In the Hairdressing Olympics, Top Stylists Split Hairs to Prove They're a Cut Above the Rest

updated 09/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

We're at ringside in the Las Vegas Convention Center rotunda, where dozens of freshly shampooed models sit stock-still in salon-style chairs placed before mirrors. Behind them 50 coiffeurs competing in the women's "cutting and brushing" event stand with blow-dryers poised for the official starting signal. On your marks, get set—blow! And they're off and grooming: 50 blowers whirring in unison as the contestants poof, smooth, brush, curl and shape each head into what they hope will be a winning style. Three-member teams furiously snip and primp against the clock, while cigarette smoke and hair spray wrap the arena in an aromatic fog. At the bell 20 minutes later the stylists are still fussing with precisely sculpted waves for the judges' appraisal.

More than 40,000 hairstylists from some 40 nations descended on Vegas earlier this month to watch and compete in the 20th World Championships of Hairdressing, sponsored this year by the National Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association of the U.S.

In the ladies' "gala hairstyle" event, competitors were required to use such dated styling aids as rollers, pin curls and hairpieces. While stewards who jokingly called themselves the "hair police" held back excited spectators, the judges, composed of one representative from each country, rated the creations on a 30-point scale. Clad in clouds of netting and yards of chiffon, the statuesque models affected regal boudoir poses at their vanity tables while the judges ran bobby pins along their delicately fashioned waves, deducting points if a wave split or (horror!) broke. On the sidelines the Australian team, in canary-yellow jumpsuits, fretted as the judges scrutinized their models. "Ours is an antigravity look with a bit of softness," said team member Mary Costalos of their futuristic dos.

The Aussies arrived in Vegas a week early to prepare for any effects the local water might have on their models' hair. The Americans took the tonsorial shoot-out just as seriously. For two weeks before the contest, U.S. model Lois Lewis and stylist Danny Ewert were rising at 4 a.m. for 12-hour practice sessions. After a daily regimen of two bleachings and hours under the dryer, Lewis said, "My scalp must be like leather, but I keep thinking, 'I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful.' I know I'm really not, but thinking helps me project it." American stylist Glenda Jones was no less confident. Said she of the competition, "It's just like the Olympics. We're going to kick their behinds."

And so they did, after a fashion. Early last week, the U.S. team swept the field, taking gold medals in both the "ladies" and "gents" categories. It was some kick.

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