Rice loosens up her locks and her image


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has unveiled a new hairstyle - a longer, softer look that frames her face and is being called an improvement over her previous style.

"It's a little bit classic Oprah [Win- frey]," says Lesly Simmons, who works in public relations for the American Red Cross in Washington and has her hair styled at Rice's favorite Silver Spring salon, Avatar. "I like it. I think it flatters her, and it's not too dramatic. It looks very classic."

Elevating any black woman's hair to Winfrey-status is the highest of praise. Winfrey's healthy head of hair is a wonder to behold, full and bouncy, shiny and soft.

None of this could have been said about Rice in years past. The phrase "helmet hair" had been used more than once - not in this publication, mind you.

True, her long-standing, unwavering coif - stiffly parted, starched to her head and severely flipped - suited her.

It said: I mean business. I'm powerful, busy and serious. I haven't the time to trifle with frivolities like hair.

This new fuller hairdo gives her face a less intimidating look, says Debra Lindquist, vice president of marketing for the Association of Image Consultants International.

"It seems to affect her whole attitude," Lindquist says.

Indeed, the loosely layered bob gives Rice an ease that she never possessed before, even when she tried her hand at those surprising dominatrix boots last year.

"This is a little more relaxed," says Dominique Delsaux, a stylist at Franco and Bernard Hair Studio, just up the street from the White House at 1747 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. "Her hair looks a little less stiff."

It takes nothing away from Rice's accomplishments to say an appearance adjustment makes her look "more relaxed." Being strong is one thing, but - whether male or female - "stiff" is never a good look.

What could have brought about this softening, this change in her signature style? Consider: Here is a woman whose evenness and consistency is her calling card. She rarely raises her voice. She follows the same brutal workout schedule day in and day out, waking at 4:30 a.m. to tone those killer biceps and slide easily into her conservative, buttoned-up suits. Her no-nonsense flip looked the same in every TV shot and photograph, and we got the idea she liked it that way.

It could be just that her stylist persuaded her to try something new - as stylists are prone to do when spring comes around.

We tried to reach Bruce Johnson, Rice's longtime stylist at Avatar, but the shop is closed Mondays, and no one answered his home phone.

So we can only assume.

David B. Lat, co-editor of the political blog Wonkette.com, has an idea:

"Could this be a sign that Condi harbors ambitions for higher office?" he asks. "After Hillary [Rodham Clinton] started changing up her hair with regularity, her Senate bid followed shortly thereafter."

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