My mom loves my hair. She definitely shouldn’t like it as much as she does—it’s thick and frizzy with some major cowlicks—but since her hair is fine and shiny and straight, she’s always been a fan. For a special treat when I was growing up, she would blow-dry my hair and put in hot rollers so I could add a big bow and look like a frizzier, Irish version of my idol, Shirley Temple.
Those might have been my best hair days, because after that I mostly ended up with a poofy, semistraight look. While friends learned to wield round brushes brilliantly—appearing day after day with sleek, turned-under hair—I found blow-drying to be exhausting and futile: I was consistently left with tired arms, plus kinks and damp patches. So by the time I started traveling to report stories in places like Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Ireland, and Paris for my job as an editor at Condé Nast Traveler, I had resigned myself to a messy, curlyish look (read: vaguely disheveled).
Things took a turn when I interviewed the hairstylist Robert Vetica, who has done the ‘dos of Scarlett Johansson and Marion Cotillard. We were talking about how to fake a great blow-dry using a cheap hotel hair dryer, and Vetica surprised me by prescribing the retro rollers my mom had been begging me to use for years (Remember your curls? Weren’t they lovely?). He assured me that his recommended procedure—which involved Hot Tools HotSetter Ultra 05 Travel Rollers—would not make me look like I was about to break into “The Good Ship Lollipop.” Dubious, I followed his routine: 1. Apply leave-in conditioner; 2. Quickly blow-dry hair without worrying about making it perfect; 3. Roll hair away from the face around five rollers (three down the middle, two at the sides) and let it set; and 4. Remove rollers and blow-dry hair for five more minutes, using fingers to take out some of the oomph. Vetica promised the slim roller set would be worth its weight in my carry-on bag.
And he was right. The rollers made my hair look sleek but bouncy, and—most unusually—devoid of frizz. It was easy to master the 20-minute routine, and I really did look like I’d had my hair blow-dried by a pro.
Or at least that’s what I thought. Since the bar was set so low, I couldn’t call the rollers true life-changers until I put them to a test: an engagement party starring one of the aforementioned friends with the perfectly blow-dried, just-out-of-a-salon hair. I have never seen this girl’s hair look less than perfect, and I lived with her for three years. The party was a sea of shiny manes and I—having executed my rolling routine in advance—felt like I might at last fit in with the gals on this occasion. But I couldn’t confidently hair-flip until I sought out the perfectly coiffed bride-to-be. “Your hair looks great,” she said, perhaps suppressing surprise. “Where’d you get it blow-dried?”
Eimear Lynch is a Contributing Editor at Condé Nast Traveler and author of a forthcoming book about bridesmaids, to be published by Picador in April 2014.