Adventures of a Hair Stylist

Starting a new business is exciting and rewarding and frightening, too.
Starting a new business is exciting and rewarding and frightening, too.

Moving to a new town seemed my only option after a disastrous relationship ended. It was a pattern for me over the years: leave the past behind and start over in a brand new place. This time was different since I had previously lived in this town and still had a few friends who remained after I booked the last time.

Starting over is never easy but I had the process down to a science. Following my going out of business sale of most of my personal items like household furniture, tables, lamps, chairs and anything not essential, what was left fit in my little Datsun hatchback. Ready to begin a new adventure, I headed out for new territory in a town where, despite some history of living there with my first love, things would once again be fresh.

When You're Strange...

My long-time friend, Kathy, who I remembered from early teen years when we worked as bookkeepers a bank, also had sought out a brand new life with her new Pakistani husband. I spent the first few nights on a pallet on their living room floor while I scoped out the job situation in town.

She was no longer working for the bank where we'd met and turned twenty-one within days of each other. Instead, she was one of four receptionists at a fashionable hair salon in a mall near the university. The salon was looking for another body to fill their seven day schedule, so I applied and got the job.

Little did I know this would open up a whole new world of possibilities as well as strange happenings.

Doctor Bloodgood's Photographic Emporium

Kathy and me posing at a Photo Emporium outside the shop
Kathy and me posing at a Photo Emporium outside the shop

The shop was located in a high-traffic mall that drew a variety of customers from the nearby area including college students, professors, bankers, homemakers, and professionals.

Business Cards were the best way to promote our trade before the Internet came along.
Business Cards were the best way to promote our trade before the Internet came along.

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It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that I met more unusual people at the salon than I ever had in my first two decades of life. The place drew their talent from a set of artistic people; some would call them prima donnas, folks totally absorbed by high fashion and style with little attention to the social graces. Their flair for the bizarre and the unusual incorporated styles like Pyramid hair, spiky Mohawks and rainbow hair coloring, now rather commonplace, not so in the era of the seventies. Pink hair was considered a statement of non-conformity and unusual.

In the Barber Shop

Upstairs where the men got their hair cut by barber stylists is where I worked after getting my license.
Upstairs where the men got their hair cut by barber stylists is where I worked after getting my license.

There were the heavy set stylists, and by that I mean those who had grown to the enormous size that they broke the Lucite styling chairs when relaxing between clients. Three of these in particular were also residents of a nudist camp, which painted a lurid mental picture of them to someone with a conservative background like me.

A few of the male stylists were gay, in fact, one who later became my friend and dance partner when we would go out on the town was a shoe-in for Elton John, one of the hottest singers of the time. He introduced me to the night life as his life partner was not inclined to dance. We frequented the hot night spots of the area: El Goya, Mr. Robiconti's and other disco palaces after hours swaying to the disco beat.

"I packed my bags last night..."

Kathy and I remained friends, but on a different level than we had before, due primarily to her new family's strict guidelines about socializing and women being out of the house unaccompanied by their husband. He often picked her up at the salon, taking her home to cook a meal (beans and rice) for him and his mother who shared their small apartment.

I remained with them only a couple of nights before finding my own place. With my limited funds, I managed to rent a one-bedroom apartment a short distance from the mall and my new minimum wage job. Furnishings were sparse. Other than the new bed, which was essential, the living room held only one garage sale chair and a thrift store lamp without a shade. After my first paycheck, I planned to purchase one, but for the moment, it served its purpose.

Turn the Beat Around

It seemed as if everyone had a peculiar story, as if a magnet that attracted strangeness resided within the beauty salon. Even the other receptionist demonstrated signs of OCD with her continual realigning of the pens in the cup, her color coordinated entry of clients (purple for return customers; red for transient first-timers; orange for the barber shop guests) and other habitual idiosyncrasies. I didn't mind the order she brought to the messy front desk, (They called it that, as if there were a rear desk!) I later found out she organized her clothes closet in much the same way, all colors grouped together, shoes aligned by specific requirements that only she understood.

The fourth receptionist, Susan, became a close friend. We ventured across the state on a mini-vacation together, staying at the infamous Driftwood Inn on the Atlantic Coast. Even she had her particular habits that demonstrated an obsessive nature, such as a continuous flossing of her teeth for hours after any type of meal no matter how small. Sometime later she began to shun me after a few months of fun and friendship. She'd had enough of the night life and partying, tired of waking up wondering where she was.

Relaxing outside of a hair show in Orlando at the convention center
Relaxing outside of a hair show in Orlando at the convention center

It took only a few months before I was promoted (more or less without a pay increase) to handle the register closeout and calculating payroll for the stylists and staff. Looking at the amounts of the checks opened my eyes to an avenue for a huge increase in salary with a little training.

With the encouragement of my new stylist friend Anne, I enrolled in cosmetology school, making the payments over time. I arranged for a schedule where I would come into work at one in the afternoon and work until the salon closed at nine pm.

Mornings I attended class at the local beauty college where, after the first few hours of training we were put on the floor to work on actual customers. Thankfully, I had seen hundreds of haircuts done by the seventeen stylists at the salon, although, cutting hair and watching the process was worlds apart. I at least had the advantage over some of the beginning students who had no exposure at all.

Have You Never Been Mellow

Beauty school was like living on another planet. Our location with its proximity to the unemployment and welfare office drew in a range of unwashed and unkempt customers looking to improve their chances at job seeking or by the rock bottom prices the school charged its patrons.

Every morning, the line of chairs at the front of the school was filled with prospective clients who had paid their two dollars for a haircut. They eyeballed us as we arrived for our first half hour of theory, our required classroom education on history of cosmetology, before we were turned loose on the unsuspecting public.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Sometimes the stylists would use us as models for their promotional shows around town to drum up business. This shot is pre-show with gobs of makeup and hair gel.
Sometimes the stylists would use us as models for their promotional shows around town to drum up business. This shot is pre-show with gobs of makeup and hair gel.

Once we got the lay of the land, those of us who worked full time jobs would call Dibbs on a particular customer who paid for a permanent wave, thus ensuring we would have our time and few hours filled with a decent sort with adequate hair and a seemingly clean exterior.

Those students who were new to the school were left with the dirty, drunk and homeless types who came in for a quick nap in the shampoo sinks or to get in out of the heat or cold. For a couple of dollars, they could enjoy the comfort of air conditioning, a cleansing hair shower and the friendly voice of someone learning the trade.

If they were unable to pay the extra fifty cents required for a shampoo, the students were expected to spray down the greasy hair with a water bottle and perform a haircut on dirty hair. Many students brought their own shampoo and washed the patron's hair to avoid the foul odor and the gummy, unsatisfactory results of our efforts.

Orlando Convention Center

Meeting well known platform artists at a hair show in Orlando and checking out new products.
Meeting well known platform artists at a hair show in Orlando and checking out new products.

Traveling to hair conventions in Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, St. Petersburg and other cities, drama came to life surrounded in a sea of artistic talent. At the time I earned my cosmetology license and started working as a stylist, I had no idea how far this profession would take me.

Four decades later, I remain a licensed cosmetologist, having used that set of skills to put myself through college and later travel around the globe. The stories are what I cling to now, fervently wishing I had taken many more photos along the way to remind me of those days.

© 2016 Peg Cole

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Comments 30 comments

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Peg. What a great 'blast from the past.' I enjoyed reading about your inner gypsy, and your experiences in the disco seventies. What fun. You and your families history is so, 'American.'

I don't think I ever entered a 'Hair Salon.'

Nice to see an HP post. My bad, for not making it over to your Blog more often.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thanks for stopping in, Mike, and for reading about my gypsy adventures. Sometimes I live in these memories and it's like a book I may have read in the past with parts and pieces that come floating back to mind. There were some really fun times and some harrowing experiences. I hope to share more.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 4 months ago from USA

What some folks won't do for $2 and the chance to practice a skill. Oh, your description was something! I arrange the clothes in my closet the same way your former coworker did -- by color -- so that I can easily find what I need.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

FlourishAnyway, I must admit that if you checked my clothes closet you would find the same thing - all arranged by color and type. Truly, most of my outfits fit the description of a uniform which makes it easy to mix and match. Thanks for dropping in to read this.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 months ago from Southern Illinois

This was a fun read that reminded me of my small-town beauty shop where one could go and hear the latest gossip. I went every week to have my hair teased and piled high on my head. Boy, am I glad that style didn't last. I must admit that I am into color coordination too. I can't stand a white in between reds. Ha...


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Always, Yep, I know what you mean about small-town beauty shops. There was always a good bit of juicy gossip going around the salon. It was ripe with drama and opportunity. We had to learn how to do the teased styles, although they were on the way out and blow dry styles were in. Like you, I like to keep my colors coordinated and separated accordingly. Thanks so much for the visit and kind words.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

Only because your name was on this did I read this. Normally, articles about hair stylists are not high on my "must read" list. LOL Fun and interesting read, Peg. Thanks for sharing some of yourself with us all.

blessings always....stay cool!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thanks for the read, Billybuc. I know it isn't your sort of topic so I appreciate the visit. Some of the characters I met in those days will hopefully make some funny stories. I remember some of my customers in beauty school telling me I should write a book about the experience.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 months ago from Shelton

Pegcole, this was entertaining.. and you spaced it easily so that I could take care of things then come back to read it again.. yeah thanks for sharing :)


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you for taking time to read this, Frank. I always like seeing your name pop in on my notifications. I'm glad you found it entertaining.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

It sounds like you had a very interesting past, Peg! This is an entertaining and enjoyable article. I hope you write more about your experiences.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, AliciaC. I really appreciate your comments and kind words. I'm glad you came by. I hope to write more along this line.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 4 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

Good morning, dear Peg,

I knew this would be wonderful so I waited until I had 'morning eyes' to fully savor it...

Listening to EJ now...your musical selections are always my favorites.

So the question is...how many cool chicks organize their closets? More than we would think, per these comments. My college pal teased me mercilessly at my summer hangers (pink) and the winter line (in maroon). And yes, Ruby, it galls me when a white is mixed in with anything - other than, well white... :)

I actually love that in your training, you helped the homeless. I wonder how many folks in the beauty business actually become nurses later in life - as I find a great similarity in helping folks feel better about themselves and letting them express themselves while in the chair.

And if enough folks tell you, you ought to write a book, then hmmmmm?!

I'm already in line to read 'your book'... even if parts are hair raising!

Love you and Happy Weekend, Maria


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Good morning, Maria. Well, the weekend is finally here. I'm sure you have many irons in the fire so I really am grateful that you took time to visit, read, listen and leave such a fun comment.

Yes, I am in that group with an organized closet, not to the extent of summer and winter hangers, though. You have me beat with that level of organization. Over the years I have become much more orderly with things, sometimes to the point of obsessive at times. But it did help gain ground in the work world when I reorganized file cabinets into color coordinated files, (Yellow for Houston, Blue for Dallas, Green for Georgia). Bosses seemed to like that stuff.

I truly appreciate your encouragement to write this group of stories and hope to come up with some doozies from past lives.

Thanks again, Love and hugs, Peg


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 4 months ago from Nashville Tn.

Gee Peg...this is awesome! Such a treat to read about your experiences. I can relate in more ways then one. You are an amazing lady. Putting yourself through college and traveling around the globe...an accomplishment to be proud of!

Hugs,

Audrey


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 months ago from The Beautiful South

A free bird you were girl. Sounds like so much fun and I know the memories are so fantastic and hope you share many more with us!

Enjoyed the songs too.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 4 months ago from South Africa

What an exciting life, being able to pack your bags and start a new life in another town, enjoying the night life without interference from parents worrying about your safety, and then to climb the ladder of success at your own pace. I agree with Mike - this is so-so American :)

This story fascinates and captivates! Thanks, Peg! BTW, during my 20 years of marriage I had to cut my husband, father-in-law, brothers-in-law, son and even some ladies in the family's hair, and even my own and my daughter's. I was the family's barber. Somehow I managed without any trading. I never got paid! Only now and then my f.i.l. gave me a chocolate.

Oh, and I climbed the cosmetic ladder until I realized that selling houses was more profitable than selling make-up.

Including our bookkeeping and business skills, you and I could have been business partners.

Lol!

Hugs,

Martie


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 months ago from southern USA

Peg, it seems you've had quite a few different careers, but this one lasting four decades, wow! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blast from the past. Your music choices brought back a lot of memories too.

I can imagine all of the different characters you met in this field. I'm sure there wasn't a dull moment. You should write a book!

I also love the photos you shared too from back in the day. It seems you were always such a lovely person with a beautiful smile.

Blessings


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Audrey, Wow, thank you for the lovely remarks about this story. Did I mention that it took nearly twenty years for me to finish my degree? Yes, but it really was worth the struggle and gave me a chance to try a lot of different things over the years to support myself. Thanks again for dropping by.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Jackie, Free bird, indeed, I once was! I see from your articles that you have some cosmetology knowledge as well. What a fun profession it is. Thank you for stopping in here to read and comment.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Martie, It does seem as if we've led parallel lives in several areas including the dating arena. I remember a story you shared about one very manipulative guy who was in your past. Me, too. Also, started and operated a few different small businesses, including a salon, a game room, a locksmith shop an antique store in-between taking college classes and relationships. Yes, life is for living and experiencing, don't you think?

I think we would have been great business partners. Love that you took time to drop in and thanks for the wonderful remarks. Thank you.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Faith, It does seem like an awfully long time for a profession. Although I haven't stood behind a styling chair full time since the early nineties, I've kept up with the educational requirements to keep an active license. I love the knowledge base and have seen so many additions and changes over the years. I still cut hair for my family members, Auntie L, Mom and the hubby and sometimes even a neighbor or relative. I still enjoy it but wouldn't hold up forty-plus hours a week on my feet anymore.

Thanks for the encouraging words. Maybe I'll find enough material to put a book together out of these memories. I appreciate your kind words.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 months ago from The Caribbean

You aced the venture and would have been a great illustration for the sermon I heard this weekend on "Fresh Start." I like the fact that your situation with all the strange people and circumstances still provide precious memories for you.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, MsDora. I wish I could have listened to that sermon, too. Fresh starts can make all the difference in the world. It's like being brand new again with a clean slate starting over as Jane Doe. It has saved my life in the past. Again, I really appreciate your visit and kind words.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 months ago

I admire your courage in cutting hair. A few people I know who frequent salons are so particular and I'm sure they give their stylist some grief. I enjoyed your sharing from personal experience.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thank you, Teaches12345. It can be challenging to meet the client's expectations at times. Thanks for thinking about this from the stylist's perspective and for the thoughtful comment.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 months ago from Central Florida

Peg, this was a fun read. I think you and I were enjoying the Florida night life at about the same time. Who knows, we may have even been on the same dance floors at the same time!

A friend and neighbor of mine is a cosmetologist. She once worked for a high-end salon and now works out of her home. She does weddings and had a gig doing hair and makeup for the reporters and commentators for the Golf Channel. I think she's glad it's over. She had to leave the house every morning at 2:30 to have the stars done by the time they went on air. Nevertheless, she makes good money working part-time.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Bravewarrior,

Yes, I'll imagine that we shared some of the same dance moves and scooted around to the same songs! Your friend is really dedicated to get up at that time of the morning to make others look attractive. I'll agree, that the life is for the young who have the stamina to stand on their feet all day while customers complain how tiring it is to sit in the chair and get a perm! Haha. Thanks for dropping in and for your fun story about the industry.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 months ago from Stillwater, OK

Sounds like you met a lot of colorful characters on the segment of this particular part of your journey. It is said that each experience teaches us something new that we can use later in life.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Colorful characters, yes, what a great name for these folks who march to the beat of a different drum. Thanks for dropping in to read these memories, Deb. I agree that we learn as we go in this world.

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