Friday, 7 January 2011

Hairdressing in the 21st century

I’ve just been for my second professional haircut in about 20 years. The first was in December, when I asked the hairdresser just to tidy up the back of the chop-job I’d done myself. I’ve been cutting other people’s hair for years, and was quite chuffed when she said, ‘Who cut your hair last?’ and I said, ‘I did,’ and she laughed and said, ‘No, really, who?’ (I think she said this because she was impressed, obviously; Johann thinks it’s because she was horrified and wanted to report my previous hairdresser to the Boss of Hairdressers*.)

I went to her again this morning, for two reasons: 1. It’s unbelievably, unbearably hot here at the moment, and the salon is airconditioned; and 2. It’s unbelievably, unbearably hot here at the moment, and I wanted all the hair on the back of my neck removed and that is the one place I can’t do cutting myself with any acceptable degree of accuracy.

These are the things that have changed since I last went to a hairdresser for an actual cut-and-style back in the 1980s.

The shampoo basins

Twenty years ago these were devices of torture. They were one-size-fits-all, and definitely not made for six-foot women. My choices were: sit with my bum hanging off the seat so that, with my neck in the gap, my shoulders weren’t forced up into the base of my skull; or sit with my bum on the seat so that, with my neck in the gap, my shoulders were forced up into the base of my skull.

Nowadays, the shampoo basins have flexible bases, and the chairs are on rollers, so you can adjust both until you’re comfortable. So at the end of the shampoo ritual, you don’t stagger out of the chair requiring the services of a physiotherapist to realign your spine.

The shampoo ritual

I hated the old shampoo-shampoo-condition ritual. The double wash stripped your hair so that it squeaked and the conditioner was always one-size-fits-all heavy and was so strong on the chemical scent it made your eyes sting. Also, the shampooers always made the water too hot, liberally doused your ears and/or eyes with it and/or caused litres to gush down your back, and worked mainly with their fingernails.

Nowadays, the double wash is quick and gentle (and the shampoo is gentle too – no inkling of a squeak here), the conditioner is agreeably light, and the shampooers seem to have a firm grasp of how to use the spray attachment. (I asked about this – apparently this is because in the old days, the shampooers were the lackeys who were also required to sweep up the hair, wipe the surfaces and make the tea; these days, the shampooers are apprentice hairdressers.)

Best of all, though, is the 5-minute head massage you get, which includes the pressure points on your forehead and temples and the knots in your upper back. By the time the shampooer is finished, you’re so relaxed you find it hard to stand up – a far more pleasant reason to stagger out of the shampoo chair than crunchment of the vertebra.

The style you request

The last time I went to a hairdresser, back in the 1980s, was when my fringe had finally grown out to around chin length (I have infuriatingly slow-growing hair), and I said very clearly to the hairdresser, ‘Whatever you do, don’t cut me a fringe.’ And – I wish I were making this up but I’m not – the very first thing she did was comb my grown-out fringe down my face, carefully line it up, and snip it across at around nose-bridge height. Perhaps she was hearing-impaired; perhaps she was just stupid. I probably gasped, but I said nothing: I was only in my 20s then, and intimidated by hairdressers - there was something about being trapped in that seat under a big black plastic apron, your scalp and back aching, looking at your red-eyed drowned-rat reflection, while the purple-haired skeletally-skinny much-pierced sloe-eyed hairdresser pranced around you with scissors that could cut a throat, that made it impossible to assert yourself. (This isn’t the worst hairdressing story I’ve heard from those days, when practically any woman who went for a cut-and-style ended up with a Princess Di, the patron saint of Elton John, and look at his hair.)

Today, when I sat down, the hairdresser asked me what I wanted. ‘Take it all off the back and trim the rest,’ I said, and that’s what she did. In fact, she did a bit more – my hair is woefully fine, and she did something artful to the top of it that made it look kind of bouncy and thickish. It restored my faith.

And these are the things that haven’t changed since I last went to a hairdresser for an actual cut-and-style back in the 1980s.

Magazines you never get to read

I don’t buy magazines (okay, except Heat and Time), so I was thrilled to see a lovely selection there before me: Reader’s Digest (‘10 things you never knew about Sigourney Weaver’), Country Life (‘Cook up a Christmas feast’), GQ South Africa (‘6 sex position you never knew you knew’), etc. But hairdressers, like dentists, have a captive audience, and instead of boning up on the square-jawed one, tantalising my tastebuds or improving my sex life, I was required to chat inanely about the weather, my kids and what I did for the festive season (but mainly the weather).


I’ve never liked what hairdressers do to my hair with a blowdryer. I end up looking like ‘my mother’ or ‘Hitler’ or ‘as if a flock of seagulls have squabbled on my head’ (these are all verbatim observations), and anyway, I’m going to jump in the pool or march up the mountain the minute I’m home, so what’s the point?

Today, I requested no blowdrying, but I got it anyway. Hairdressers just can’t help themselves. ‘Uh, do you have to?’ I asked, as she switched the thing on (aside from anything else, it was hot, and hot was exactly what I was trying to avoid). ‘Just a quick finger-dry,’ she said, breezily, and proceeded to blow and brush my hair into a style that accentuated my turkey-wattle and made my ears look enormous (a strange thing to do to what was, before she began with the blowdryer, a rather nice style).

The bill

R180 for 15 minutes’ work. Not bad if you can get it.

* I've been doing some third-party work for the South African Setas (Sector Education and Training Authorities), and was thrilled to receive, in one of their amazingly labyrinthine communications, a note from a woman whose job title is ‘Client Care Services: Hairdressing and Postal Coordinator’. (I checked: it wasn’t a joke.)

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Johann said...

So where's the PHOTO?? Before and After?

Lynne said...

which hairdresser did you go to? Finding a good one is not easy here... they all want to give you the same style and colour as everyone else.
I had someone nod knowingly at me and say "you went to Bonnens".

Anonymous said...

Nice article, I was inspired reading on it because I was also a hair dresser. I found this job in hairdresser jobs in South Australia that was posted in Jobstar website. I really like this job truly.