Adventures of a Hair Stylist
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.
Have you ever worked in a hair salon?
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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?
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.
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