Hairstylists know best

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I am an eavesdropper. Perhaps I should be more apologetic about this tendency, but I’m not a creepy, lurking-around-the-corner, ear-to-the-keyhole type of listener.


But when people are carrying on interesting conversations and not bothering with hushed tones, I listen. Part of that is 40 years of being a journalist. Part of it is my ingrained curiosity about people and things around me.

My favorite conversations to listen to are those “last-minute before the plane takes off” phone calls. The skeptic in me sometimes wonders if the caller is just trying to make him- or herself sound more important or busier than those around him/her.

Think about it. We have been at the airport for two-plus hours, most of that at the gate. There wasn’t time to make those phone calls before the plane was filled with passengers? Voices carry on airplanes. Surely they want to be overheard.

But I digress. What I overheard this week wasn’t at the airport. It was at the doctor’s office. The receptionist had a new haircut, and a couple of patients were commenting on how good it looked.

She shared that she had been to a school and had her hair cut by students who were just learning the trade. “Amazingly cheap,” she said. “Just $25 for a shampoo, cut and color. It took three hours, but I was fine with that.”

The conversation progressed to hairstylists and good haircuts and bad color experiences. The helpful receptionist offered to write down the name of the school she visited, although she couldn’t remember the names of the persons who cut and colored her hair.

That’s when the gem that made the eavesdropping worth it popped out: “Oh, I can’t leave my hairdresser,” one woman said. “He knows my hair. And anyway, it wouldn’t save me any money because I would have to start paying a therapist!”

Women’s relationships with their hairstylists are sacred ones. I am 65 years old and have only had three people consistently take care of my hair.

The first was my mother, and she got the glory years. I had a head full of hair – thick, deep brown/black and full of body. I could curl it, leave it straight, whip it into a ponytail, braid it or bun it. I had periods when it was short, but, for most of my early years and through college, it was just long and straight – sometimes with bangs, sometimes not – and I didn’t give it much thought or attention.

Then I had a child. Strange hormonal happenings changed the texture and thickness of my hair. Predictions were that it would all even out, but it didn’t. Within months I had fine, thinning hair that drove me crazy with its inability to keep a curl.

I decided I should find a good hairstylist, especially since a good cut means so much to folks with thin hair. I found John through friends at work, and he was a master at cutting hair. He wasn’t adventurous and never did anything strange, but he kept my hair healthy and manageable.

John moved around in finding home salons, and I followed him, not caring how far I had to drive. It wasn’t until he left the city completely – and I think retired – that I began searching for someone new. John had been cutting my hair for almost 20 years by then.

I wandered from chop-shop to walk-ins-welcome for a few years. Then, just before my 50th birthday, I decided it was time to get serious about finding someone good to cut and, I had decided, color my hair.

My neighbor and friend Meg knew just the ticket:  Mitchell. He was a master of the cut, like John, and great with color.

Mitchell led me along the path I was exploring with baby steps, figuring out how to battle the gray hair without becoming a blue-hair.

My hair, ever with its own ideas, took dark coloring in weird ways. It didn’t take long for Mitchell to start to plant the seeds of becoming a blonde. The ideas of being a fiery redhead, an auburn beauty or a brunette temptress just weren’t working.

He eased me into going lighter at each visit until the day I said, “Let’s do it,” and he mixed up the potion and did his magic. I was blonde.

I have been blonde now for 15 years, and my appointments with Mitchell – scheduled six months in advance – are the most sacred things on my calendar.

And yes, he is a very good therapist.

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