For innovative hair, Baltimore is definitely where the action is DO THE HEIGHT THING


See hair. See hair in Baltimore. See hair poofed up, swooped around or wrapped close to the head. See hair gelled, swelled or remarkably sparkling.

New York may have Broadway, Los Angeles may have movie stars -- but when it comes to hairstyles for young black women, Charm City is where hair fashion has reached new creative heights.

"It is definitely true; Baltimore is very innovative as far as hairstyles go," said New Jersey resident Michelle Dacosta, as she recently had her hair done in a wrap -- a style in which hair is wound close to the head.

The 19-year-old Yale University student was in town visiting her sister and couldn't pass up the chance to visit a Baltimore salon. "We may have the same hairstyles in New Jersey, but Baltimore is more extravagant. . . .if they do a bun, it is a bigger, more extravagant bun," she said, peeking out from under the hair dryer at Profile Hair Studio in the 2100 block of N. Charles St.

To be sure, many styles, from up-dos to flapper-style, close-cropped caps of hair seen in stores, in fast food restaurants and in churches throughout the city also can be seen in other parts of the country. But nobody wears them with as much panache -- or frequency -- as young Baltimore women, say hairstylists and their customers.

"I'm all over this country and Europe. When I'm traveling, every place I go people come up to me and say, 'You all really have your own thing in Baltimore,' " says Francis Johnson, who owns Studio 808 hair salon on Reisterstown Road and who travels extensively giving workshops and organizing hair shows for a cosmetics company.

What makes Baltimore unique, he says, is that young women have ignored protocol that dictates that fancy hairstyles are to be saved for fancy occasions.

"People in other places wear things like the French roll for formal occasions," says Mr. Johnson. "But here, it's an everyday thing. Baltimore is like no other city."

The hairdos that are causing a stir include the "hurricane" (in which the hair is swirled high -- and then higher), the slicked-back gel look, the multicolored style achieved with either dye or glitter, and the rhinestone hairdo (rhinestones are stuck in the hair). There's also the '60s look, the super topknot and a favorite in Baltimore for the last few years -- the French roll.

Generally, those who sport the extravagant looks are young women -- or at least young at heart -- who want to go for the big bang hair effect. And big, or at least striking, is what they often request: Occasionally, even the salon operators are amazed at their own handiwork.

There are women wearing their hair in styles "like I have never seen before," says Larry Kent, the manager of Hair Dimensions salon in the 100 block of W. 25th St., who prefers simpler styles. "Young girls here are into this high-tech, fluorescent look."

About half his customers request the new "do's," says Mr. Johnson. And when customers walk into his salon and request a multicolored rhinestone hurricane or an upswept topknot with pincurls on the sides, he's ready. "I'm conservative," he says. "But I have an operator who does all of that trendy stuff."

At Hair Dimensions, stylist Darlene Carter continues to do simpler styles for some customers. "French rolls are still very popular," she says.

But leave it to young Baltimorean trend setters to take simple French rolls to a higher level. While some women settle for demure French rolls, others ask for hairdos that reach for the sky. "Right now, it's very popular to put flowers in it or pin curls," Ms. Carter says. But, "a lot of people like it big and bold."

Indeed the trend of adding hair, or as one salon owner more delicately phrases it, creating "hair illusions" continues to surge in popularity, said Lisa Campbell, who owns the Profile salon with her husband.

"You can go from your length to here," she said, first pointing to someone wearing a very, close-cropped Afro "do," then pointing to her own waist. "And you can do it in an hour!"

And talk about colors! Nearly every color in the rainbow can be spotted on young heads in this town.

"Younger women are into avant-garde. Anything goes," Mrs. Campbell said. And it goes "in just about any color that you can imagine."

And if bigger hair or hair of every hue isn't your preference -- "Just look at what she has," Mrs. Campbell says, walking over to one customer and lifting up the hair dryer. There sat customer Valencia Conaway, a dead ringer for a 1920s flapper. Ms. Conaway's slick, black hair was streaked with blond, and two gelled, perfectly placed pin curls rested neatly on each cheek.

There was no special occasion for the hairstyle, says the 22-year-old Towson State University student who also works in telecommunications. "I just thought I would try it."

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