actually good. My hair was tousled, teased and untamed in every direction humanly possible. I was in good company, too. I lived around like-minded people, in a fashion community that embraced, loved and nurtured the unique. Sadly, I wouldn’t stay long; my parents urged me to come home and finish my education. So, I did.
My early hair days in television weren’t as bad as the pageant days, but I wasn’t exactly a “Pantene” girl either. A worldly hair dresser that works on models in New York City is a lot different than a small town stylist. I’m not saying there isn’t talent everywhere; there is (and for the most part, I found it,) but unusual hair isn’t the norm and finding someone to fix it fantastically would always become a frantic search. I got by, though…
At first, I wore a borderline brown bob. I’d change it up, though, with a gazillion different one-length variations. Then, after yet another round of bad straighteners, I chopped my locks off and wore a short, edgy, multi-layered blonde pixie. THAT was fun to grow out (not). It eventually morphed its way into an over-highlighted news helmet. Which means, my hair wasn’t particularly short or long, it was just kind of there and what’s more, back in the day, everyone in TV news was wearing the same unoffensive, unflattering style.
Then, I moved to Miami. That’s when the clouds parted and the hair Gods finally smiled down on me. Ah, The Magic City. The home of all things different, daring and diverse. It was the missing piece of my hair puzzle, although I didn’t know it at the time. When I landed my job at Deco Drive, my boss asked me point blank: “What color is your hair?” I was like, “Uh, blondish?” “Then why are your eyebrows black?” She asked.
That question was the beginning of a major personal and professional transformation. Over the next year, my WSVN bosses helped me find, accept and transform myself back into the unique me. The me that had journeyed so far from home to “find myself,” which happen to be my most natural state all along. I was quickly introduced to blow-out experts, curly hair specialists and co-workers who were just like me: different. They were of all ethnicities from all over the world, which didn’t seem to matter in Miami. What did matter? Good hair.
I found out (much to my surprise) that my real hair color was dark brown, almost black, and when I stopped chemically straightening it (because someone was always blowing it out anyway,) it stopped being frizzy and curly. It started to grow quickly and it became shiny, wavy and healthy.
Eventually, the possibilities of how to wear my hair became endless and in turn, my hair journey revamped, regrouped and redirected itself. It finally became about celebrating hair fashion, not just about finding a way to fix it and that’s why, despite my early years of tress trauma and my blatant snub toward wearing a head wrap in a nationally televised pageant, I decided to embrace “A Totally Turban Summer.”
While turbans have always been in some way, shape or form, part of one’s self expression, mainly religious (originating in the Fourteenth century at the end of the Moorish rule in Spain,) they’ve also become one of the most fashion-forward hair accessories to wear during Miami’s hottest Summer months; more specifically, July, August and September.
When styling my own “A Totally Turban Summer” look, I wanted it to be light, clean and effortless. My style, when not on television or modeling, is more of a, say, relaxed, bohemian chic look. So, I knew right away that I wanted my turban to be white and my clothes to be easy, breezy.
I also wanted the look to be believable, not something out of a magazine, something that you could actually wear to lunch, to lounge by the pool, even around the house. Right now, I’m really into Koko & Palenki’s new signature line. The fabrics are light, flowing and effortless.
So, I paired my turban with Koko’s loose fitting, Aztec-inspired pants and a faded tie-dyed, open shoulder shirt (pictured in the blog.) I also added a chunky necklace and the latest trend in body jewelry: a hand-ring bracelet, to give the look a bit of an edge.
How to wear my hair was the big debate for my ‘Shireen’s Favorite Thing’s’ blog team. We kicked around every possible style. The great thing about a turban is, it can actually hide your sins (if you’re having a bad hair day,) but it can also enhance the beauty of hair fashion.
We decided bigger was better and that an unruly and unkept look was a more realistic take on hair during a South Florida Summer. When everything came together, the outfit was chic and sophisticated with just a hint of bohemian beauty. Since my blog photo shoot, I’ve worn the outfit on more than one occasion. I totally adore it and it’s uber-comfortable.
Remember, because there are a lot different styles to choose from, go with a slip-on when picking a turban. It’s the most updated version. Plus, if you wanna take it up a notch, you can bedazzle the mid-region of the head wrap with a vintage broach. Word of warning: don’t try to wrap your own turban. While I’m all about do it yourself fashion, this trend takes time and technique. You wanna look like a gorgeous gypsy, not an over-wrapped, too-much-material, sweaty, hot mess.
I bought my turban at Kore Boutique in North Miami (I love that store,) but for a wider variety, I found myself shopping at MYCA Couture, too. You can find them on Etsy, IG & Twitter. What’s more, they really know how to do a turban well. They’ve managed to balance all the aforementioned do’s of wearing a turban.
As far as my hair woes, even though I’ve had a lot of them, I think the worst (the hot dog curl,) is behind me. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if my hair is kinky, crimped, curled, straightened, matted, teased or tousled … because I like myself just the way I am. I guess that’s what my mom was trying to teach me all those years ago and that’s why “A Totally Turban Summer” will always be one of my favorite things.
Blog Wardrobe & Jewelry: www.kokopalenki.com
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photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach