THE BEAUTY PARLOR
This is what my mother always called the place that we would go to get our hair cut. The connection I feel when I grace the entrance of a hair salon still excites and surprises me. I have been exposed to the world of beauty salons since I was five years old getting my hair cut on Newbury St. in Boston, Mass where my mother used to take me for hip pixie cuts in 1970. 1970 was when the movement of the shampoo blow dry invention took root (pun intended) in mainstream America and women’s relationships to their hair and hairdresser changed forever.
Vidal Sassoon changed hair with the creation of the shampoo blowdry; before this it was the weekly shampoo sets or wigs. Women got their hair ‘coiffed’ and it was expected to last for a week until their next appointment, usually on a Friday after the weekly household chores were complete and they could finally take a rest. All of this was unbeknownst to a little girl of five who grew up thinking that everyone drove an hour to Boston to get their hair cut and then go to dinner at Duberrys where she would sneak and eat the pats of butter put out on the otherwise elegant table. This was all going on as the Vietnam war was still in full swing and the irony of this two worlds apart does not now go unnoticed.
Fast forward to 1976 and local towns were at last catching up to the trend. Pockets of hair salons started to sprout in the neighborhoods making it easier to get a good haircut without the drive to Boston. My mother continued the tradition of taking me to the best places for haircuts and also adding manicures and facials to my list of mandated beauty services. I can say many things about our relationship, but I can never say I wasn’t provided for materially. She exposed me to great restaurants, great food, love of kitchen toys, clothing shopping and hair salons and for this I am grateful. We may not share a close relationship, but we do share these feminine connectors and when I walk into a hair salon like I did this past week, I immediately feel happy. It is no accident that this would end up being my own business in retrospect and I love every single element of the beauty business I am sure because of this young exposure.
As I got older, I still went to Newbury St. because this is where ‘real’ hair salons still were- the best and most current unless you wanted to drive to New York. Great hair dressers morphed into great hair stylists as they started to be called who knew the latest trends and had the best salons around. Hair salons have a pulse. As more women began getting their hair cut, their visits changed from weekly to monthly and additional services began being added like manicures, facials and waxing services. This helped get these women back in the salon more frequently or gave opportunities for them to get additional services while they were getting their hair colored or permed. I don’t think we realize how significant the history of beauty salons are in women’s lives. Hair dressing and beauty have been fast tracks for any woman to become entrepreneurs and many great careers and empires were started by women who saw opportunity. Estee Lauder, Mary Kay, Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden, Bobbi Brown all started with their two hands and an idea. Let’s face it, most every woman has an interest in some element in beauty.
I was watching an interview this past week with Dr. Laurie Glimcher, who is the CEO of the Dana Farber Institute. As I listened to her brilliance, I also noticed her lovely hair color and style, her makeup and how everyone across all levels is part of the tribe of women who get hair services, buy makeup and skin care. The industry is massive and not a day goes by when I am not grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it. We are a feel good industry and these types of businesses become more iconic as less and less people are physically connecting.
When my cousin decided to move on to do her own thing, I realized that for the first time in sixteen years, I would have to figure out an alternate plan for my regular pedicures. I knew that it would be difficult to get an appointment with her as it surely was when she worked for me so I had to find back up. I found that right around the corner at a colleague’s salon and sold my pedicure beds to her, pronto. This is where I have been landing for my pedicures and it has been fun being a client for a change for a beauty service. I have had the luxury of getting beauty services whenever I want because of my business, but now I could be a client. So when I went in to get my monthly pedicure, I asked if there was time for a manicure, too. Check. Yes. So I sat myself down at the manicure station old school across from the manicurist and as she filed and buffed and polished, I was twelve again sitting at Rams Head Salon in Brick Market in Newport, RI. I forgot how much I love being in a hair salon. While I waited for my nails to dry, I thought, what else could I get done? “How about a blowout?” Nicole asked. “YES!” I exclaimed with a jubilance that even surprised me. I felt old fashioned. I felt like I was in the 1939 movie THE WOMEN with Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. I made the trek back upstairs to wait for my nails to dry because as I said to Nicole, “it is too quiet in the nail area, I want to watch the hair salon action.” From my female perspective, the buzz of a hair salon is like nothing else and it has been a part of me for almost fifty years.
I have worked in beauty since my first foray at a beauty supply store in Framingham, Mass then as the only white employee as a receptionist at a primarily black hair salon in the same town when I was 21. Working in beauty seemed like my destiny after all of my exposure as a young client and it is no wonder I ended up going to esthetics school. I have worked at Cherry and Webb at the Estee Lauder counter when I was twenty three after school, apprenticed a very hip woman in Newport for about six months out of school where I really learned about the skin business. I worked at the very hair salon I started at, Rams Head as my first skin care job and then went on to Judy’s where I landed for almost eight years and learned the business of skin and hair from a woman who built one from the ground up. I worked for Aveda Corporation learning from a man who built a business and learned more about running a company as I found my way in my twenties and early thirties being exposed to an element of business I could have never learned at business school.
Owning a beauty business and being a client at one is a dive into female psyche. It is a place of comfort and camaraderie. It is a place to take a deep female breath. When I worked for Judy, Fridays were my favorite. Fridays were the day of standing appointments for women who back then were likely in their late sixties and seventies who hadn’t given up their weekly shampoo set for the easier shampoo blowdry. I often thought it was because they enjoyed the connection they had with the other women who they had built unlikely relationships with on those Friday jaunts in rain, sleet or snowstorms as they shared their lives over a cup of coffee waiting for their appointments. Nowadays as these generations of women lessen, our connectors as the younger generation have become yoga and exercise classes. We always find ways to connect and if my business gives that excuse for real human interaction I am in the right business. From the time I got my first pixie cut in 1970 to what I have built with my own two hands. From my first facial in a tiny treatment room in a tiny salon in 1987 to a full blown company employing twenty women; there is nothing like a beauty parlor.