It's not youse, it's me
I’ve joked there are three people in my young adult life I want to meet and befriend: a mechanic, a lawyer and a hairdresser. The first two for important, practical reasons, and that last one for the shallowest—to make me look my hottest.
For a large part of my life, hair was a non-issue. I frequented many cheap establishments for a quick cut and never paid more than 20 dollars. My long, dirty-blond hair rarely strayed in style with the exception of the occasional layer or angle thrown in. But by sophomore year of college I decided to make a change. Without poring over every detail beforehand, I randomly chose to dye it.
I was a 19-year-old on a budget and resolved to dye it myself. Knowing I didn’t want to jump into anything too dark or permanent right away, I made the decision to buy a box of semi-permanent, neutral, medium brown dye. I was a novice colorist who excitedly traded my naturally golden brown locks for harsh, chemically altered ones. This modest change was thrilling to me.
Up to that point, my exposure to hair dye was only with girlfriends and family members who went blond. I conjured up one memory from my pre-teens of my friend Casey’s aunt Shannon, a beauty school dropout, dyeing her friend’s hair in the kitchen sink. We started talking about the colors we’d hypothetically try someday, when her aunt overheard us.
“Don’t dye your hair, girls,” she yelled back over the running water. “Once you start, it’s an endless cycle.”
And Shannon was right. While going drastically lighter and darker was a fun change, I spent the next couple years essentially trying to match my original shade to no avail. I had varying results—golden blond that transformed into a burnt orange when I spent a month studying abroad in Ireland, and dark brown that washed me out when the winter months and my pale skin returned. After one particularly brassy spring, I decided I needed professional help.
When I came home to Northeast Philly, I visited a neighborhood hair salon with low prices and, I would learn, a high employee turnover rate. I was excited about the possibilities of meeting my stylist; the professional who could take one look at me and know which color, cut and style would suit me best.
Instead, I ended up with super blond streaks creating a “skunk” look. At the insistence of my sister, I tried her stylist who was always screaming stories about her child’s father to coworkers and left my hair a purplish hue. A third hairdresser gave me the closest thing to natural-looking highlights. After I made a follow-up appointment, I walked into the salon one day and saw her station devoid of photos and styling tools. Another worker informed me she had left, but the salon was still setting up appointments with her clients under the guise that she was still working there.
Any sane person would have cut her losses and moved on, but I decided to give this place one last shot. My replacement stylist was an imposing figure who stared right through me and didn’t respond to any of my attempts to talk. I actually prefer not to be chatty, but her silence for an hour and a half of coloring, cutting and blow-drying made me feel uncomfortable. It didn’t matter though, because I received the best style ever at that appointment.
What did matter was the drop-off in service in my next four visits. Although I was a repeat customer, good tipper and always asked for the same procedure, I was being charged more each time and starting to feel like an inconvenience. I finally moved to a new salon, pricier and farther away, but with a significantly better atmosphere.
I may not get my original shade or even ideal shade down, but it is, after all, just hair. And maybe one day I will stumble upon that perfect color, like Megan Fox’s shift to raven-colored tresses or Christina Hendricks’ move from blond to rich, red locks.
“My” hairdresser has remained elusive, but one of three people on my list may have been found. After a different kind of cosmetic issue—this one with my car—I met a mechanic through a coworker. He told me to stop by his shop after work. I arrived with a book in hand, expecting to read the whole time while he toiled away. Instead, the mechanic engaged me in conversation, restored the broken gas cap button for a reasonable price, and buffed out a large scuff mark on my driver’s side door.
This could be the start of a beautiful professional relationship.
Find me at https://twitter.com/IDHYPhilly