Style Dilemmas

 This is a slightly revised version of an essay I wrote for my stylist.  Last June we were talking about how hard it is to change haircutters and I decided to write an essay about it… This is my story.

I walked into the party on a hot June night last summer anxiously prepared to meet the woman I had agreed to trust, sight unseen.  The day had been full of parties – first a family reunion, then a friend’s wedding – and this going-away party was the last stop of the day.  I’d already consumed enough liquor to ease most of my butterflies – a good thing, as this meeting was all-important to me for one main reason. 

I was about to meet my new hair stylist; the woman into whose hands I was placing my hair.  The woman who could either make me look stylish as well as ten pounds lighter, or give me appearance of an overblown country music queen.  It could go either way.  It had in the past.

Changing hair stylists can be considered a major event in the life of a woman.  The ideal stylist should not only possess the technical skills of cutting and styling hair, they must also be creative.  They need to be able to see the real you under the mess of hair you enter their salon with.  They need to have excellent social and conversational skills.  It helps if they’re psychic.

When I was in my early twenties, I entrusted my almost-waist length locks to a woman named Valerie, the first real sylist I’d ever been to.  The salon was called Nature’s Way, and since we were in Austin it was, of course, an all-natural experience.  The salon possessed no blow dryers or curling irons, and absolutely no hair dyes/gels/mousses/or hair sprays.  Hair was cut to follow its natural lines and dried by hand.  The hand drying part was a very big deal and I tried unsuccessfully to get them to adopt a tagline such as “We do hand jobs, not blow jobs,” which they considered, but ultimately rejected as too smart-ass.  On my first visit to have my long hair cut off, I was told this horrifying fact:  Blow dryers reach a temperature high enough to bake cookies.  This means you could technically fire up your blow dryer, aim it a blob of cookie dough, and voila! Instant Tollhouse. 

Blow dryers were considered an evil and unnecessary appliance and I have a vivid recollection of going home and promptly throwing mine into the trash.  Years later, after moving back to Missouri and hating the slower process of hand drying my hair in the middle of winter; I snuck out and bought a blow dryer.  I felt terribly guilty and frequently mumbled apologies to my hair during the first month I used it, envisioning each and every strand of hair as a burnt cookie.

After ten years of having my hair cut the Only-In-Austin, natural way, I moved to Kansas City, a place not normally known for being cutting edge or bohemian.  The words rural and homespun are much more apt to be used instead, and hair styles seemed to reflect this down-home atmosphere.  After turning down an offer to use my mom’s haircutter, a guy who owned both the only salon and the only Laundromat in town, I tried a stylist several towns over who had been recommended by an acquaintance.   “Well, what are we doing today?” my new haircutter asked me.  I began to describe the way Valerie always cut my hair along its natural lines, making sure each section balanced the other to complement my face, as well as complement my sun sign.  When I got to the hand-drying part I could tell she’d probably zoned out long ago.   After a bit of silence, she clapped her hands, plastered a fake smile on her face and said ”Well OK then.  Let’s give it a whirl.”  I think she tried to follow the instructions with the cut, but when it was time for the drying part she said “You know, I really think I could do a better job if I just went ahead and used the blow dryer.  You don’t mind, do you?”    Before I could answer,  she whipped  out the dryer and proceeded to bake my hair.  “OK, calm down” I told myself.  “You’re not in Austin anymore and this is just the kind of stuff you’re going to have to get used to.  It will be OK.  Go to your happy place and try not to think about it.”  After a few minutes, she clicked off the dryer and walked around my chair, fluffing my hair here and there, checking her lengths and saying “I think you’re going to be really pleased.  Just one more thing…” That’s when she pulled out the hair spray and began lacquering her creation into place.  “Uh, uh”  I stammered, flapping my hands around.  “No hairspray please!”  “No? Are you sure?” she asked, as if I didn’t know my own mind.  As if I wasn’t exactly SURE whether I wanted a highly flammable product applied to my head or not.  “That’s OK!” she said brightly, obviously pleased with herself.  “All done anyway.  Ready?” She spun me around in the chair.  I donned my glasses and stared at my reflection.  My initial disbelief was followed by a profound sense of shock.   It had happened, my worst nightmare come true.  It wasn’t exactly a Loretta Lynn, it was more a Dottie West look.  And it definitely wasn’t me.

I went home, promptly washed my hair, and didn’t set foot inside another salon for more than a year.    I was growing my hair back out. 

Twelve months later, I had become much more conditioned to the midwestern way of life. Having made peace with my new blow dryer and sick of the lanky carpet that my hair was beginning to resemble, I tried a series of chain haircutters, mostly for convenience’s sake.  I figured it couldn’t get much worse than my first experience in this part of the country.   Sadly, I would inevitably leave those places looking unevenly chopped, my hair slick against my head like a baby seal’s.  It floored me that they charged extra if you wanted your hair  washed and/or blow dried, and I always chose not to bother with either service.  Being fresh out of cosmetology school, the haircutting skills in those places were barely passable anyway and I figured the less contact we had, the better.   

One day I noticed a neighbor’s new haircut. It looked young and bouncy.  It was well cut and enhanced her facial features.  THIS was the type of haircut I’d been looking for.   I immeditely asked for the name of her hairstylist, which she enthusiastically gave me, saying “You’ll love her.”  I made the call, booked a date, and after my first appointment with Christee I was hooked.  Thus began a brand new stylist chapter in my life.  My hair took on a much happier and bouncier persona after my very first appointment with Christee.  She was nice and really funny – attributes that make a trip to the salon worth  both your time and money.  Plus she was good, and took enough time to make my hair look stylish and decidedly un-country music star-like.    I spent about 5 years on a faithful 6 to 8 week schedule with her – unprecedented for me – until the day she informed that she had some “news” for me.  Pulling out a section of my hair and studying the length, she casually said that she and her husband had sold their house and were moving out of state.  “We’re done with this place” she said.  Sadly, I understood perfectly what she meant,  but her happiness wasn’t my main area of concern.  What about me?  What about all the years I spent searching for her, finding her, dedicating my hair to her?  Crying seemed only slightly over the top as a reaction to that news, but since I’m not a crier I resorted to begging.  “Can I go with you?  Please say yes.  My hair neeeeeeds you.”  The whining was pathetic.   “Don’t worry,” she said while prying my fingers from their vise-like grip on her arm, “we’ve got someone else lined up that I think you’ll like.  Chandra’s really, really nice and it would be a personal favor to me if you’d just promise to give her a try.  Besides, you can meet her ahead of time at my going-away party next month.  Just give her a try.  That’s all I ask.”

After flexing my fingers and taking several deep cleansing breaths, I agreed.  I figured  if Christee was giving her the thumbs-up, everything would probably be OK. 

So here I was, on a hot June night, drunk and apprehensive and ready to meet the woman who would take the place of those who came before her – the good and the bad, the talented and the horrible, the chic and the drab.   And I knew it as soon as I saw her – I knew which one she would be, because sometimes you just get a sense for these things.   For once I didn’t have to go looking for my next hair relationship.  For once in my life, it came to me.  

Chandra has exceeded my expectations ten-fold.  She uses words like pretty and delicious to describe my hair.  Words that nurture me and make me feel confident enough to let her do whatever she wants.  She knows what my hair is supposed to look like and I always leave her chair looking both 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter.  Strangers have gone out of their way to comment on my hair, and while I can’t adequately duplicate her efforts at home, I’ve learned to embrace both the hairstyling mousse product and a good hairspray.   

Yes, after a year of having my hair Chandraized, I’ve determined that this is a good match, a perfect match even.  She’s better than any other hair stylist I’ve ever had.  I’m content, and really, it’s all about what’s good for me, right?  So here’s the deal, Chandra, and I hope you understand – You can never, ever quit doing my hair.   Never.   Because if you leave I’ll cry.  I swear I will. 

And if that doesn’t work, I will beg.


23 Responses to “Style Dilemmas”

  1. 1 RubyShooZ August 29, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    I can empathize with everything, totally except embracing hairspray. Not for this girl. Actually, I wouldn’t mind going and hunting down ol’ Valerie.

    I have a woman (girl) named Lindsey who I found after a lifetime (and I mean a whole lifetime) of looking and she is the one that I can sit down with and say, “Have your way with me” and it always comes out great.

    Last time I went to see her though she stood me up! She was about 8 months pregnant and in the back room with a migraine with dark glasses on -waiting for someone to drive her home since it was so bad she couldn’t drive. I haven’t had my hair cut since then and I’m in mourning.

    Love to all.

    Val is still cutting hair in Austin. In fact she still cuts my friend Tracy’s hair, and has been for about 25 years. God, has it been that long??? It’s such a blow to lose a good stylist. Men have it sooooo easy.

  2. 2 romi41 August 29, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    I got my hair cut last week; I liked the cut, but I looked 3-to-5 pounds heavier, what the hell? If Chandra tries to leave, kidnap her and make her live in your attic; you can set up a make-shift salon there.

    I’ve already got the chair set up in the attic. I’ll save an appointment for you!

  3. 3 Bella August 30, 2007 at 1:31 am

    What a fantastic post OB. Sounds like you are one lucky lady! I have a really great gal who does my hair but she is sooooo expensive! I have not gone in over a year. 😦 When I do get to go, I go in feeling like a kitty cat, and leave feeling like a lioness. Grrrr-rar!

    Oh yes, that’s it! I feel more powerful and beautiful when I leave her chair. Glad you liked the post, MsBella!

  4. 4 Bella August 30, 2007 at 1:32 am

    What a fantastic post OB. Sounds like you are one lucky lady! I have a really great gal who does my hair but she is sooooo expensive! I have not gone in over a year. 😦 When I do get to go, I go in feeling like a kitty cat, and leave feeling like a lioness. Grrrr-rar!

  5. 5 V- August 30, 2007 at 5:43 am

    If I had the guts or a less corporate job, I swear I’d go for the Sinead O’Connor look. I haven’t been to a hairstylest in years. Of cource I’ve basically had the same hair cut for 20 years, the only thing that changes is the color-depending on my mood. You’re hair looks beautiful by the way! Great post. 🙂

    I could have sworn your hair was professionally cut… the bald look is a secret fantasy of mine. Someday we should do it. Wouldn’t that freak our moms out? Could be worth it.

  6. 6 Deb August 30, 2007 at 5:55 am

    ha! I go for the unstyle, and that solved that dilemma! I’m too lazy (and cowardly) to find a stylist I like and too lazy to get it cut as often as it would need if it was shorter. In fact, hm. I passed a year a while back, again. So my hair is long and generally ratty looking and while my secret dream is to someday have blue and purple streaks in it, for now I just find someone who can lop a few inches off the ends once a year or so. I’m always in awe of people who have the guts it takes to have an actual style applied! Of course I’d also be too lazy to style it myself, so maybe it is the laziness not the courage that is the bigger issue with me.

    The older I get, the more I need something more done to my hair. It’s getting thinner – not bald, just not as thick as it used to be. The whole texture of it has changed enormously in the last 10 years, so I need to do more to it to make it look decent. I’ve now become one of those women…oh shit. When I was in my twenties, it was wash it, shake my head a few times, and I was done. Now if I do that, it’s hideous, simply hideous.

  7. 7 ~m August 30, 2007 at 6:25 am

    I’ll be sending another link to my wife to read.
    She loved the “Walmarts” post but I have the feeling she may like this one a bit more. The woman is never satisfied with her hair.
    And me? I haven’t had hair for a few years now so I won’t go there but will say I’m ready to go in less than five minutes and I always look the same: shiny.
    Good stuff, OB

    I swear I’m going to try that shiny look at least once in my lifetime. I think it would be interesting to see my head, cleanly shaved and shiny! Oh, and I hope your wife likes the post. Maybe there needs to be a client/stylist contract that says the stylist can’t leave unless the client says so…

  8. 8 poseidonsmuse August 30, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Oh OB! I understand your anxiety completely. I have finally found a great stylist after being in a stylist-moratorium for a year or so. Whenever I find a good one, she ups and leaves for another job (always in another city). I am clinging to the one that I have now for dear life, or so it seems…Excellent post…Well written!

    Thank Muse! The stylist relationship is all important. Guys are so lucky not to have to worry about stuff like that. Simply not fair!

  9. 9 Red August 30, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Ha! That was so perfect, and oh so true. It’s also the same reason that I cut my own hair. I’ve done so for years now and noone would ever guess I cut it myself. And I say hell no to hairdryers and hairspray too. Just a little red dye every 4-6 weeks, shampoo and lots of conditioner, and I’m good to go.
    That essay was fan-fucking-tastic, OB! Very funny and I could see it happening. Not only was I reading it, but I envisioned it as well. Well done!

    Oh, I’m so glad you liked it Red! When somebody says they can envision the scene, that’s when I know I did good. I tried to cut my own hair once, but it was a failed experiment. However, I cut my dog’s hair – he gets a choppy, avant-garde kind of look, but he’s a boy dog and doesn’t really care WHAT he looks like, just as long as he can still pee on everything he sees.

  10. 10 Grace August 30, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    🙂 What a gift this post was today! A woman’s hair is so symbollic and so potent… One bad cut can ruin a girl’s mojo, for sure! No matter what you wear, if your hair is having a Bad Day – fuhgettabouttit! But if you have the perfect Do? Baby, you can be wearing a sweatshirt 2 sizes to big and a ratty pair of jeans and be The Goddess of the moment. All of a sudden I’m singing that song about Hair…

    Hey Grace! Long time no hear – wasssup? Oh yean – the hair’s gotta be right or the day is shot. Here’s some free Hair lyrics: …There ain’t no words For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder Of my…Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair.
    Glad to hear from you, Goddess!

  11. 11 pradapixie August 30, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I can’t be doing with hairdressers thoy terrify me. So i’ve taught myself to do my own hair! Any comments about you can tell….

    I’m a bad, bad, horrible, terrible haircutter. I should be banned from owning scissors!

  12. 12 joebec August 30, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    omg OB, i can TOTALLY relate to this on so many levels! I had a great stylist for like 5 years and then she quit to have a baby and be an at home mom. She wouldn’t work out of her house which totally bummed me. then i found another one and she was good too. then she disappeared. *sigh* i bounced around for about 3-4 years only getting my bangs cut when needed.

    I became friends with a girl who “did hair all the time” and decided to let her color my locks. she stripped the darker color out (i was in a marilyn monroe mood)and she forgot to buy toner when she did the blonde dye. i had no idea. my hair was fluorescent orange! It was so fucking disgusting. i called salons the next morning franticly looking for someone to fix it. i found Lissa and she fixed me all up! i’ve been with her ever sense!

    Oh gawd, Reg – what a coloring horror story! At least it all worked out, but oh crapola…

  13. 13 Pam August 30, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I can totally relate to this post.I am in a total panic when my stylist is on vacation and I need a trim!I have even thought of using that as an excuse to try someone else just to see if I could get a better haircut.I just can’t do it-way too much guilt. He’d know and I’d feel bad. I have been getting my hair cut and styled by Luigi for many, many years.I have sent so many people to him because of the great haircuts he gives.Occasionally he messes up(Saturdays are not a good day for a haircut-I think he’s hung over).I am never really happy with the end result-I think it the face.I’ll never look like the models in the magazines but I’ll keep trying. I will find that perfect cut someday. My husband thinks that I’m nuts-he might be on to something there.

    Hey Pam! Glad hubby sent you back over, always nice to get a visit from you! Yeah, gotta avoid those Sat morning cuts – a hangover haircut is just no good. Same here with never looking like the magazine chicks, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to be happy. Nah, you’re not nuts – cause if you are, then I am too!

  14. 14 writerchick August 31, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Okay, so where do you live? How’s the job market out there? I would be willing to leave this weekend if you think Chandra can squeeze me in by mid week next week? Oh..and do you have a room I could rent? 😉

    She’s mine, I say, Mine! But hey, I’m a sharing kind of gal. The room is available until November, when The Wonder Child will be back in residence. Job market, pretty good here. All signs say come on out. I think it’s cooler here than in Calif. too, but I’m still wearing my mumu and drinking margaritas.

  15. 15 anonymum September 1, 2007 at 3:28 am

    whilst i do the whole colour(s) thing, i must admit i actually long for a bald head…hair takes too much time and effort for my liking…think of the money we’d save!
    no shampoo, conditioner, brushes, hairdryers…not to mention the cost of the cut and colour itself…
    shit, if i had back even half the money i’d spent on hair i’d be sitting with annie in my own mumu and pouring the next round of margaritas!!

    Woman, you crack me up! Let’s all retire, shave our heads, and sit around drinking and telling lies all day! We could call it The Bald Women Know It All Club. People would come to us for advice, and we’d say “pull up a chair, have a margarita and let us tell you how it is, sista.” Then we could go on tour and make piles of money!

  16. 16 anonymum September 1, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    we could buy a special table to sit around and call it “the table of knowledge”
    and we only lie to the yuppy morons who think they already know it all…we gotta tell everyone else the truth (well almost everyone…not politicians or lawyers cos they never tell us the truth…and paris hilton cos she’s too stupid to know difference)

    Yeah, yeah ‘Table of Knowledge’. This is gonna be big, kiddies!

  17. 17 Red September 1, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    I wanna be bald tooooo.

    Red, of COURSE you are one of the Bald Women Know it All’s. We couldn’t do this without you. I’ll bet MsBella would be game…

  18. 18 anonymum September 1, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    do we need another blog???
    the blog of knowledge perhaps???

    Oh man…We’re good, but our knowledge might just be too much for the people!

  19. 19 anonymum September 1, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    shit i hate it when i do that!! that thought is going to fester and we all know what happened last time don’t we???
    that started as an off the cuff comment too…

    Yes, we should probably try to keep our compulsions in check. Although we could probably solve all the really big world problems with a Blog of Knowledge. I always say “if the government would just ASK US what to do, everything would be a whole lot better…”

  20. 20 anonymum September 3, 2007 at 1:29 am

    oops!!! too late 😆

    You crack me up, Moe!

  21. 21 motherwintermoon September 4, 2007 at 6:57 am

    LOL! Oh yeah. Hair cutting disasters. Been there, done that! It’s so hard to find a scissor-wielding soulmate! 🙂 Glad you found yours.

    Thank you for visiting with me at my cyberplace. It was a pleasure to see you there.

    Thanks! I felt a kindred spirit there…

  22. 22 Nadia July 11, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Getting a bad hair cut can make or break you for at least a month or sometimes more. The most tricky of the hair cuts is the short cut because if you go even just a little bit too short it can be devastaing! I should know, I’ve spent many nights crying myself to sleep over a bad haircut (as rediculous as it sounds). I think this is a fantastic blog and you are a wonderful writer! Props to anyone who can turn a story about a bad haricut into something entertaining and capable of striking emotion! One tip, if you ever do consider blow drying your hair again you have got to try an ionic blow dryer. I fell in love with mine about 6 months ago and my hair has fallen in love with me…for the first time! If you are interested you can check out this site to look over some Ionic blow dryers and see what other people (consumers) have said about them.

  1. 1 nanny’s nook » i blame the red wine… Trackback on September 10, 2007 at 2:12 am

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