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Cyberdreads come to town
Aug. 7, 2003
Toronto Star

For years, Hilary Gillespie held on to a box of blue plastic tubing.

She didn't want to be a plumber or an electrician. She didn't have big plans to create the world's longest drinking straw.

Gillespie wanted the plastic in her hair.

For most people, a bright blue dye job is an adventure. But Gillespie wanted the standout style of the future, the style she'd seen on science-fiction television shows and in movies.

As a teenager she watched a lot of Japanese cartoons with her brother and grew to love the aesthetic.

"I have wanted plastic hair for years and years and years and years," says the Toronto-based Web designer, model and piercing apprentice. "All those robot girls were just very cool to me."

The only problem was, she wasn't quite sure how to turn her box of tubes into a hairdo. She kept the tubing anyway, in the hope that one day she'd find a way to afix it to her head.

Gillespie, wasn't the only one who dreamed of plastic hair. Other young men and women who frequent cyber-themed club nights in various corners of the globe were also coveting odd objects and envisioning new, robot- inspired hairstyles. Eventually, word got back to Gillespie that two expensive hair salons were offering plastic hair: one in Tokyo and one in London.

"I thought, 'One day I will go there and my hair will cost more than the flight and I won't feel bad about it,'" she says.

But Gillespie didn't have to travel to get her dream do. Instead, she made a home for the trend in Toronto, which already had a sizable community of people into the cyber/rave scene.

Wanting a professional look she couldn't achieve by herself, Gillespie turned to her hairdresser Karen Wallington for assistance, gradually, coaxing her to install the tubing. Wallington, co-owner of the Toronto salon Pretty Eclectic, hadn't worked with plastic before meeting Gillespie, but she had plenty of experience weaving in synthetic dreadlocks. She braided in the plastic much the same way, replacing fake hair with plastic tubing.

Today, Gillespie has a mix of blue plastic tubing and foam strips artfully woven into her bleached-blonde hair. It's a look that's catching on with a growing number of Canadians. Some, like Gillespie, go to salons for the professional plastic look. Many more are mucking around in their bathrooms with wires, hoses and bubble wrap, strapping all kinds of crazy things to their heads. Joelene Leader's done it all.

"Convoluted ribbed wire loom, convoluted hose, black PVC tubing, heat shrink tubing, plastic rexlace, clear plastic strips, fibre optic pieces, large silver wires, LEDs, foam: you name it, it's probably been on my head," says the 19-year-old University of Saskatchewan commerce student who connects with other fake hair enthusiasts in online fake hair forums.

She, too, was influenced by science-fiction.

"I first started wearing plastic-tubing extensions almost a year ago when I went as The Borg for Halloween. I used a latex bald cap to cover my hair and managed to attach large tubes and hoses to my head. Needless to say I won the costume contest," she says. "Ever since then I've been very interested in wearing plastic in my own hair as an everyday lifestyle. I love the way plastic feels, the look it has. It is very sleek and reminds me of cyborg characters."

Leader started out the way most fake-hair lovers do, with easy-to-remove hairpieces called falls. With a fall, the plastic lacing, tubing or foam strips are attached to a hair elastic or, preferably, a ribbon.

The ribbon or elastic is simply tied around an existing ponytail and the extensions are styled. Girls often accessorize the ponytail with a pair of goggles on the top of their head. It helps hide the natural hair that isn't wound into the extensions. They could just tie a bandana on, but goggles give that surreal, just-fired-up-the-welding-torch look.

Many people soon get tired of falls, though. They aren't altogether secure on your head and can look shoddy if not styled correctly.

The other alternative is braiding them in for a semi-permanent style. The tubing, lacing or foam strips can stay in for about three months before you get enough frizzy hair growth at the root to warrant a re-installation. But most people take them out after a few weeks.

Some of this stuff is pretty heavy. It's also not altogether comfortable when you're lying down. Seventeen-year-old Kristen Schroeder is a real fashion victim. The high school student from Saskatoon has found that plastic hair can be a bit of a pain in the neck.

"It was really, really heavy though because I had a full head of hair and I did the entire thing in these tiny little braids (with plastic lacing). I had (a) stiff neck and my upper back was hurting," says Schroeder.

Then there was the IV tubing incident. Her home-spun hairdo - with braids tucked inside of IV tubes - turned the ends of her hair green.

"My hair ended up rotting in the tube because moisture got trapped inside," she says. "It didn't smell so great and it looked like grass clippings."

That little hair adventure cost her about 10 centimetres of hair.

But she loves the look so much, she keeps trying new styles and material. The attention it brings isn't so bad either. She becomes a "petting zoo," she says. Everyone feels the need to touch her hair.

Now she makes plastic falls out of cassette tape and convoluted tubing and sells them on eBay.

While it's hard to nail down the exact origins of such a global fashion trend, most people in the fake hair community credit the London salon Pepi's as the birthplace of plastic hair. The salon has its own tubing made especially for hair and won't sell it to the public. The only way to get Pepi's plastic in your hair is to have a Pepi's stylist weave it in.

Katarina Krizaj of Mississauga has had the Pepi's experience. She was lucky enough to book an appointment for plastic extensions while attending school in England last year. At Pepi's, she says, they don't just braid the plastic in place: They seal the plastic to your hair with the flame from a lighter.

"Every day my mother asks me when I'm just going to do something normal with my hair," says Krizaj, who currently sports long rolls of bubble wrap.

Several other hairdressers have since popped up in England offering similar services as the idea catches on.

"Over the last two years it has become immensely popular, especially in the larger cities such as London and Manchester," says Ceri Cushen, owner of Snarl Hair in Northants, England. "It is still not something you would find available at a mainstream salon but within certain subcultures, it's definitely one of the more popular styles."

Cushen says that, on average, she does about two or three foam hairstyles a week. And if there's an important function in the Gothic, fetish or rave scene, business will really pick up. Krizaj says that in England, it's become so popular, people from all kinds of scenes are wearing plastic pieces.

"It doesn't matter what you're into," she says.

Krizaj is returning to England next month to attend the London College of Fashion. She hopes to go into costume design or haute couture. Hair is just one more way to express herself visually.

"I don't want anything that's too flashy," she says. "That's why it's transparent. I haven't done any crazy coloured plastic yet."

Krizaj hopes that more people in Toronto will pick up on the international trend.

"I think this city has a little bit of catching up to do," she says.

Gillespie suggests having a few more stores sporting the cyber fashions that go with the hair, might help.

But, whether or not her hair is ever widely accepted in Toronto, Gillespie's sticking with her style. "I'm not interested in having regular hair," she says.

Now that she's had plastic, she'll never go back.

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