Growing up as a boy in Essex in the 90’s with 3 older brothers I wasn’t exposed to many evenings doing each other’s hair (although my two eldest brothers did have quite long perms at one stage. I have the photos to prove it.) I also have one younger sister, and only one attempt was ever made by me to brush her long fine textured hair, with a round brush. You may or may not know this is a recipe for disaster. We were on our way to a weekend away with our two elder cousins and I managed to get the brush stuck in my sister’s hair before we were even off of my parents road. Many tears followed, from both of us, and hair was cut to remove the offending brush. Needless to say, this wasn’t conducive to thinking hairdressing was for me from an early age.
I used to get my haircut by a friend who was at hairdressing college back in my home town while I was still working out what I wanted to do with my life. After a few times of going there she asked me if I had ever thought of learning how to cut hair myself? The thought hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I remember sitting there for the rest of the haircut watching all the students around me, dressed in black, blowdrying, cutting, perming and colouring. Some of the more experienced students smiling and talking to their clients, the less experienced students with stern faces and maybe the occasional bead of sweat. I felt excited by the idea, but a little nervous in particular at the idea of working with women’s hair. It seemed completely alien to me. I had never had an interest in it before, so I considered the idea of barbering. I went home and told my mother, we discussed it and decided it was a good idea to try learning all aspects of hairdressing, see what I enjoy and then specialise later. I was enrolled to start the next term.
The course was one day a week and it was encouraged to spend the other days working in a salon. The college recommended salons in the area they were in partnership with and knew were looking for assistants. I was offered a position at the first salon I interviewed with and decided to take the job. The salon held training nights every week, and the first one fell just a few days after I had joined. I had only just had my induction day at college, had only just been shown where the tea, coffee and broom were at the salon, and now I had to find someone to let me work on their hair.
I was asked to find someone with long hair, who wouldn’t mind a temporary colour and a blow dry. Luckily I had a friend who had already offered her hair as practice the minute she learned I had signed on the course. What followed was the longest 3-4 hours of my life. Applying the colour at the basin to wet, very long, very easy to tangle hair, seemed like an impossible task. This was my first attempt at handling long hair, and I felt very much out of my depth. After the colour had its allotted developing time, the removal process proved to be just as difficult. Handling the back wash shower attachment for the first time, trying not to completely soak my friends face and clothes, making sure the colour was out, then the shampoo was out, then finally making sure the conditioner was out. I was completely exhausted.
Then came the main event. The blow dry. Actually before that was another hours work to completely fret and sweat my way through, detangling. Starting from the bottom of the hair and working my way up through the knots didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference. Even learning to section the hair seemed like a mammoth task. I remember working my way through the hair, blowdrying the already pretty straight strands even straighter. It was obviously a task in getting me used to handling the dryer and brush, at the time I remember wondering if I had made a grave mistake. But, once I was finished, I remember seeing my friend smiling happily at her new slightly different colour. I felt not only relief, but a sense of pride.
As with any new skill, it takes a lot of practice before you get anywhere near comfortable within with a new medium. So I’d like to finish by saying, even if you have never touched long hair in your life, you didn’t grow up braiding and pony-tailing your mates hair, don’t let it put you off giving it a go. You’ll get there, and who knows, you might even enjoy it!
(All hair in the images by Thomas Silverman.)