By CRYSTAL MARTIN
Maddy Wiederkehr, 11, who lives in Westchester County, has been putting her hair up in a tidy Aly Raisman-style topknot since watching the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Her first stop after returning from summer camp on Sunday was the Cozy Cuts for Kids salon on the Upper East Side. She got a professional’s take on her new favorite style. “I like that it’s smooth,” she said. “There’s no bumps. It’s perfect.”
Gymnastics dictates that hair be neat and pulled back from the face. The way a gymnast accomplishes this is a matter of taste. In Rio, the go-to looks have been the French-braid-into-a-ponytail worn by Simone Biles and Madison Kocian; the Aly-knot; and the traditional scrunchied ponytail. (The Scünci company reports a boost in sales of its snap clips, hair shimmer and scrunchies because of the Olympics.)
“Hair is how you stand out, because in competition we all have to wear the same leotard,” said Ella Wilson, a 12-year-old gymnast from Brooklyn who has taken to wearing the braid-into-ponytail of late. “It’s a style that flares-up something simple.”
Her soccer-player brother, Liam, 14, is a fan of the man bun seen widely at the Olympics on soccer and basketball players, and most notably on the British gymnast Louis Smith. Fans cheekily blamed his knot for a pommel horse fall and his team’s subsequent fourth-place finish. But Liam sees the hairstyle’s inherent value.
“It’s cool-looking, but it’s also good for sports because I have a long top,” he said. “It keeps my hair up.” Now he’s wearing his own updated version, with that problematic front section French-braided.
Anna Hendricks, 18, of St. Paul, who plays basketball and will be playing ultimate Frisbee at the University of St. Thomas there in the fall, said that for children, emulating a sports star’s style is a way to connect to that person’s success. “You see your favorite athlete and think, ‘I want to do what she’s doing,’ not just in what she’s wearing but how she performs her sport, too.” Ms. Hendricks said.
Teens are most likely to embrace an athlete’s style, but adults are caught up in the Olympic moment, too. They show their fandom primarily through nail art. At locations in SoHo and TriBeCa, Nadine Abramcyk, a founder of the Tenoverten nail salons, sees an uptick in patriotic manicures the day after big wins by Team USA, like last week’s women’s gymnastics team victory.
“We’re known for subtle nail art, and one of our lead manicurists, Frances Liang, created an abstract-looking star design,” she said. “People have been getting that in gold, red, white and blue.”
Valley, a nail art specialty salon with three locations in Manhattan, saw several clients who were traveling to Rio for the Games stop in beforehand, including Nastia Liukin, the NBC Olympics commentator and 2008 gymnastics gold medalist. She got an ombré manicure with Olympic rings accents.
Olympians have always brought beauty trends into mass consciousness. In the 1980s, Florence Griffith Joyner’s curved talons and single-leg running suits forever linked fashion and athletics. And who didn’t want a bouncy boy cut like Mary Lou Retton after the 1984 Games?
“During the Olympics, athletes become like beloved celebrities,” Ms. Liukin said. “When I was competing eight years ago, there wasn’t such a social media presence. I’d throw on some mascara and that’s it. But now, the girls are aware. They’re figuring out which eye shadow to wear to the finals. For some of them, it’s their prom. They want to go out there and feel great.”
The spotlight can be harsh, of course, as seen by the ongoing critique of Gabby Douglas’s hair. Since her arrival on the scene in 2012, some on social media have deemed her hair unkempt because of its curliness around the edges, implying that the gymnast should chemically relax or otherwise straighten her hair.
But moisture naturally recurls hair, sometimes even if it has been chemically straightened. A social media countermovement, #Love4GabbyUSA, began on Monday, similar to the good-sentiment-only campaign to encourage the “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones after she was attacked with racist online comments.
Jasmin Frey-Morgan, who lives in Riverdale in the Bronx, has been watching the Olympics with her daughter, Helena, 3, who is African-American. The child is drawn to Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles.
“Helena’s at that age when she’s starting to understand herself by what she sees around her and in other people,” Ms. Frey-Morgan said. “She goes up to little girls who have their hair in braids like hers and wants to touch their hair, hold hands and be friends. It’s as if they have something in common.”
The other day, while watching Ms. Biles perform, Helena said the gymnast looked like her grandma. “It’s funny, but what she meant was, ‘She has brown skin, too, like some of my family, and that’s cool,’” her mother said. “It’s so important for all of us to see ourselves reflected in the world.”