As the ’80s came to a close, so did the era of “big hair.” But the epoch of hair spray and perms did not leave Long Island with a whimper, but a bang during one summer in 1991 at the Huntington Hilton’s L.I. Exchange nightclub.
On sporadic Sunday nights the club hosted so-called big hair contests where stylists from all over the Island would take the stage to primp and tease, each competing to style their models’ hair higher and wilder, and letting the assembled dance crowd pick the winner.
On Sunday, July 14, 1991, Newsday snapped a photo of Joan Gerardi, of Ronkonkoma, and Evangeline Boutin (then Evangeline Rae) of Hauppauge after they had their tresses coated in hair spray and glitter.
“It was crazy,” said Gerardi, thinking back on the photo, which ran in an August 1991 issue of Newsday. “I probably had two cans of hair spray in my hair and it probably took me about two days to get it all out.”
Gerardi, who was pursuing a career in theater at the time, remembers walking onstage in a clingy skirt and cropped tank top as a local hairdresser started piling her hair high. But on that night, Gerardi’s hairdo, which featured a big shiny bow and plenty of glitter, lost out to Boutin’s waist-length coiffure.
Boutin, who was 20 at the time and working odd modeling jobs, recalls wearing an “eye catcher” of a cocktail dress as her stylist, Richard Daly, “teased and pulled” and froze her hair in place atop her head with cans of hair spray.
Daly was 25 and just starting out as a stylist for the now-closed Gorgeous Hair Salon in East Northport. He remembers using so much hair spray it looked like a smoke machine had been turned on under the spotlights.
“It was definitely a tongue-in-cheek kind of competition,” Daly said. “It was fun, but it also kind of captured a moment. That was around the tail end of the big-hair trend. Hair was getting bigger and bigger and it figuratively just collapsed right after that. It was around that time that I began working with smoother, straighter hair.”
Though Daly, who now owns Richard Salon in Smithtown, says we may never see the big hair of the ’80s return, he has seen an uptick in clients interested in wavy and textured hair.
“A whole generation of kids who grew up thinking that straighter and smoother was better now seems to want to experiment,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”
But both Gerardi, who’s still involved in theater and lives in Dutchess County, and Boutin, who works in health care and now lives in East Moriches, say they’re done wearing their hair high.
“I’m never going back to that,” Gerardi said. “My hair’s now about shoulder length and flatiron straight.”