Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Confessions of a Hair Stylist 2

Halloween at the Salon - I went as Nurse Ratched
During the US Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, my career took a brand new direction. I moved across the state of Florida leaving behind a failed relationship, a foreclosed house and a lot of baggage. A friend told me about a job in the mall where she worked as one of four receptionists in a hair salon.

My friendship with Kathy went back ten years to a previous job where we worked together as bookkeepers at a bank. At the time, we were both in our late teens. We had a lot in common and a friendship developed quickly. Sometime later, we became roommates and celebrated our twenty-first birthdays the same month. As it turns out, we shared a bit more than that. But that's a different story for a different time.

The salon's dress code required their employees to wear red, white or blue in solid colors; no plaids, prints or stripes. The color scheme went along with the red, white and blue theme in the store and the decorations in the mall where the salon was located.A constant stream of seventies music blared from the overhead speakers as stylists worked on patrons scheduled to arrive every half hour. More time was allotted for permanent waves, popular during the  era of big hair.

Our Elton John look-alike, Grant, was a talented stylist who conducted training sessions at the local high schools to share his skills. He liked to use my hair to demonstrate the latest hair cuts and blow drying techniques. After hours, we frequented the disco scene. He was a fabulous dancer and despite my two left feet, we enjoyed dancing to the disco beat. His life-partner didn't seem to mind the time Grant and I spent together having fun.

Twenty stylists downstairs worked on women and children customers. Twelve stylists upstairs worked on male clients sent to barber shop. Men wanted styles like Rod Stewart, while women wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett. Men willingly endured the long process required to get a permanent wave, sitting around in rollers with smelly perm solution on their hair with only a limited degree of privacy.

Hairstyles had catchy names like The Mushroom, the Pyramid or the Wedge, even named after a famous ice skater of the time, The Dorothy Hamill. Perm rods were stacked and pink hair was not considered unusual.

For lunch, Anne, a stylist in the downstairs salon, and I headed out to Mr. Dunderbak's for a salad and glass of wine taking a break from the noise and chaos of the salon.

After the salon closed at nine, we put our well-practiced dance moves to work with the latest disco tunes driving her MGB to a hot dance spot, the nearby Doctor Robiconti's or Fanny's where we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. We loved the night life; we liked to disco.

There were consequences of our late-night adventures. Every weekday morning, the alarm rang early and I headed to cosmetology school where I worked styling hair and giving perms and coloring on beauty school customers. Customers paid for salon services and students paid for training, making it a win-win for the school. It wasn't always a win for the patron whose fate was left in the hands of beginners. Another story, another time.

After lunch until closing on weekdays and all weekend, I worked at the hair salon as a receptionist. Inside the salon, a Merle Norman Studio provided the option for a total make-over for the customer along with their hair style.

One day as I worked the reception desk, a lady with red hair and a brand new perm came to the counter to pay for her salon services. She was smiling and happy until her husband said, "Can you tell me why I have to pay fifty dollars for my wife to look like Bozo the Clown?" When she started to cry, I reached for the public address system and paged the stylist.

"Shirley, please, report to the front desk, code blue. Shirley, front and center, please." I put down the mic and focused on the messy appointment book averting my eyes and wishing I was invisible.

Looking back, it was an experience in so many areas: design; style; hair shows and workshops; modeling; experience closing the books of a retail operation; using the phone; selling retail products; working with artists and one which I'll remember for as long as I possibly can.


  1. I loved your story! I can remember the "big hair" days and getting perms. I can't imagine how you felt when the husband made is tacky remark. That poor woman too!

    1. Hi Sheila, Thanks for stopping in and for your comment. I loved the big hair days and even curly perms!

  2. What a blast from the past~ I had my share of spiral perms and went through a Farrah Fawcett jag too.
    Your adventures are hair raising and would make an awesome series, dear Peg.

    1. Oh, Mar, spiral perms and Farrah Fawcett. What a great time of our lives. Thank you so much for the volume of time you spent on this site and for leaving such awesome comments. You rock!