My four lives as a hairdresser

MARY BURNELL November 7 1959

My four lives as a hairdresser

MARY BURNELL November 7 1959

My four lives as a hairdresser

While I’m turning brunettes into blonds and blonds into redheads, my customers expect me also to be marriage counselor psychologist and confessor. They tell me things they wouldn’t tell their husbands



A FRIEND OF MINE once asked me why it is that most hairdressers seem to color their hair. “Because.” I replied, “most of them have turned grey.” I was being flippant, of course, but I do sometimes wonder why all of us in the hairdressing business haven't gone grey long ago.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not implying that the women we work on are a bunch oí Neurotic Nellies. Certainly we do have our troubles with some of them, but, oddly enough, it’s the husbands who, if you’ll pardon the expression, really get in our hair.

I long ago decided that even though a lot of women may wear the pants in the family, it's the husband who tells them how to wear their hair. I've heard of more than one husband who has taken off like a rocket when the wife he’s known all these years as a brunette suddenly appears before him as a blond.

Take the case of one of my customers, a pretty girl whose hair turned grey while she was still in her early twenties. Even the children in her block noticed it and called her “the young woman with the old hair.” It upset her terribly. Obviously, the solution to her problem was a color job.

At this point, enter the villain: the husband. He said, “No!” Why? Well, it took some prying on my part to get the answer, but get it I did. The husband had his own hair problem: he was going prematurely bald. He told her that if he had to go through life with no hair, the least she could do was tough it out with him by staying grey. They’d grow old together quickly, if not gracefully.

I’ve been dressing women’s hair for seventeen years. For five of those years I worked at the Hotel Vancouver where the clientele ran the gamut from shopgirls to celebrities, including even the occasional movie star. One of these was Susan Hayward and I remember her not only because of her fame but because she had such luxurious hair—perhaps the most beautiful hair I've ever laid hands on.

For the past five years I’ve operated my own beauty salon, in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. Most of my customers now are teen-agers, working girls and housewives. They slip through my fingers—and those of my three operators— at the rate of roughly five thousand a year.

I’ve been lucky enough to win several trophies for hair styling, among them the most coveted in the province — the Master’s Award of the Hairdressers’ Association of British Columbia. But the sweetest victory I ever scored was not in any competition; it was over a husband.

The woman of the story was a little bit of a thing who didn't stand over five feet. Yet, in spite of this, she wore her hair as long as Snow White’s and the effect was to make her look like one of the seven dwarfs. I told her so many times but she’d never let me cut it because, as she confessed. her husband wouldn't allow it.

Then one day, out of the blue, she told me to style her hair as 1 pleased. “What about your husband?” 1 asked. “Oh. him!” she replied, scornfully. “He won’t even see it. We’ve separated.” So I went ahead and when I had finished she looked as cute as a pixie.

That night she went to a cocktail bar with a woman friend and chanced to meet her husband

there. He was fascinated by her new hairdo and they were reconciled.

continued on page 72

“No one talks of ‘dyed’ hair; we tint it”

My four lives as a hairdresser

Continued from page 29

“Many more women would color their hair if it weren’t for their stick-in-the-mud husbands”

Women. I've found, are far more adventurous than men. Many more women would color their hair or try daring new hairdos if it weren’t for stick-in-the-mud husbands who might scalp them if they did.

Men are really quite contrary about it. A man may admire some doll who shows up at a party with her hair colored blond mink and styled like a movie star’s and he may ogle her until his wife is about ready to brain both of them. But let his wife suggest she’s going to become a blond and this same man is just as likely to snarl. “No wife of mine is going to dye her hair!”

This sort of thing happens all the time and bewildered housewives ask me what they can do about it. And 1 tell them. “Nothing,” because I know it’s dynamite for a hairdresser to tangle with a husband. It hasn’t happened to me—yet— but I've known many hairdressers who have had irate husbands telephone them and threaten to sue.

I learned my lesson long ago. back in the days when the process of changing the color of a woman’s hair was far more complicated than it is today. Then it required as many as eight applications of bleach over a period of five to eight weeks to transform a brunette into a blond. In the meantime, a woman— and her husband—would have to learn to live with hair of the most ugly hues — deep orange, bright red. or hard, brassy blond. I even recall the case of a woman whose hair turned turquoise on the way to becoming blond.

Well, once I began to make a blond out of a woman who had taken the plunge in defiance of her husband. She went home from our first session with the shade of orange hair you usually see only on a circus clown. The next morning she—and her husband—were waiting on the doorstep when I arrived at work. She was a good sport: she smiled and said, simply, "Well, Mary, we lost.”

We hairdressers never speak of hair dye or of dyeing the hair because these words are encrusted with connotations that hark back to a period when women whispered behind their hands, “She dyes her hair, you know,” and when the term “peroxide blond” was uttered more often as a moral judgment than as a description of the color of a woman's hair.

Instead of dye, we speak of tints, toners, or colored shampoos and the process of using them we call hair coloring. In fact, we no longer dye the hair one fiat, solid color, but shade it artistically, achieving a natural look.

Whatever terminology may be in vogue, the fact is that colored hair is becoming more popular day by day. The type of woman who, in another time, would buy a new hat to boost her morale or to satisfy a whim will now have the color of her hair changed instead.

I’ve seen no statistics, but I’ll wager that at least six women in every ten tamper in some way with the color of their hair, either at home or in the salon. One estimate I’ve heard bandied about goes even higher, maintaining that three women out of four have at least tried some form of color tint, shampoo, rinse, or toner.

The whole public attitude toward hair coloring has undergone a tremendous change so that now almost everyone will concede that a “good" girl can color her hair and even grandmas are turning from grey to hues of blue.

It’s the scientists who deserve most of the credit for this trend for they have evolved subtle, natural colors and have ( simplified their application.

Until ten years ago, the fallen woman who dyed her hair would emerge from the beauty salon either as a brassy blond, as a carrot top, or with her crowning glory turned as black as the ace of spades. There was no subtlety at all.

Now' there are such exotic shades as tickled pink, tickled pinker, blue moon, scarlet madness, fuchsia fury, green chiffon, aquamarine delight, purple elegance, midnight panther, and mad gold. I've used scarlet madness only once—on a Sunday school teacher.

Even though blonds, natural and chemical, are a minority in our society. I’m convinced that there isn’t a civilized woman alive who, down deep in her heart, hasn’t desired, at one time or another, to become one. The reason is simple: it is the most beautiful, the most feminine of all shades of hair.

Why, then, don’t all women become blonds? Some just can’t be bothered. Some can’t afford it. Many know it wouldn’t become them. And, in spite of all the blame I've pinned on husbands, let’s face it: a lot of women just haven't the courage of their convictions.

It certainly can be accomplished easily enough. Techniques and materials have been improved to the point where a woman may enter a beauty parlor in the morning as a brunette and emerge late in the afternoon as blond as Marilyn Monroe. At most, the transformation shouldn’t take more than two visits.

The time and effort depends largely on the amount of gold pigment there is in the hair for the lightening process consists of removing this. Thus it may be more difficult to convert a mousey blond into a light blond than to do the same with a brunette.

The cost of creating a blond may range anywhere from twenty to one hundred dollars. It depends, partly, on the shade chosen. There are those shades I call the Cadillac colors because they are the most expensive as well as the most beautiful. They are white beige, silver blond, blue silver, champagne beige, pink silver, light ash blond, and blond mink. The upkeep for any of these shades will run about twenty dollars a month.

There isn’t any type of hair that won’t benefit from some kind of coloring. I look upon coloring as a cosmetic for the hair, just as lipstick and powder are cosmetics for the skin. In time, the woman who doesn't color her hair will be as exceptional as the woman who doesn’t wear lipstick.

A woman who is not coloring her hair should be able to keep it attractively styled and groomed for ten to twelve dollars a month. This figure will undoubtedly surprise a lot of husbands whose wives always appear expertly coifed and tell them they manage it on five dollars. A little investigation would quickly disclose that these women are snitching the extra five or ten from the grocery money.

Some women will go to almost any length to keep themselves looking beautiful. Some would crawl to the beauty parlor on their hands and knees if they had to. I once had a customer who scrubbed floors one day a week to earn her hair money. I told her she was crazy and eventually I was able to convince her that her hair wasn’t that important. But I sometimes wonder if she were any sillier than some office girls who, for the same reason, lunch on peanut butter sandwiches or on coffee and a cigarette.

Get advice on home perms

There are women who think we see them coming and that we are going to trim them in more ways than one. I have in mind a particularly well-dressed young woman who, as she slipped into my chair, said, “I hope you don’t think that just because I wear a Persian lamb I’ve got a lot of money.”

“Not at all,” I replied sweetly, “there are so many women nowadays wearing coats they haven't paid for.” Actually, every salon has its own set prices for the various services it offers and even a mink stole cuts no ice.

Provided a woman doesn’t spend foolishly, money spent on beautifying her hair is money well spent. Every now and then a woman will tell me she has come to have her hair done on her doctor’s recommendation. In some mental institutions, I understand, the new patient is given a complete beauty treatment as soon as she’s admitted.

This being the do-it-yourself age the cosmetic counters are loaded with hair preparations to be applied at home. One result is that we spend a lot of time correcting the mistakes of unskilled labor. Many of these products are safe to use and some produce good, even excellent results. But there are some that, in inexpert hands, become dowmright dangerous, causing harm to the hair and even painful damage to the scalp. Certainly a major color change should never be attempted at home.

Women could save themselves time, trouble and expense by consulting their hairdressers about any product they intend to use at home. The professional has the knowledge, acquired through training and experience, to give far better advice than can be had from a clerk behind a cosmetic counter.

There’s nothing quite so annoying in our business as a woman who insists on having her hair styled in a way that we know doesn't become her. Turned loose on the street, she is our worst advertisement.

1 have one such customer. The first time she came to me she wore her hair in a style that could be described only as horsey. 1 coaxed and cajoled her, 1 needled and flattered her. but she wouldn't have it changed. Beaten. I agreed at last to do it her way on one condition: she'd never tell anyone where she had her hair done. She is still a customer and her ' hair still looks hideous, but. as far as I know, she never blabbed.

Some women come armed with a picture of a movie star, clipped from a magazine, and want to know, “Can you do my hair like this?” I usually have to admit that I can and, just as often. I will add. “But 1 don't want to: it's not your type.” And then we fight it out.

The fact is there'd be a lot more becoming hairdos in this world if women would come to realize that the hair-

dresser is far more capable than they are of choosing the right hair style for

them. Women should enter a beauty parlor to get their hair fixed, not with a

fixed idea of how they want their hair.

The girl who never fails to bailie us is the one who knows exactly how she wants her hair styled, gives elaborate instructions, and then tosses in the exasperating stricture: “But don't cut it.”

The perfect retort to this impossible order was coined by Antoine, the Frenchman who is the most famous of all hairdressers. "Madame,” he would say, “you wouldn't tell your surgeon when to amputate.” Not being as haughty as Antoine, I rely on a more prosaic parallel: "Would you give your dressmaker a bolt of cloth with orders to make you a dress and then tell her not to cut it?"

Selecting and then creating the right coiffure for a woman is close to an art. The hair should be considered as part of an ensemble effect; it must be styled in relation to the shape of the face and as a frame—above all, as a soft frame— for the face. Because of its softness, the bouffant look remains popular.

Antoine has described hair as live raw material which should be treated as a sculptor treats his clay. That is a very apt description for we always shape, rather than cut, the hair and even in coloring it we tone it in a way that will accentuate the shape we want.

The number of do’s and don'ts concerning the care and styling of hair seems to be equaled only by those surrounding pregnancy—and just as many are old wives’ tales.

Many women tell me not to use clippers on the neck because it will make their hair grow in thicker. It isn't so. Nor is it always true that a woman with a long nose can't wear bangs or that a tall woman should never wear short hair. It is true, though, that after the age of thirty, long hair is taboo. But who ever passes thirty?

One story that does appear to be true is that the pony tail can cause baldness. Dr. Albert H. Slepyan, a professor of dermatology at the University of Illinois, says, "The prolonged pulling of the hair backward and upward into a smoothly compacted corded hair bundle . . . has caused lack of hair in many persons.”

Dr. Slepyan studied twenty-four cases of baldness allegedly caused by the pony tail. He found that twenty-two of the women studied regained their hair when they changed to a new style. The other two—a girl who wore a pony tail for fifteen months and another who wore one for three years—are permanently bald.

There is one don't I’m ready to defend dogmatically: don't wear your hair in curlers outside your home. Lots of women do. but it's a sloppy, disgusting habit, no more to be tolerated than shaving one's legs in public. Only a husband or a hairdresser should ever see a woman with her hair in curlers.

There are husbands, I know, who complain because their wives go to bed in curlers or wearing a net. They haven't a case. Husbands simply have to face the fact that a woman can't look beautiful twenty-four hours a day. There may be relief in sight: a Brooklyn hairdresser has designed a boudoir cap with false curls attached.

Not a few women let their hair down figuratively, as well as literally, once they are inside a beauty salon. They'll tell their hairdresser things they wouldn't tell a psychiatrist and confess to escapades that would curl their husbands' hair. Usually I listen patiently but sometimes they'll begin to divulge such intimate details I draw the line.

One unhappily married woman used to visit me regularly once a week to have her hair set and to tell me her troubles. Always she gave me a twodollar tip, probably because I was a good listener. Eventually she won a divorce and I seldom saw her after that.

Phis tendency among women to confide in their hairdressers is. I believe, easily explained. When a woman is emotionally upset she will often have her hair done to give her morale a boost. And so it is that we get them when they are troubled and anxious to unburden themselves.

In any case, their secrets are safe with us. A hairdresser who wants to stay in business is unlikely to gossip about her patrons.

Men, 1 find, as a rule look upon the women’s world of the beauty parlor with all the wonder and fear with which one usually regards the unknown—and, often, too, with a rather annoying air of superiority. Most of them seem afraid even to set foot inside the door. When they come to pick up their wives, they usually lurk outside in the car. When they do come inside they’ll sometimes make disdainful remarks about the movie magazines we have scattered about. But I notice they read them just as avidly as the women do.

Only once have I had a customer whose husband actually selected her hairdresser and then escorted her to all of her appointments as well.

This happened when I worked at the Hotel Vancouver. One day I noticed that a man and woman were watching me through the window as I dressed a woman’s hair. After about ten minutes of this, they came in. She was a beautiful girl, petite and glamorous, and he was a huge bear-like man who obviously treated her as though she were a fragile doll.

"I suppose,” he said, “you wondered why we were watching you. We were judging your work.”

"Did I pass?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, "you did and we'd like to make an appointment for tomorrow.” He brought her in the next day and every time she came after that.

In all my seventeen years as a hairdresser, I have had only one man as a customer. He is one of Canada’s most famous painters, a man with fine white hair, which I used to trim. He said, “Barbers never do the job properly.”

The day is coming, I’m sure, when men will be regular patrons of the beauty parlor, coming to have their hair trimmed, conditioned, and even colored. It’s still a long way off. but inevitably it will arrive. After all. men shave to beautify themselves — and that is the beginning.

Of course men have already made their mark as hairdressers. The most successful stylists in Vancouver, the owners of the big. swanky salons, are mostly men. One drives a white Lincoln convertible and another a Cadillac. Still another employs a valet.

None is known by his surname but only by a Christian name—and usually a dandy one like Chauncey or Cedric. Never anything like Hank or Jack. This is a gimmick they learned from Antoine of Paris. And Antoine, as you may have guessed, is not from Paris but from Poland and his real name is Antck Cierplikowski.

In any case, Antoine is a great hairdresser, one whose skill is acknowledged even by the Encyclopedia Britannica. His annual income is said to be about one hundred thousand dollars.

It is this last piece of incidental information which has impressed my husband, Roy, who is a commercial fisherman and also, by the way, a former Pacific Northwest Golden Gloves champion. It impressed him to the point that last winter, when the fish weren't running. he took and passed the government-approved course in hairdressing. "But," he says, "even for a million bucks I'm not going to change my name to Alphonse, or anything like it."

In spite of their popularity I don’t believe for a minute that men make better hairdressers than women. What I do believe is that there are a lot of neurotic women who like to be fussed over by men. ir