With hair tightly wrapped and swiped with Dippity-Do, they were her secret to big Southern hair.

steel magnolias truvy shelby
Tightly wound with hair swiped with Dippity-Do, they were her secret to big Southern hair.
| Credit: TriStar Pictures/Rastar Films 1989

If Mama had lived in Chinquapin, she would've been a regular at Truvy's. Instead, she frequented the Alabama equivalent, "beauticians" and longtime friends whose shops were attached to their homes. One of them had a sneaky little Pekingese dog that would hide under the dryer chair and nip at your heels when you weren't expecting it.

These were the days before blow dryers, flat irons, and hot rollers—dark times when Southern girls often went to bed with curlers in their hair (so they carefully shopped for curlers to sleep in).

Vintage curly hair also required Mama'n'em to spend quality time with the old bonnet hair dryer. And in between visits to the beauty shop, they had to wet-roll their own hair, winding it snugly around those curlers, which were arranged in tight, neat rows. Sometimes the ladies followed patterns that would be diagrammed in magazine articles or in ads for companies like Breck and Clairol. Once all the curlers were pinned and secured, out came Mama's trusty soft bonnet hair dryer, which looked like a vacuum hose attached to a shower cap at one end and an overnight case at the other.

Mama's hair has always been fine and curly, and she likes to wear it short. Mine is fine and poker straight, and I like to wear it long. She used Dippity-Do on both of us, at one time or another. Remember that retro styling gel? Before wrapping a strand of hair around a curler, you'd give it a healthy swipe of Dippity-Do for extra hold. (As a kid, I used to slip and play in the Dippity-Do, often giving my hair an extra-crunchy hold because I overdid it with the gel.)

The first curlers that I remember Mama using were made of hard plastic. But then I think she gravitated to ones more like Truvy's, made of some sort of wired mesh with ventilation that improved aerodynamics and accelerated the drying process. Those retro curls might've been hard to come by, but once you got them set, they would stay for a while—especially if you sprayed them with half a can of Aqua Net.

My girl cousins, especially the ones with longer hair, suffered for beauty even more than Mama did. They had to look cute for the boys at school every single day—and pretty for church on Sunday—so they often slept in curlers. They would use big plastic ones on top to get a bouffant going and pink sponge rollers in back so they could attempt sleep.

The desired effect, of course, was big Southern hair, be it long or short. I think that's why we all love Dolly Parton so much. Dolly knows there's a place in this world for big hair and for good hair curlers. We like to think that if our tresses should suddenly fall flat, Dolly would have the necessary tools in her purse to pouf it right back up.

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