The Hair Dryer, Freedom’s Appliance – The Atlantic

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Hair dryers weave in and out of public and private spaces, making them different from other grooming tools. Hair depilators and eyelash curlers remain hidden behind closed doors. But hair dryers began in public and continue to occupy public space. Some salons will even place a chair in their picture window, putting the hair-drying experience on full display and marketing it to passersby.

In the last decade, hair dryers have taken up public real estate anew thanks to an explosion of hair-drying bars in urban areas that deal exclusively with the washing and drying of hair (no cuts or dyeing treatments). The company Drybar, one of the most popular, has more than 70 locations across the United States and Canada. Styles are modeled on the extremely coiffed looks paraded on the red carpets of award shows and on reality TV. These ultra-manicured hairdos are a status symbol akin to a handbag or diamond ring. Maintaining them requires a commitment of $40 to $50 per week on the impermanence of hairdos that one humid day can dismantle.

But the hair dryer may now be at a crossroads. In 2016, Dyson, the maker of vacuums, fans, and hand dryers, set out to remodeling the hair dryer. As it had done with its Airblade hand dryers, Dyson hopes to revolutionize the market, encouraging more women to take their hair back into their own hands. The company shifted the motor to the base of the dryer, making it smaller and supposedly improving drying time. Though many of Dyson’s changes are more aesthetic than functional, this is a market where looks matter.

At the same time, the fashion pendulum has begun to swing away from high-polish, TV-ready looks toward a more relaxed, no-effort appearance. Celebrities like Alicia Keys have embraced the no-makeup look, and the #iwokeuplikethis movement has reinvigorated a fresher, less preened appearance. Hair might become less conforming and more free and breezy again—which could push hot air out of the public eye and back behind the bathroom door.

I finally succumbed and bought a hair dryer. I had spent years flying out the door with a damp head of hair, but I decided my soggy morning appearance was doing me a disservice. It communicated a certain young, relaxed attitude that went against the professional adult I wanted to become. Years later, I still feel awed that after 10 minutes of fanning a dryer around, my hair can be tamed. Now I see why ads for hair dryers were once laced with a million exclamation points, and showed women who were smitten over their new grooming gadgetry. As one reads, you can store your hair dryer away “or you can keep it out in the open and make a pet out of it.”


This article appears courtesy of Object Lessons.