Shelley is giving me a lesson in blow-drying my hair. I tell her I just normally blast it and it looks fine. She asks about what “product” I use. I mumble that I can never remember the names of them. She tells me her life story. She talks and talks; I tune out. When she’s finished my hair is much too short, and she’s blow dried it into a bouffy, old-lady style. My fringe swings off to the side, to a place it’s never been before. I look in the mirror and know I will take weeks to recover from this.
Everyone knows the hardest things about moving to a new town are finding a new doctor and dentist, and a new hairdresser. Not necessarily in that order. Today – as I avoid every mirror in my house – I am on the hunt (again) for a new hairdresser.
For the past seven years, I have gone to the same hairdresser’s, a lovely unpretentious suburban salon in Melbourne with the terrible name of Harr. It was small and smart but not intimidating in the way some salons can be. I walked in the door for the first time and got a warm welcome and a great haircut from the co-owner, Sam. Someone once advised me that the best thing to do is get your hair cut by the owner of the salon, because they won’t move on and leave you at the mercy of a new stylist. In one swoop, with Sam I knew I had achieved that. He was wonderful: he cut well, and he didn’t talk too much (a fatal flaw with many hairdressers, in my view).
But after a couple of years, Sam did move on. He sold his share to his business partner Jo, and all his clients were passed on to a new stylist. This particularly flamboyant Mr Scissor-hands was also competent, but sadly didn’t last long…I turned up one day to find he’d been caught red-handed stealing cash from the customers’ handbags. I put my hair and my trust in the hands of Marc but after another three years or so, he also departed, back to his hometown of Sydney. Jo took over my hair-care, and we never looked back. After my last appointment before my move north, she grew quite emotional and pressed into my hand the phone number of a former colleague now working in Brisbane. “He’ll look after you,” she promised, kissing my cheek as I walked out the door. In seven years, I’d never had a bad haircut from any of them.
But Jo’s friend wasn’t very handy for me, so when the time came for a trim, I decided instead to give it a whirl at a hairdresser near my new home. One day in March I walked in off the street, and had my hair cut by Michelle, a 23-year-old with purple streaks in her hair. She did a good job on my hair, so I went back a second time. I have my hair cut regularly every five – sometimes six – weeks. Things were looking good. On my third appointment my stylist was off sick, so salon owner Michael filled in. His cutting was fine, and I left happily (but I didn’t really take to him. By my fourth appointment, Michelle had left and I was in the hands of Jess, a recent arrival from country Queensland. Today, I turned up for my trim and found that Jess too has departed, and I’m in Shelley’s chair.
We “‘consult” in front of the mirror. I say I just want a trim. “An inch?” she asks. “Oh no, more like half an inch.” I want to err on the side of caution. Over the course of my life, I’ve had lots of different cuts and styles; I’ve worn it long and wavy, permed (short and long), and even super-short (about an inch all over). But I need to know I’m going to like it, and I’m happy with the way it is now.
Off we go to the basin. It doesn’t start well. When Shelley washes my hair, the water is cold. I murmur a complaint, and she tries again. Now it’s tepid. The head massage is perfunctory, and she talks throughout it. We move to the mirror; she snips away, talking all the time. Constantly. Too much talk. I don’t want to tell you my life story, Shelley. And there are constant interruptions. We’re in the chair nearest the phone, and she’s new and eager to please. Every time it rings, the scissors go down and she’s off to answer it. She leaves me to welcome new customers and give them magazines to read while they wait. I start looking at my watch, keen to get it over with and out of there. I love going to the hairdresser, but this is not a relaxing, pampering experience. And at this rate, my hair will be dry before she’s finished cutting it.
Shelley admires my hair. She loves its strength, its body, its colour. She advises me to use “purple shampoo” which will give my grey locks more shine and lift. I’m not convinced, but agree happily. Anything to get out of there. She waves the mirror about to give me the back view, pointing out how she has cleverly disguised my double crown.
Then she looks at my face. “Don’t you like it?” she says.
“No, I don’t. It’s…not the way I do it myself. ”
She’s contrite. “I can fix it! I don’t want you going away unhappy.” Too late for that, Shelley. I let her fuss about and fix the way she’s swished my fringe aside and leave as quickly as I can. Would I like to make my next appointment now? No thank you. My luck has run out, and the search must start again.
Later, as I wailed to a male friend about today’s hairdressing disaster, he commiserated. “Hair is very important,” he said. “Some people worry more about their hair than about their heart.” I’m not sure I’d put myself in that category, but I know a bad hair day when I’m having one. And this one looks like lasting for weeks….