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Adventures of a Hair Stylist

Updated on April 26, 2017
PegCole17 profile image

Peg Cole worked as a hair stylist and an administrative assistant while finishing her degree. Her work experiences include a variety of jobs

Working with a platform artist at the Helene Curtis Booth in Orlando FL
Working with a platform artist at the Helene Curtis Booth in Orlando FL | Source

At some point in our lives, it may be necessary to start over. When that happened to me, the first step was to get rid of all non-essential items like couches, tables, chairs, lamps, and anything that wouldn't fit in my tiny car. Freed of the excess baggage, I headed out for a fresh start in another city. New beginnings in a strange town can be intimidating so I moved back to somewhere I'd lived before.

Kathy was someone I remembered from our late teens when we worked as bookkeepers in a bank. She was an inspiration, having started over on a new life with her second husband. I spent the first few nights sleeping on their living room floor while I looked for a job.

She worked at a trendy hair salon in a shopping mall near the University of South Florida. It was a busy place with faculty, students, business people and residents of the neighborhood as customers seven days a week.

The salon was hiring and with Kathy's help I got a job as one of their four receptionists.

Posing with Kathy at Doctor Bloodgood's Photographic Emporium outside the hair salon. Customers could pick from a variety of slip-on costumes to have their portraits made.
Posing with Kathy at Doctor Bloodgood's Photographic Emporium outside the hair salon. Customers could pick from a variety of slip-on costumes to have their portraits made.

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During my time at the salon, I met some talented and unusual artists that lived in a world of high fashion and style.

Hair cuts of the seventies included Afros for men willing to sit through the long and aromatic permanent wave process. Women wore Pyramid hair, blunt cut all one length, set on perm rods using long wooden sticks to form a triangular shape during processing. Styling spiky Mohawks, or pink or rainbow colored hair wasn't unusual. Styles like Farrah Fawcett wore were commonly requested.

My friend and I had matching hairstyles of the era, the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.
My friend and I had matching hairstyles of the era, the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.

There were several stylists who were considered heavy-weights in terms of their experience and their size. One woman weighed close to four-hundred pounds and accidentally broke the plastic styling chair by sitting in it.Three of these stylists lived in a nudist camp which painted a vivid mental picture, at least for me, who'd come from a conservative background.

Men were sent upstairs for their hair cuts and permanent waves. Women and children stayed in the downstairs salon.
Men were sent upstairs for their hair cuts and permanent waves. Women and children stayed in the downstairs salon.

Some of the male stylists were gay, others were bi or hetero. Grant, who was my hair stylist and friend, used me as his hair model at after-hour classes at the local high school. Later, we'd go out on the town and dance the night away. He looked like Elton John's twin brother. Grant's life partner wasn't into dancing but he would come along for the music and fun. We went to the hot spots in town like El Goya, (a popular gay bar) and Fannies or Mr. Robiconti's or any place with live music and disco dancing.

Kathy and I remained friends but on a different level than when she was single and we worked at the bank. This was mostly because of her husband's strict rules about socializing. He felt women shouldn't be out of the house unless accompanied by their husband. He dropped her off for work and picked her up at the salon, taking her home to cook for him and his mother who shared their tiny apartment.

I stayed with them a few nights before finding a one-bedroom apartment not far from the mall. My new minimum wage job paid $2.30 per hour which gave me little extra to spend on furnishing the place. I bought a new bed but the living room had only one chair from the thrift store and a lamp missing the shade. After my first paycheck, I planned to purchase one, but for the moment, it was fine. The light bulb was about the only thing in the refrigerator.

Farrah Fawcett, 1977

By ABC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By ABC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It seemed like everyone had a unique story as if the salon was a magnet that attracted the bizarre and unusual. One of the other receptionists had a need to constantly align the pens in their container on the desk, grouping them by color. She enforced her orderly listing of clients in the scheduling book with purple for return customers with a big circled R for return client, red for transient first-timers, and orange for barber shop clients. The order she brought to the messy front desk was fine with me.

She organized her clothes closet the same way with colors grouped together in shades ranging from light to dark. left to right, and her shoes aligned by requirements that only she understood. Her husband fell for one of the other receptionists causing a bit of friction at work.

And then there was Gordon who blew dry and styled his excessive chest hair, putting it on display with shirt buttons undone. We all enjoyed giggling at Marcus who used a handheld massager on his patron's necks.

The fourth receptionist, Susan, became a close friend who shared vacation adventures with me, staying at the famous Driftwood Inn on the Atlantic coast. She had a habit of flossing her teeth excessively after eating anything no matter what it was. As time passed we drifted apart. She'd had enough partying and was tired of waking up wondering where she was.

Friendships ebbed and flowed in the fast-paced environment of the salon.

A visit to the Photographic Emporium with my roommate Anne.
A visit to the Photographic Emporium with my roommate Anne.

A few months later, I was promoted (without a pay increase) to do the register closeout and payroll for the stylists and staff. Writing out the checks showed me the way to increase my salary if I took some training. With the encouragement of my stylist friend, Anne, I enrolled in cosmetology school, and arranged for a student loan.

The salon manager allowed me come in at one and work until closing at nine pm. Mornings, I attended beauty college where we performed salon services on real people. Thankfully, I'd watched hundreds of haircuts, although, cutting hair and watching was worlds apart. It gave me a slight advantage over students who had no exposure whatsoever.

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

Have You Never Been Mellow

Beauty school was like living on another planet. Our location near the unemployment and welfare office drew in a range of customers trying to improve their employability or by the rock bottom prices the school charged.

Every morning, the chairs were filled with beauty school customers waiting for services having paid their two dollars for a haircut. They eyeballed us as students arrived for our first half hour of theory, our required classroom instruction on the science of cosmetology, before we were turned loose on the unsuspecting public.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

We were called on as hair models for styling shows and demonstrations.
We were called on as hair models for styling shows and demonstrations.

My friend David and I would scope out the customers and select our favorite of those who paid for a perm. That would fill most of our morning and ensure we were assigned someone with adequate hair and a clean appearance.

New students often found themselves assigned to the unwashed, drunken customers who sometimes sought a quick nap in the shampoo sinks or a haven from the weather. For a couple of dollars, they could enjoy a haircut and the friendly voice of a new apprentice.

Some couldn't afford the extra fifty cents for a shampoo. Students were told to spray the greasy hair with a water bottle and do the haircut anyway. Students learned to bring in their own shampoo to use in that case. One experience with the foul odor and the gummy, unsatisfactory results of styling dirty hair was enough.

Old Days

Working hair conventions in Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and throughout Florida, brought drama to life in a sea of artistic talent. My biggest regret is that I didn't take more photos of those days.

Those were times I'll never forget learning skills that I continue to use these four decades later. I keep my Cosmetology License active through training and still perform services on select clients having retired from the corporate world.

© 2016 Peg Cole

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    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Ruby Jean Fuller 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Bill Holland 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Linda Crampton 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Maria Jordan 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Audrey Hunt 10 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 10 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

      Martie Coetser 10 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 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Dora Isaac Weithers 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Dianna Mendez 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Shauna L Bowling 10 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 10 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Deb Hirt 9 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      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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