My dad recently asked me how I, or any woman, can spend so much time at the hairdresser. This is a man who has had the same haircut for much of his adult life, maintains his moustache by nibbling the corners if they grow too long and would sum up his style as “urban farmer” (although, credit where credit’s due, he does pull it off), so perhaps a lack of understanding of the ritual of beauty is unsurprising. Maybe it’s a valid question though, why do we spend so much time getting our hair done?
The conversation followed a trip to Dextress for what I call “routine maintenance” – lightening my out-of-control regrowth, cleaning up any brassiness in my blonde, a treatment and a cut – which turned into a bit of an experiment with a new colour range (which you can read about here). The process takes a while, and the team’s creativity and my willingness to try almost anything has meant that I am the last client to leave at the end of the day on more than one occasion.
My dad asked me what I, and the other clients, do while we are there. Of course, there are magazines to read, some people are glued to their phones, others take the opportunity to nap (maybe that’s just me, though) and some guests chat to each other. The idea of making friends at the hair salon struck him as bizarre, but really it makes perfect sense.
A salon is like a micro-community, a cross-section of people who likely live in the same few suburbs, who are all seeking one thing – to look their best. It provides a safe space for (not exclusively, but mainly) women to strike up friendships with people they may not meet under other circumstances, particularly if you and your salon-neighbour both turn up on the same day every six weeks. Dad thought this wasn’t enough entertainment and suggested that there be airline-style fold out TVs on every chair so that clients can watch reruns of Top Gear while waiting for their colour to develop.
We also form strong bonds with our hairdressers. Many clients think of their stylist as a friend, and vice versa. When I threw out the question “what makes you feel good about getting your hair cut?” to my Facebook friends, one response spoke volumes – “I like going because they are nice to you. They talk to you and laugh at your stories then you pay and leave“. Even if you aren’t the type to gossip with your stylist throughout your whole haircut, you still place an almost scary level of trust in them. You probably wouldn’t let your best friend cut your hair, but you’ll let your stylist do it before some of the most important events of your life – weddings, graduations, job interviews.
I have had some truly terrible haircuts in my time. I’ve also had my fair share of terrible hairdressers, too. My previous hairdresser was so rude to me when I enquired about “going blonde”, I felt compelled to attempt the transformation myself. Of course, it went horribly wrong, and that’s how I ended up in the chair at Dextress. On my first visit I was terrified, salons had always intimidated me and filled me with dread, I thought the stylists would all laugh at me. There was no laughing, though, no superior attitude, just a great colour correction and a very “me” cut which dulled the pain of having most of my fried hair lopped off.
As one of our most prominent features, hair becomes part of our identity – a comfort blanket of sorts. It is one aspect of our appearance that we have a level of control over, it can be styled, straightened, coloured, curled, shortened, lengthened and otherwise manipulated to hide signs of ageing, to keep up with trends, to tell the world something about our persona and our lifestyle. Even the way we part our hair can tell people something about us.
Another response to my rudimentary Facebook survey was “just glad I still have a head of hair!“, and although it may sound shallow, to many of us hair is extremely important – a recent survey showed that 1 in every 10 women has pulled a sickie because of a bad hair day, 11% of respondents in a Canadian survey said that they were “scared” of getting a bad haircut, and a Toni & Guy poll of 1,000 Americans found that one in five had cried after receiving a bad cut. I know from experience that a bad haircut can effectively crush your self-esteem, at least until it starts to grow out.
Finding a good hairdresser that you trust implicitly is a source of anxiety for many of us, including my mum who left behind her almost life-long hairdresser when she moved from England to Australia – something that still bothers her nearly six years later. So when my dad asked why I continue to go to Dextress for my hair needs, despite the time it takes and the fact that there are probably several salons that are closer to me, I didn’t have to think very hard – a great haircut can lift us up, transform us even, and I have only ever had great haircuts at Dextress. I trust the team, and they understand me.
The final word from my dad was that getting my hair done is “a hobby”, which might be true. But maybe it’s also a necessary exercise in defining and redefining ourselves, and polishing what we want to tell the world about who we are – whether we are a single parent who wants to reinvent herself after feeling “dowdy” for too long, the glamazon who is at the salon like clockwork every four weeks to make sure her hair is always on point, the businesswoman who needs a powerful look for the boardroom or the 18 year old who wants to look professional for her first job out of school. Besides, who doesn’t love a good head massage?