When it comes to getting my hair done, I’m an avowed cheapskate. As far back as I can remember, my hairdos were monitored and maintained by my mom. She cut it, permed it and styled it, all using home care products that were unpredictable at best. I learned my cheapness from her.
My hair hung well below my hips until I was nine. At that point, after tiring of my cries of pain, my mom decided to cut my hair. We walked to a bus stop, then rode from Beavercreek, a country suburb, into Dayton, Ohio. There, at a shop, I got my first professional cut and perm.
I loved the feeling when someone else shampooed my hair and ran a comb through it. I was entranced by the parting and snipping that shortened my hair to shoulder–length. I hated the perm. Long rods were wound into my hair, rods which were attached to an electrified pole. The smell of the chemicals cooking sickened me.
I hated my curly hair, but my mom loved it.
My dad didn’t just hate it, he stated that only whores had hair like min. His words were so hurtful that it was a long, long time before I allowed my mom to get my hair cut again.
After college it became popular to have an Afro style hairdo. The perm chemicals had improved so they didn’t burn as much, but the smell lingered for days.
I loved the finished product. My hair was only a few inches long. It easy to take care of, requiring only a good combing. The one downfall was that my hair did not take to the perm naturally, and so I had to have second and third dousings in order to get the tightly wound curls that the style incorporated.
When I met my husband, I had stopped getting perms and let my hair grow out a tad. The problem was that my hair is naturally straight and lifeless. But it was easy to care for.
Shortly after our marriage, I decided to go back to the tight curls, mostly because I didn’t have time to wind my hair into curlers every night and sleeping on them was nearly impossible. As a working woman, I needed to be awake and alert at work.
We had little money back then, and so when I discovered there was a beauty school in our downtown, it became my go-to for all things hair. I found that one of the greatest the joys of going to the beauty college was that I could get my hair cut for free. Yes, it took a long time. Often hours. Because I chose to go upstairs where all the novices were, every step along the way had to be approved by a supervisor. But it was free! And unfortunately inconsistent.
After months of this, I decided to stay on the ground floor, where the skills of the students were much better. It still required hours and I had to pay a minimum fee; I think five dollars. Quality varied, and so I had to be flexible in terms of the final product. Sometimes I really liked what they did, most of the time it was tolerable, and sometimes it was downright awful.
I decided to move over to the south side of the main floor where the operators were nearing graduation. My care was still monitored, but not as closely. I was still getting perms, but only enough to put some life in my normally straight hair. The good thing was that my hair was getting done regularly for a minimal charge.
After I went back to work and was making a little more money, I found a local shop that only charged eight dollars. It was located in a poorer part of town, in an old house not too far from my school. No appointments were needed, but by that time I had given up on perms, so all I needed was a trim.
Because of how cheap it was and how close to my place of work, I went there for years. Unfortunately, the quality varied. Sometimes I got a cut that pleased me. But more and more often the operator cut my hair too short, making me look more male than female. Or it was butchered, long in spots, barely showing in others.
I switched to a shop not too far from home that was run by sisters. The first one I met did an excellent job and she only charged twenty dollars. I returned over and over until I got her sister. She cut my hair the way she wanted it, way too short, almost masculine. It was uneven to the point that when I got home I’d have to do my own trim.
My stepmom used a salon within walking distance of my home. She only saw one stylist, so I made an appointment with her. I should have known better. My stepmom’s hair was bleached to the point that it looked like straw. In fact, all the time she was with my dad, I wondered if maybe she was wearing a really cheap wig.
The first few times this stylist cut my hair, she did a pretty good job. But then she decided to do things her way. Once again I ended up with a masculine cut.
Things changed when my sister-in-law treated me to a cut at a salon out near her home. She had won a Raffle ticket for a free cut and style from an operator that she never sees. Without knowing what they normally charge, I assumed it was in the thirty-dollar range. While she did a great job with the cut, the stylist insisted on fluffing my hair out into a bouncy, plastered helmet. The good news was that I’d never have to go back as it was a good forty-minute drive from home.
Despite my helmet-hair, I discovered two important things: you get what you pay for and there is a difference between a cut and a style. I fell in love with style. Not that my “do” is fancy, because it isn’t. What I liked was having my hair cut evenly, the finished product a blend all the way around.
Despite the long drive, I contemplated returning to that shop. Until I attended a birthday party for a wonderful man that I had known for years. I sat next to his son during lunch, where I learned that his wife was a stylist in a nearby town. The next time I needed a cut, I went to her. I loved the result. I have returned over and over and will continue to go to her as long as she is local.
Now my cuts cost big dollars. It pains me to pay so much, as the cheapskate part of me is still there, but I love the end result. It is well worth it to pay more if, when you walk out of the shop, you feel pleased.