Tale of a stylist

My name is Michael.

[“Hi, Michael!]

I’m a recovering hairstylist.

[heads bob in understanding].

I haven’t cut hair in exchange for pay for over 25 years and I haven’t reached for a business card to hand someone with a bad hair day for 15 years…

Curl Up and Dye is one of the best salon names I almost (probably not) had the opportunity to work for when I was still doing the whole hairstylist thing. I can’t recall if I “wasn’t a good fit”, or “we don’t have any open chairs right now, check back” and I didn’t check back, or if it was one of those situations where they were renting chairs and I wasn’t eligible for my manager’s license, which is a prerequisite in this state to rent a chair. It was a while ago and I recall leaving on amicable terms from my interview, so it probably wasn’t the first possibility.

Instead, I ended up working for a less gutsy and eminently better known salon (which I’ll omit for the sake of anonymity) on the other end of town where I was more apt to give bog-standard wash and cuts instead of dreads and extensions. It bummed me, but the pay was some of the better pay out there because it was hourly and not dependent on volume (things have changed, I’ve heard — I don’t keep up; see: “recovered”). So, even if I hadn’t seen a client in three straight working days, I was getting paid something slightly more than minimum wage. Which happened more often than I care to admit in the days before I became a known quantity. Then I “stole” a few clients from folks when people found out I was the only person anyone knew who was willing to do old-style shags using, of all things, a straight-edge razor.

Highly “textured” hair hadn’t found its way into anything outside fashion magazines, NYC and Hollywood at the time, and using a razor without a guard (ostensibly to keep the stylist from cutting off too much hair at once) was largely unheard of in Minnesota. A few folks did it, but more for a finishing effect. I had an underground following because I used a bare razor for the WHOLE haircut on certain types of hair. This was when it was not uncommon for people to come to me with pictures of Cindy Crawford and tell me they wanted her hair (yeah, I’m old, for fuck’s sake). Soon, I became a one-man assembly line for shags and pixie cuts done with a straight edge razor.

I hate razor cuts now. With a passion.

Because, you see, I had exactly one client who wanted anything fun and I didn’t get paid to do her hair. She was my wife at the time. For her, I got to dip into cherry-reds and screaming violets, dreadlocks and half-hawks. Otherwise… shags.

I resisted the urge to be mean, but I got to the point where I thought I might scream if I did another shag or pixie cut. Shudder… The “Rachel” cut (Friends).

New Client: Make me look like this. [shows picture of runway model who’s had four hours of styling done on her hair and makeup]

Me, internally: I am not a miracle worker. I can’t make you walk out of here with four hours of work in 45 minutes. Plus there is the matter that you are 20 years her senior and not graced with her equine features.

Me, externally: I’ll see what I can do with what you have. We can try to mimic what you see, but I can’t promise you’ll look like [fill in the blank]. But I can give you something that, with a bit of work on a daily basis, might come close. But you won’t look like that waking up and getting out of bed.

Client: Why not? I don’t want to have to spend tons of time on my hair every day.

Me, muttering: I know.

I also discovered that the best way to make awesome tips was to hint at the possibility of being gay. Never overt, but it was assumed that if you cut hair at the time you were gay, so I played up the role. Because, you see, flirting as an assumed gay man was not creepy. Flirting in a non-creepy way was flattering. Flattering meant the tips threw themselves at me as if I was a male stripper.

Straight: $5 tip ($20 base haircut price at the time)

Straight, flirt: $1-2 tip

Gay, flirt: $10-20 tip

Recall, I was getting paid barely over minimum wage, subject to state and federal taxes. My true income came from tips, also subject to taxes, but only if you were an insufferably honest asshole. So I milked the flirt. Shamelessly. My ex was told multiple times (she worked same salon) that my clients really hoped I’d meet a nice guy sometime. ::eyeroll::

I eventually had to stop because of burnout. I worked in Seattle for a competition salon team and got away from the razorcut rep., came back home to work at a chain operation to get away from precision hair-styling with zero freedom, managed another local chain location and had to say fuck it when I actually couldn’t take it anymore when I encountered a mother who wanted me to make her daughter’s jet-black, freshly-dyed hair go back to nearly white ashen blonde… major corrective coloring, mind you, and not guaranteed to get to the end-goal even if you spend all day on it… for $50.

At the time, my base, no frills color jobs were that price.

I told her all the caveats and said that it would probably be four times that with zero promises, considering it was some OTC bottle black with who the hell knew was the pigment base. She countered. “Your menu says $50, I will pay $50.” I told her that very well might not cover the cost of chemicals and repeated my initial estimate. She threw a shitfit in the store/salon and said, “Well, obviously I need to go somewhere else! Someone who is willing to be reasonable able this!”

I’d been professional up to that point. But I lost it. “Go right ahead, lady! If you can find someone willing to lose money on a job like this, you’re more than welcome to.”

“I will!”

“Good. And when they screw it up, you can come back to me and pay $300 dollars to fix their mistakes.”

I quit a week later.

I had promised myself that if I couldn’t remain professional as a stylist and I ever started hating it so bad that I had an outburst, it was time to leave.

I haven’t gone back, although I maintain my license (non-practicing). I will never go back. I’m afraid razorcuts will come back again or that someone who isn’t even a regular client will expect me to do a butt-ton of work for free.

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