17 April 2009

Cockscomb hairdos

Here's a translation of an article that ran in our local newspaper, La Nouvelle République, last week. I enjoyed it and hope you do too.
The principal of Lycée Ronsard,
arbiter of style

Piercings, scarlet-red hair, chains, OK... but the cockscomb, that’s a no! A Vendôme high school student gets sent home.

He’s a nice kid, easy-going, who is well-liked by friends of both genders. Thursday, however, his life was turned upside down: as he walked onto the grounds of Ronsard high school in Vendôme, the student bumped — figuratively speaking — into the principal, Alfred Piélot.

And that’s when all the trouble started: on the one hand, a classic suit-and-tie, impeccable grooming — everything you would expect in a high school principal. On the other, a leather jacket, funky shoes, red and blue hair, and, above all, a cockscomb haircut. A very impressive cockscomb haircut. Either you like it or you don’t. The principal doesn’t. The esthetic conflict runs deep.

The student is firmly invited to return home and get rid of the crazy-looking hair, the ostentatious character of which has shocked Alfred Piélot. Before departing, the banished student alerts his classmates, who immediately go running to the principal’s office. Over the course of an animated and acrid discussion, it becomes obvious that the two sides don’t at all share the same view of what constitutes elegance in fashion.

Chloë, who is especially outspoken, calls it a “unique and original” haircut. Alfred Piélot calls it “ridiculous.” The arbiter of fashion is the principal and the principal alone. Alfred Piélot puts an end to the discussion by sarcastically inviting the dissident students “to lead a solidarity movement in favor of their reprimanded comrade.”

The problem, with young people, is that there is no need to ask them twice when you're asking them to do something they are already tempted to do: yesterday, 30 or more of them came to school with different-colored cockscomb hairstyles.

Alfred Piélot is doing his best to remain philosophical about it all: “I am not sure that accepting the will of these young people would be doing them a favor educationally. Where are the boundaries? It’s true, last Thursday I decided that one student had gone too far. I really didn’t appreciate that modified Roman-helmet haircut. But the student was re-admitted the next day, because he had trimmed the cockscomb down to make it shorter.”

Everything changes, nothing changes. In the 1970s, students were sent home for wearing their hair too long...
You have probably gathered that a “cockscomb haircut” is what we would call a mohawk in the U.S.


  1. Hi Ken,
    Great article. 'Everything changes, nothing changes' ... indeed. In the beginning of the seventies we weren't even allowed to wear trousers ... only navy blue kneelength skirts (it was a catholic, all girl's school) ... except when in winter the temperature dropped below zero. Then trousers (mind you, NO jeans though) were allowed ... but only worn UNDER the skirt!!! Today it's fashionable to wear trousers or a legging under a dress or skirt, but in those days it looked absolutely ridiculous. So we'd rather had 'frozen' knees than look like 'weirdos'. Martine

  2. Excellent translation!
    Never, ever!, at any moment, did I feel the French under the English.

  3. Back in the late eighties, the boys at the school I taught at then (a tiny school of about 200 students)protested a dress-code issue by wearing skirts one day. The rules were that no one was allowed to wear shorts (and there was no such thing as crop-length pants), so on reallllly hot days (and there were many), the girls could wear short skirts and sandals, but the boys had to wear long pants and suffer. So, about 20 of them showed up in flowery, flowing cotton skirts... it was a hoot. Our principal, Betty, was a very wise woman who realized when to not make a big deal of something and just enjoy a good laugh...but our assistant superintendent heard about it and ran to the school and cried, "Suspend them all!" Betty said, "Now how am I going to suspend them when I just told them how cute they all look???"
    She even ended up posing with them for a photo in the paper (the boys had called the local news agencies to alert them to the big protest planned for that day.) Heh heh :)


  4. chm, good morning... we must be having our morning coffee and blogs at the same time today! I was thinking the same thing about Ken's excellent translation!


  5. Judy, that's a great story. I'm still laughing.

    I meant to say in my post that the haircut that is known as a mohawk is called une crête in French, as in crête de coq.

  6. Hi Martine, I remember those days. I had a professor at the university in the late 1960s who would not let women come into his classroom if they were wearing trousers (called pants in American English). And he was one of the best French literature professors in the U.S. in those days.

  7. Judy, the skirt thing is a riot. When you think how hard it is for a woman to find a skirt that fits, you wonder how the guys did it.

    Ken, what's French for "funky"?

  8. I was brought to the principal's office for wearing culottes in 6th grade. My mom had to come to school with a skirt for me to change into. They principal considered culottes to be the same as pants.

  9. Lynn, What you call 'culottes' we in Europe call a 'legging' ... and thus forbidden in the seventies without a skirt worn over it. Martine

  10. As a product (and veteran) of the 60s I'm of mixed mind when it comes to "new" styles. I consider all forms of new fashion acceptable as long as it doesn't become a distraction from the business at hand, such as Berkeley's naked guy.

    Working in the food industry, the current fashion statement is body tattoos, something that doesn't personally interest me. (But I have seen many that really could be called art.) Most are kept covered during work. Big hairstyles, such as this high school student was wearing need to be encapsulated during work. Obviously, if the principal had kept his mouth shut in this case, there would be no newspaper article and only one student with the hairstyle.

    BTW, I think the style in English would be referred to as "spiked hair." Here's a poor example of what I mean.

  11. Ladybird,

    These "culottes" had a "flap" type front, but from the back one could see that they were "divided"....an odd style admittedly, you don't see them anymore. This was back in the 60's......

  12. Hi Carolyn, I'm not sure there is a one-to-one translation of the word "funky." I this article, the French said « chaussures incertaines ».

    Peter, you may be right about the name for the hairstyle. Who can keep up? The Roman helmet allusion made me think of a mohawk.

    My memory of girls' culottes is that they looked more like a skirt or at least baggy pants. The French word has a much different meaning, as does the word pants in British English.

  13. I was once sent home by my principal to change my skirt because she considered it too short... and I was A TEACHER!!! :))) Everyone (students, colleagues, friends, family) thought it was hilarious and ridiculous... I had to miss the rest of a 2-hour class that I only saw twice a week as it was, just so that I could run home to change. This was, ironically, the same principal who just laughed off the boys wearing skirts.

    Lynn and Martine, the item I remember being called culottes (in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s) matches the description by Lynn... in the 90s I believe they called the same thing a skort.

    Ken, I am still amazed at the ridiculous demands put on women regarding how they dressed back into the early 70s.... that professor was way out of line. I remember my mom not being allowed into a nice restaurant once, because she was wearing a (very attractive, very dressy) "pants suit"... matching top and pants that were very nice. She had to wear a dress or skirt! Amazing....

    As a high school teacher, I see everyday what the latest styles are, and you wouldn't believe what kinds of things kids consider acceptable for school and work. They really have not grown up with any concept what is "dressy" or "improper" or "casual"... it's all just super duper casual.

  14. In England this hairstyle is known as a "mohican". We don't see so many of them these days but they are often dyed bright colours such as green or pink. I rather like them. If my husband had enough hair he'd like to have one too. When I was at grammar school (age 11-18) the uniform in the summer was for cotton skirts with knee-length white socks. In winter it was a black skirt with grey socks. The trouble is, if the principal had ignored the mohican, what would have been next. I could never have been a teacher. The human race would not have survived - I'd have drowned most of the little horrors for such things as wearing mohican haircuts.

  15. Lynn

    From the description of your "culottes" I believe it is what are called "skort" today. They are back in fashion because of the lady golfers

    They are great for gardening as well as hiking

    PS Judy said it before me :-)

  16. Judy,

    Your story is so funny! I taught school in the late sixties when I was in my early twenties. In those years the skirts got shorter every year, but I was lucky to never been sent home by my principal!

    I bought a pantsuit in London in '69 and I was able to wear the top as a very short dress. I also saw Hair that summer- those were the days, my friend!

    I love the crazy hair and tatoos on other people's kids. I'm just glad my kids came of age in the 80s when things were pretty calm.

    I pieced my ears in college and my parents thought that was a bit strange.

    I bought a culotte in England and loved wearing it to high school in the early 60s. Pants really do make sense for women as well as men.

    Thanks for the translation, Ken. I missed the pictures at first though.


  17. Lynn, isn't it ridiculous that the principal would see culottes as pants and not as a skirt? Was the principal a man or a woman? Not allowing women to wear pants has got to be about one of the most petty sexist behaviors ever.

    Evelyn, how daring, wearing the pantsuit top as a dress. I think the hairdos and clothes are great, but I wonder about the tattoos and piercings. The tattoos, anyway, seem like something somebody might later regret. Oh well, live and learn, n'est-ce pas?


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