The Backcomb Beauties
by Chloe Balcomb

Blonde Marie had perfect skin, porcelain pale,
she spoke seven languages and knew her way
around a comb, taught me how to scaffle roots
and strands into a nest, to transform waves
into three-inch spikes. Each Friday night
we’d lacquer up in my room, slick on lipstick,
eyeliner, oversized coats. So there we were,
myself, Mad Clare and the backcomb beauties,
Chrissie in her astrakhan, Tall Jo, Little Dawn
and the rest of the flock, a charm of rare birds,
crowned and crested, winging our way down
West Street, sipping from hipflasks, alighting
on the dance floor, all feather, foot and attitude,
Sheffield’s boldest barnets, flying in formation.

PHOTO: Backcomb Beauty, 1983.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Thinking about hairstyles, I was reminded of my years as a student in Sheffield and the amazing young women I shared a house with. It was the early 80s and big hair was in. We had a lot of fun, but were also strongly motivated by the feminist movement at that time. We dressed for ourselves and cared for and respected each other, both emotionally and intellectually. This is something I wanted to get across in the poem and also to challenge the pejorative use of the word “bird” to describe women. “Barnet” is a slang word for hair in the U.K.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chloe Balcomb is an English poet, author, and therapist based in Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Inspiration for her stories and poems comes not only from personal anecdotes and memories (her own and those of others) but also from myth, inner journeys, and the landscape around her.