Remember those Rapunzel Barbies whose hair you could make longer by giving it a good pull? They've come alive and walk among us. Take Britney Spears. After...

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WASHINGTON — Remember those Rapunzel Barbies whose hair you could make longer by giving it a good pull? They’ve come alive and walk among us.

Take Britney Spears. After announcing her split from hubby Kevin Federline, the pop star sported a blunt chin-length cut. What better way to express her singledom than to redo her do?

But wait. Two weeks later, her hair was cascading down her back.

Guess what, ladies? Britney has fake hair. And though we know we shouldn’t care, on some level we do, tangled up as we are in a society obsessed with hair and what it represents: beauty, power, sexuality, vitality. Men try to keep theirs, and women, well, that’s a long story — and one we enter (cue sound of blow-dryer whrrrrr) on a recent Friday as University of Maryland sophomore Giulia DiMarzo is seated at David’s Hair and Day Spa in suburban Bethesda, Md. Svetlana Sintukovska is stationed in an identical chair just a few feet away. They’re not going anywhere for a while.

“Last time I was here for six hours,” Sintukovska, 25, says with a slight grimace. This time she’s hoping to be out in an hour.

Once a Hollywood trade secret — though common in some ethnic communities — pricey hair extensions are a growing phenomenon.

“It’s everywhere in magazines,” Sintukovska says while stylist Massimo Quartararo painstakingly glues golden locks in a tidy row near her scalp. Her hair is expanding — in length and volume — by the minute. “Different celebrities … they have short hair and then you see them with long hair. They obviously have extensions,” she says.

Quartararo has been extending his clients’ hair for more than a decade but says business has really picked up within the past few years. “People come in with pictures of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera and ask, ‘Is that extensions? I want this look.’ “

Lured by the stars

David Marshall, author of “The Celebrity Culture Reader” and “Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture,” isn’t surprised. “Celebrity culture is tightly connected to consumer culture,” he explains. “They provide patterns for us to consume and tell us what to consume. We say: If they can do it, why can’t we?

“I think extensions are fascinating in and of themselves,” he notes, as “sort of an accessible version of what would be déclassé, which is wigs. Celebrities wouldn’t normally wear them unless they’re hiding.”

Hair extensions can be natural or synthetic, glued (or “bonded”) into existing hair, woven in strips or simply clipped in for those special nights on the town.

Shedding does occur. (Tina Fey recently bashed Paris Hilton on “The Howard Stern Show” for leaving “nasty wads of Barbie hair on the floor” when she taped an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”) And a special brush, shampoo and conditioner should be used to keep the extensions in place.

The high-maintenance fake head of hair may entice with that silken sexiness, but it’s pretty much a look-but-don’t-touch proposition. Plus, the little blobs of glue feel like grains of rice deposited on the scalp.

Sintukovska, a newlywed, says she looked at pictures in magazines and had a few conversations with her hairstylist before “extending” for the first time for her Big Day. Now she’s hooked. First-timer DiMarzo, 18, got the idea from several of her sorority sisters who regularly extend. “My hair doesn’t grow that fast and I’ve always wanted it to be thicker,” she says. “I’m really excited.”

David’s buys its extensions from Bohyme, an upscale supplier that uses only natural hair in its products. The company raked in more than $30 million last year, according to Bohyme spokeswoman Rachel Hong, who notes that sales of high-quality hair have increased 1,400 percent over the past decade. Bohyme obtains its unpermed, never-been-dyed hair from youngsters in India, China, Poland and Russia, among other places.

Cheap looks … cheap

“Cheap hair tangles and doesn’t look good,” Hong says. “People refer to us as designer hair.” And like counterfeit jeans, handbags and jewelry, knockoff Bohyme hair is on the market, which Hong finds both “horrible and flattering.”

“Permanent” (vs. clip-on) extensions at David’s range from $250 for a quarter-head of added hair to as much as $1,300 for the works. Prices at the Georgetown Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa, which does about five extension clients a month, can reach $1,400. Washington’s Toka salons top out at $2,000 each among the several extensions it does every month. Most extensions last only about three months before the wearer is due for maintenance. The hair eventually has to be removed and replaced by new extensions because as real hair grows, the bonds move down and become obvious.

Still, Quartararo insists that this beauty option is something that nearly everyone can afford: “Not all my clients who do extensions are rich. Some just want nice hair.”

Less inexpensive, but not cheap, removable options are available. HairDo products range from $85 to $500. The line was launched by Jessica Simpson with celebrity stylist Ken Paves several months ago at HairExtensions.com.

Stylist Paves says the stigma against wearing hair you weren’t born with has lessened over the past few years. “Women were afraid to admit they were wearing extensions,” he says. “It meant that their hair wasn’t perfect. There are women that still don’t talk about it. I think that’s silly.”

An hour after she sat down, Sintukovska’s transformation is complete. Her old extensions lie in a heap by her chair as she tilts her head from side to side, admiring her bouncy new curls. “Massimo did a good job,” she remarks as she picks up her Coach bag and skips across the salon to show her husband the results.

DiMarzo is still in her chair looking a tad bored. The salon is thinning out as her hair thickens. Quartararo comes over to help fellow stylist Eyal Uzana, who has been working steadily on DiMarzo for well over an hour. “You get used to it,” Uzana said of the lengthy, repetitive process, “but sometimes it’s tough on your eyes.”

Almost an hour later, most of the salon staff has left for the day, and DiMarzo is finally done. She coolly appraises herself in the mirror. “I have hair — and lots of it,” she finally says with a grin.

Despite their smiles, Quartararo and Uzana look a little tuckered out. “It’s part of the industry now, it’s not a trend,” Quartararo says. “I go to hair shows four times a year, and there are always more booths for extensions, new techniques and new glue.”

“Celebrity Culture” author Marshall isn’t so certain of the staying power of extensions. If celebrities stop using them, “they could easily become something that people wouldn’t want to have,” he says.

But Quartararo thinks their popularity will continue to grow. “Women like to have hair,” he says simply. “It makes them feel more powerful and sexy. What woman doesn’t want that?”