This month, readers fess up to the cosmetic crazes and hideous hairdos that were bad for their looks but good for a laugh—at least in hindsight.
When I was 12, I got a Jheri curl. I had to apply so many chemicals just to maintain the style. One day, as I was sitting at home, with the sun from the window beating down on me, my sister yelled out, “Your hair is smoking!” Thankfully, it wasn’t actually on fire.
Michele Agid Brock
I still cringe when I think about the spiral perm I got when I was 12. My mom took me to a salon in a shopping plaza, where I sat for four hours reeking of that awful chemical smell. I had envisioned big, beautiful, bouncy movie-star curls, but instead I came out with tightly wound ringlets. Even the stylist commented on my resemblance to a poodle! It took two years to fully grow out that look.
Back in the 1980s, I couldn’t get enough of this all-natural mineral bronzer. I’m not sure why: It would turn my skin a lovely (ha!) orange hue, and it would constantly rub off on my white turtlenecks.
When Farrah Fawcett–style frosting highlights were all the rage, I asked a friend to use an at-home kit to frost my brown hair. She inadvertently pulled too many strands through the bleach, and I instantly became extremely blond. I’ll never forget the awkward, stilted comments that I got at work the next day. (“Oh, it’s so, er, blond!”) The color just wasn’t me.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
In high school, I wore pigtails and purple glitter eye shadow in tribute to my favorite musical group, the Spice Girls. Oh, Ginger Spice, you sure led me astray.
Hoping to give my hair volume without having to tease it, last year I went out and bought myself a hair-volumizing insert. It made me look like I was (unsuccessfully) attempting to hide a banana under my hair. When I brought it back, the clerk gave me a sympathetic smile and a refund, no questions asked.
Erin Germain Sell
Back in the 1960s, I used a cheek rouge that came in a push-up tube. It was shiny and had a consistency similar to that of petroleum jelly. I would rub it all over my face—I must have looked like Bozo the Clown.
Mary Ann Revell
Mount Dora, Florida
Stevie Wonder performed on the American Music Awards when I was 19, and as soon as I saw him, I decided that I had to have cornrows just like his. Alas, the style didn’t work well with my thick, blond locks: The tight braids damaged my hair so badly that I had to have three inches chopped off when the braids were taken out three months later .
Janice Elizabeth Berte
I was addicted to body glitter in high school. I put it everywhere, from my fingers to my face, and it made me resemble a holiday ornament.
Salt Lake City, Utah
When my boyfriend (now husband) briefly broke up with me back in college, I got angry. To blow off steam, I dyed chunks of my jet-black hair bleach blond, then tinted those pieces with semi-permanent blue hair dye. The blue washed out after four days, leaving me with green highlights. There are still pictures of me from this period, and I intend to collect and burn all of them.
Gemma Truman Billings
My friends and I fell victim to colored mascara in junior high school. The tubes cost 99 cents each and came in a range of colors—teal, magenta, gold. I would apply one color on the base of my lashes and use another for the tips. Add a bad perm and braces and I was a sight to behold.
When I was in college, in the 1960s, I had my hair professionally styled for a formal dance. Following the fads of the day, the stylist teased my long hair into a towering bouffant. (I appeared to be wearing a soufflé as a hat.) When my date opened the car door for me, I carefully exited—only to get my hair entangled in the tree branches overhead. So much for grace and beauty!
White eyeliner. I caked it on for my seventh-grade school picture—and let’s just say it was not subtle. It looked as if I had chalk smudged around my eyes.
Royal Oak, Michigan
I was 9 or 10 years old when Dorothy Hamill’s iconic short haircut came into vogue. Watching her spin around on the ice, I decided I had to copy her hairstyle. I have just one thing to say in retrospect: There is only one person who can pull off that cut, and her name is Dorothy Hamill.