With Capital Shut Down, Any 'Expert' Will Do

For 70,000 hair professionals meeting in D.C., politics is definitely 'style' over substance

This week, as most of Washington's career pundits flocked to San Diego, another type of political observers moved in to take their place.

Kristin Hockenberry is one of them. She sits on a bench outside the Washington Convention Center, studying a photo collage of major presidential candidates and other Washington powerbrokers. With all the assurance of a veteran "expert," she sniffs at the display and sums up her impressions.

"What this says to me is that none of these people like change," she says, shaking a headful of bright blonde spikes. "I think Jack Kemp needs shorter bangs, or maybe a crew cut."

Ms. Hockenberry, a stylist from Chicago, is one of the 70,000 hair professionals who have invaded Washington for Hair World, the nation's largest-ever exposition of high coiffure.

It's a place where mousse speaks louder than words, and a cascade of purple highlights is much more tantalizing than a 15 percent tax cut.

But ask stylists here about the relationship between hair and politics and they'll say this: It is undeniable.

"A haircut says a lot about someone," says Sue Repsher, a cosmetology student from Allentown, Pa., who frowns at the head shots. "I would say Ross Perot is the most secure about himself. He has the most controlled look."

Heather Fritz, a Maryland stylist who describes herself as an independent, left little doubt that the next occupant of the White House could be a poster model for National Bad Hair Day.

Republican nominee Bob Dole, who gets his cuts at the Senate barber shop, "should go easy on the Grecian Formula," she says, while his running mate, Mr. Kemp, "needs more texturizing."

The Reform Party fares even worse in her estimation. Mr. Perot uses "too much VO5," she contends, and the party's other hair apparent, former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, "looks like he cuts it himself."

Although Ms. Fritz describes President Clinton's 'do as "the best of the lot," she argues that the presidential coif sticks out in too many places. "He needs to use molding mud, maybe, or some pomade."

Fritz and others conclude that politicians should swing out a little more and try to project a sense of style. Any style.

"It's all the same," says Jean-Luc Maury, a French expert. "They're very conservative, these people. It's a shame they represent the nation. Their images should all look a little more modern."

As Mr. Maury's eyes fall to a picture of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, his face brightens. "I would give this gentleman a mohawk," he says.

Although hair has not emerged as an issue in the campaign, it seems to lurk just beneath the surface.

Mr. Clinton surely lost some votes in 1994 when he delayed traffic at the Los Angeles International Airport for an hour so a Hollywood stylist could give him a $200 chop aboard Air Force One. When asked recently if he dyes his hair, then-Senate majority leader Dole replied, "a little bit."

There is some evidence that Dole's brand of hair care could be contributing to his stiff image among voters - and to his lag in the polls. In his Senate office, on a back shelf in plain view, he kept a brush, a small mirror, and two cans of hair spray. One was called "Stiff Stuff." The other: "The Dry Look."

Even hair cognoscenti admit that the realities of American politics might prevent candidates from following fashion trends. Currently, the most popular hairstyle for men is "the Caesar," a short bowl cut popularized by Geroge Clooney of the television show "ER" and David Schwimmer of "Friends." For women, another "Friends" cast member, Jennifer Anniston, has set the pace with a dangly bob known as "the Rachel."

"Can you see Bob and Elizabeth Dole walking down Pennsylvania avenue done up like that?" asks Dwayne Moorehead, a Washington stylist with a droopy mane and a dark Armani suit. "I think they would be ridiculed."

Moments later, Mr. Moorehead considers a photograph of Mr. Kemp. "I would spike his bangs, though. Definitely."

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