Spanish Gypsies are doing a roaring trade in little girl's pigtails, and all because of the whims of feminine fashion in the United States and official American policy on the People's Republic of China.
Gypsy buying and cutting hair; Madrid market; wig manufacturing.
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Background: Spanish Gypsies are doing a roaring trade in little girl's pigtails, and all because of the whims of feminine fashion in the United States and official American policy on the People's Republic of China.
Wigs made of human hair are all the rage in America, and that means a big demand for raw material. For some time fashionable women wore wigs made from hair imported from the People's Republic. But then Washington realised that the authorities in Peking were earning millions of dollars in hard currency from the hair trade, and imports of wigs made from Chinese hair were banned.
Manufacturers started a frantic search for new supplies, and the Spanish Gypsies proved to be one source. The wandering Gypsies travel from one tiny village to another searching for mothers of young girls who are willing to combine tradition with profit.
The little girls wear their hair long until they reach their teens, when their pigtails are cut off to signify approaching maturity. But traditionally the pigtails are kept as a family souvenir.
Now the Gypsies persuade mothers to sell their daughter's hair, at an average price of little more than one pound sterling for a pair of plaits that have taken a young lifetime to grow. The girls have no say in the transaction, and the money goes into the family coffers. But it's still a solemn moment for them when they lose their hair and take an important step towards womanhood.
Gypsies with suitcases full of pigtails converge on a market in Madrid to bargain with the wig manufacturers. Prices have shot up since the American demand increased, and the Gypsies strike a hard bargain in the makeshift workshops.
If the present volume of trade is maintained, the value of Spanish exports to the U.S. will virtually double in the next year. There are dozens of little wig making shops in Madrid, some of them converted homes.
Most of the work is done by hand, and most of the workers are women. They can turn three sets of pigtails into one wig destined for the head of a fashionable American woman.