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What an Old Hollywood Actress Has to Do With Nail Salons

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Let’s Talk About Nail Salons

It's the day after Christmas, and the fancy organic spa/nail salon I supposedly have an appointment at is dark, closed. I'm a town over from my parents' house in Massachusetts, badly parked in a random lot, cold, annoyed, and resigning myself to the idea of showing up at my boyfriend's family Christmas with chipped-away nails, proving myself to to be a very messy woman. But when I tromp back to my car in the 5:30 p.m. blackness, I realize I parked directly in front of another nail salon — one that’s open. A Boxing Day miracle.

The unexpected salon is brightly lit, intensely clean, and mostly empty, just three women sitting behind marble tables, reading their phones. Inside, I settle into a massage chair, hand over my polish, and glaze over as I stare at the TV mounted on the wall. Prices appear next to stock footage of nails being painted and eyebrows being waxed, all in a loop.

The slideshow advertises birthday party discounts and brags about hygienic considerations (disposable plastic backing in the pedicure tubs) and flashes the phone number of the very salon I'm sitting in, which doesn't seem the most super helpful but okay, and then a woman's picture pops up. Blonde with big eyes and perfect nails, this salon would like to extend its thanks to her, Tippi Hedren. Hold up.

You might not know who Tippi Hedren is, which is kind of a shame but mostly the natural consequence of time. If you do know her name, it might be because she's the female lead of The Birds, Melanie Griffith's mother/ Dakota Johnson's nana, or the "girl" who endured a lifetime of sexual harassment from Alfred Hitchcock's sinister profile. Her legacy is very Hollywood Hollywood blonde blonde glamour glamour men are garbage men are garbage never forget. If you're like me, you did not know her as the patron saint of Vietnamese-run nail salons.

Photo: Under Armour

Here’s what I learned from the slideshow and a bit of idle Googling while I was being pumiced: When Saigon fell in 1975, Hedren was working with a charity called Food for the Hungry. The actor went to visit a California refugee camp, Hope Village, with the aim of helping women who’d fled South Vietnam find sustainable work in their new country. In 2015, Hedren told Take Part that she "brought in seamstresses and typists — any way for them to learn something," but the women — mostly the wives of high-ranking military officials — made their real interest clear quickly. "They loved my fingernails," Hedren said.

The first class of 20 manicurists learned from Hedren's own aesthetician, along with the help of a local beauty school. When they had nailed their new trade (you get it), the star helped them find work across Southern California. Today, nail salons are a multi-billion dollar industry in the US ($7.47 billion in 2013, to be exact but slightly out of date), though not without serious controversy concerning worker compensation and rights. As of 2015, 51 percent of nail workers in the nation were Vietnamese, and in California that number is more like 80 percent. And at least at Simply Nails and Spa in Bedford, Massachusetts, they credit this in part to Hedren.

By the time the slideshow cycled through enough that I committed these Tippi facts to heart, I had flawless nails and a new fact to trot out during the lulls at cocktail parties. You can try it too! "Did you know Tippi Hedren helped kickstart the Vietnamese nail salon boom?" you and I will ask, picking up crudite. "Ah!" our conversational partner will reply, before leaving to get another drink. I mean, really, what did we expect them to say to that? "That's Dakota Johnson's grandma!" we'll shout after them, but they're already gone. Meredith Haggerty, senior editor

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Feature
The Forgotten Genius Behind Your Flat Iron
Woman getting her hair straightened.

There are four people credited with inventing the hair straightener and none of them actually did. But they always appear in articles about the history of flat irons. The first, Marcel Grateau, actually invented the curling iron for his Parisian salon around 1872. At the same time, the second, a woman named Erica Feldman, is simply credited with using the curling iron to straighten her hair, which isn’t inventing anything at all. The third, Isaac K. Shero, just pressed two clothing irons together and called it a day.

The only “inventor” that actually seemed to invent anything is a Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield who, according to histories like the one on flatironadvisor.com, was a Scottish heiress who invented the flat iron in 1912 because she “wanted to try something different and become obsessed with the idea of straightening hair.”

But the internet, of course, lies. There is absolutely no record of a Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield at all. I talked to librarians in the British Library and genealogists in Scotland, where she was reported to be from. Not only had no Lady Schofield filed a patent for a straightening iron ever in history, there was no record of her birth, marriage, or death. No historical record she had lived at all.

The woman who invented the straight iron wasn’t a Scottish heiress who was obsessed with “something different” at all. She was a school teacher from Indianapolis with quite a different story altogether, a woman forgotten by history. A woman named Ada Harris.

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Just One Thing
The Foundation That Made Me Throw All My Other Foundations Away
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Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation, $48

I have never liked foundation because even the best full-coverage foundations can make you look like you're wearing makeup, which defeats the purpose. Eventually, I started using BB cream or CC cushions every day to even my skin out a bit. They are dewy, but generally still let some dark spots and discoloration I have shine through. If only I didn’t care about these signs which point to my years of, um, wisdom, but I do. Which is exactly why the foundation industrial complex exists.

So reluctantly I started experimenting with more heavy-duty foundations. Many would either settle into my fine lines or else flake off my forehead in the wake of my hardcore retinol use, which can cause dryness. I thought I had found my facial soulmate in Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Foundation (still loved, but now second place), until a sample of Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation ($48) came my way.

My skin needs a bit more moisture than it did even a few years ago when I identified as “oily” whenever a checklist asked me my skin type. So many dermatologists have told me that dry skin can actually make you look older than wrinkles can, so I avoid matte formulas at all costs. This formula is glowy without being too wet or greasy-looking, and the pigment in it provides the perfect amount of coverage without looking mask-like. It also buffs in beautifully with my favorite dense foundation brush. (I don’t like using a Beauty Blender or a flat foundation brush. I’m convinced the round, dense ones provide a better airbrushed finish and also help to exfoliate dead skin away.)

I still try a variety of foundations because I’m always testing, but most of them end up in the discard pile after one wear. I save this one for when I need confidence or want to look really polished. A few weeks ago, the founder of a skincare company asked me what my current regimen was because my skin looked so great. It didn’t really it was just my foundation. —Cheryl Wischhover, senior beauty reporter

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