The perm is back: there aren’t many other four letter phrases in beauty that could cause such a flicker of panic in even the most hardy of hair trend followers.
But for 2020, a softer, more modern approach to the permanent wave might be the solution you’ve been searching for to add volume and movement to your tresses.
The history of the perm
In truth, the perm has never completely disappeared, but of all the hair trends of the last few decades, the perm is one of the most contentious.
At the height of its popularity in the ’80s, the perm was everywhere, from Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally; nobody was putting the hairstyle in a corner.
Among the ordinary women flocking to the salon to get tight curls of their own, was my mother, whose naturally poker-straight hair I also inherited.
“When I first had a perm, they were very popular – almost everyone had one – and the tight curls were a way of giving body and greater styling options to my really fine hair”, she says. “I liked it, but I stopped because the tight curl pattern was difficult to manage and style, especially as it grew out, and without using the harsh chemicals my hair is in much better condition.”
So, as with many hair trends, the perm fell out-of-favour, leaving me to grow up in the noughties, desperately searching for ways to enliven my own ‘curtain tresses’ without the thought of getting one even crossing my mind.
The modern perm
Things, though, are changing.
First and foremost, you may have noticed that actresses have slowly fallen back in love with the perm, including Emma Stone and Olivia Munn.
The hairstyle even made it onto the spring/summer 2020 Fashion Week catwalk at the Julien Macdonald show.
The perm process has also been undergoing a low-profile transformation. There are more techniques being used to limit damage – both from the chemicals and the heat required to set the curls – as well as more than one finished look. There’s still the option of big, corkscrew curls, but looser, beachier waves are also now possible too.
“In our salon, perms have been on the rise for about five years, and recently we’ve gone from doing about four a year to four a day”, says the hair expert Karine Jackson who uses Curlformers at her location in London’s Seven Dials.
“We see a real variety in what clients’ want – some want really defined curls, others just a bit more movement and…