Ready Set Go: the first day of school

School has always been easy for me. I’m a classic underachiever, content to skate by with a B instead of actually studying to get an A. I sailed through most tests in high school and college, cocky in the knowledge that I possessed the critical thinking skills to pull off most multiple choice answers and good enough recall of whatever I had crammed the night before to be able to regurgitate whatever was needed. I had already finished a Bachelor’s degree. Beauty school would be a piece of cake.

The only prerequisite for most cosmetology programs is a 10th grade education, so reading and performance standards aim for that level. What distinguishes a school is the pass rate of the state licensing exam, not the quality of education. A standard curriculum must be followed in order to be sure that all licensees meet the same basic requirements. That curriculum stoops to the lowest common denominator: idiot proof.

I discovered that learning at too slow a pace was infinitely more painful than too fast. Every day in class our teacher Mr. Zappo droned on and on from Milady’s Standard Cosmetology, more often than not stumbling over the technical terms. The first few chapters of the book included Life Skills, Your Professional Image and Communicating for Success, concepts that were unclear to a majority of the girls around me. Theory every morning was like being trapped in a third grade classroom with a crowd of hungover post-adolescents. I ignored lecture entirely, reading ahead and copying terms from the textbook. Filling in the blanks of my workbook without going insane was harder than the 500-page reading assignments and term papers that had challenged me so in college. I longed for dark auditoriums, PowerPoint slides, blue books. I could feel cobwebs growing in my brain.

Few things could have made still listening to lecture for eight hours a day worse. Learning that we were banned from the salon for nine weeks definitely did it. A few girls were not seen in class the next day. In addition to life skills, we needed to know principles of hygiene and sanitation before we were legally cleared to put scissors to hair, even on a mannequin. Every day we inched closer to the salon as we tallied our accrued theory hours. Each student was issued a green 11x17 piece of paper with a weekly grid. This ticket was a precious document that showed your life in school: theoretical hours earned, operations completed, hours clocked towards that shining 1600. It rode in the pocket of my smock every day for the next year.


And now. 


The Razor

Shaving implements and razors were some of the first tools for grooming, and over the centuries they have been made out of an array of different materials.  Men in prehistoric times kept their beards short with seashells, shark teeth or stone, edges sharpened to a blade. Ancient gold and copper razors were found in Egyptian tombs for use in the afterlife. When a steel straight razor was invented in Sheffield, England, sometime in the 18th or 19th centuries, it was immediately popular with barbers. This kind of razor required constant sharpening on a strop. The advent of disposable double-edged steel blades raised the instrument into a professional haircutting tool, with a perfectly sharp edge every time. 

A shear usually cuts a strand of hair straight across the shaft, leaving a blunt end. A razor blade slices each hair with a diagonal motion, resulting in a softer and more textured finish. A shear is fairly easy to learn to open and close in a consistent manner, but the razor is an instrument of pressure and angle. With changes in the amount of pressure on the downward stroke of the blade, more or less hair can be cut. Inconsistent pressure with the razor often results in “holes” in a haircut. The length of a stroke of the blade on the hair changes the effect as well.  A shorter, closed stroke will yield a blurred but straight line, while an open stroke removes lots of weight and gives a very textured finish. 

The razor should be used on wet hair, with a new blade each time to minimize tugging and distress to the cuticle. Although complete haircuts can be done with a razor, many stylists use it only for texturing and adding movement within straight or wavy hair. A guard is often used over the blade to prevent the stylist from cutting their fingers or the client.

Fun Facts: 
  • The use of a bare blade on a client is dictated by the rules and regulations of a cosmetologist or barber. Cosmetologists are permitted to cut hair with a razor (the guard should be on the blade at all times), but not to use the bare blade on the skin as in shaving. 
  • The Looney Tunes short “Rabbit of Seville” features Bugs Bunny giving Elmer Fudd a close shave, complete with a head massage using fingers, toes and long rabbit ears. 
  • In the video game “Assassin’s Creed” a character named the Barber uses a straight razor as his weapon of choice. 
  • For a scene in the James Bond film Skyfall, actress Naomie Harris attended barbering school for three weeks. She practiced on balloons, she told reporters, and never popped a single one. Her movements are precise and sure as her character Eve shaves Bond with a straight razor (Harris’s training was a bit superfluous because a real blade was never used on film).
  • Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, first appeared in penny dreadful form in 1846. The story of his murderous scheme has been told and retold in books, films, musicals and movies ever since. Homicidal tendencies aside, he is quite the talented barber in this contest: 


Aftermath of Disaster

Remember Tori? Here she is again. :) I love Ellen! 


Orientation Day

Our heroine has quit her fancy job, moved out of her fancy apartment, and swallowed her pride. We learn just what she's getting into on orientation day...

Midafternoon, as I am fantasizing about a Starbucks mocha and a joint, we finally finish the handbook. Students rustle around, checking phones and stretching backs stiff from sitting in these tiny desks. Mr. Zappo leans over the podium, at leisure now that he’s gotten through his task. I can tell from his expression that he’s about to drop some knowledge on us. It’s only 3:15 and I think we are trapped here until 4:30. Oh man.
“You should all know this already, but every year there’s someone who needs to hear this,” he says ominously. “We work in an industry where you touch a lot of people. So you must give the impression of being someone your client would like to touch,” he says, placing creepy emphasis on the last word. The girls titter and scoff. They poke and prod each other with long acrylic nails, rearrange their extensions, reapply lip gloss. He continues loudly about the importance placed on smelling good, combing and styling your hair, applying your makeup in a flattering manner, and most of all being clean. "That means," Mr. Zappo declares in a loud and clear voice, "you have to take a shower every day."
The class explodes with laughter and snide comments. “Your mama don’t take no shower every day!” “Bitch, your mama ain’t never taken no shower!”
"I know you all find this funny," he continues over the racket, "but when you're bent over somebody at the shampoo bowl, what part of your body is in their face?" Nobody raises a hand to answer, all the students still giggling and snorting. "Your armpit!" he shouts triumphantly, startling the class back to attention. "And how many of you smell like roses at the end of a long day?"
A few girls who are obviously smartasses raise their hands and the rest of us titter. "That's why you need to shower every day," he continues. "And use soap!"

 The moment the hands hit 4:30, a massive prison break strikes and girls pour out of the room. I am surprised they don’t jump out of the windows. I stay seated through most of the exodus, finally getting up as the stragglers leave class. I approach the  instructor, who is gathering his notes from the podium.
He looks up and I can see he’s tired. Wrangling a circus is hard work. Holding my handbook out to him, I point at the Prerequisites page. "Is it totally necessary for me to take an English placement exam?" I look around to see if we’re alone and hiss, "I have a college degree."
"Of course not," Mr. Zappo says, waving his hand. "We're happy to have you." He pats my shoulder as we walk out of the room. “Not many of those around here.”

I make my way out of the building to find most of the girls smoking cigarettes outside. Since my smoking-is-cool phase ended about six years ago, I don't know who to talk to. The tight ball of anxiety in my stomach reminds me of the first days of high school. I stall the social gauntlet by heading directly to the bathroom. Washing my hands, I peer at my reflection in the scratched and chipped mirror over the cold-water sink. Is my hair stupid? Are my glasses smudged? Will anybody notice that my purse is a knockoff? God. I am twenty-five years old, last year I made nearly fifty thousand dollars, and I'm worrying if the other girls are going to think I'm cool. Life really is just junior high. I toss the soggy paper towels into the dented trash can and head back outside.
            Cautiously I approach the one girl I kind of know by sight, the redhead with the crazy ears. "Hi," I say in my most nonthreatening voice. She turns those ethereal green eyes on me. "Don't you shop at Ambrosia?"
            She smiles, showing adorably crooked teeth, and the knot of anxiety slips a little. "Like, all the time. Don't you work there?"
            "Yeah," I answer, relief spreading through my gut. "I thought I recognized you."
            Her name is Dakota, and she's the first girl I like in beauty school.

I only wish. (BobbyPin Blog, check it out)


Met Ball Hair: Punk Rock Hits and Misses

Date: May 6, 2013
Event: Costume Institute Gala
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Attendees: movie stars, reporters, writers, hangers-on
Hostess: Anna Wintour and Vogue Magazine
Theme: PUNK: Chaos to Couture

Every year the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts the Costume Institute Gala. The theme of the ball usually reflects a major exhibit in fashion at the Met, and past themes have included la Belle Epoque, Russian costume and Orientalism. This year it was punk. Although there is a ridiculous level of high-low contrast between hostess Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue) and street punk's lowly beginnings, I admire some fearless attendees for their fashion-y spin on punk rock.You can imagine (or see for yourself) the interesting combinations of lace and leather, plaid and print, chains and jewels that draped over taut bodies on the red carpet. Fashion was over the top, so hair must be as well.

The real way to do it. 

Punk hair? There's only true one way to go: the Mohawk. No haircut better delivers a message of defiance and intimidation, as the original Mohawk and Pawnee Native Americans intended. It was also an open taunt to other tribes intending to scalp them. Although the most famous 'hawks in pop culture mostly date from the late 1970s and 80s, my personal favorite is on Clonycavan Man, the body of an Iron Age man found mummified in an Ireland peat bog. More than 2,000 years ago he was the styling-est punk in Ireland. He slicked his 'hawk up with plant oil and pine resin, arguably stickier than egg whites and Elmer's glue.

As the most iconic of punk hairstyles, the Mohawk is also the most aggressive and difficult to perfect. It seems ill-suited to the red carpet. But that didn't stop the Bergdorf's hairdressers from trying.

I rather like this updo on Once Upon A Time actress Jennifer Morrison. Her stylist managed to give a nod to street punk with visible roots and an ungroomed feel. The fuzzy outlines and wispy edges of this braid look like she's slept in it, yet the classic chignon at her neck keeps the style feminine and classy. Other interpretations of the Mohawk were softer, more stylized and often only appeared along the back of the head rather than along the top.

Jennifer Morrison's braid-hawk.

Only one person dared to go full nuts with their hairdo: Sarah Jessica Parker. After all her envelope-pushing outfits as Carrie on Sex and the City (anyone remember the flower pin the size of her face?) a two-foot-tall headpiece doesn't seem that intimidating. She alone is bold enough to carry this off, or strong enough through the neck and shoulders to hold that thing up all night. Made by Philip Treacy and constructed of lace and what appears to be horse hair, the headdress is pinned into her updo and along her head. Although her outfit wasn't nearly as well received (a rather hideous combination of her floral dress and plaid velvet boots, complete with panties showing), I applaud SJP for going over the top with her hair.

Majestic. I want one. 
A lot of ballgoers forgot their street cred at home: celebs who wouldn't know a punk rock song if it spat on them listed Green Day, Avril Lavigne and the Goo Goo Dolls among their favorite punk bands. Few attendees seemed to know the Sex Pistols from the Stooges. It's not surprising that there was more than one major fail on hair and makeup. 

Even more high-maintenance than the Mohawk, liberty spikes shoot straight out from the head and come to a wicked point at the end. The end result suggests a human pincushion and keeps all observers at a safe distance for fear of losing an eye. Miley Cyrus made an attempt at libersty spikes and fell way, waaaay short. Her style might be called "blonde porcupine." Still intimidating? Yes. Punk rock? No.

One part Edward Scissorhands, one part Johnny Rotten.

One staple of punk rock hair is color: bold, crazy, never-found-in-nature color. Think reds and blues and purples. In predictable fashion, none of the starlets on the red carpet were brave enough to go the whole hog and dye their hair, with the exception of a newly blonde Anne Hathaway. Hair extensions and powder or spray color did the trick for the night, without the commitment of Manic Panic. Nicole Richie took her color in an Addams family direction with pure white hair powder. She achieved pretty good shock value, but her hairstyle looks more apropos for a Halloween party than a red carpet event. With all the wisps and the strange contrast with her skin and dress, it reminds me of a cotton ball.

Nicole taking her white hair very seriously.  
Although I have to give props to some of the ladies for boldness and originality, overall the hair and dresses at the Met Ball proved that punk-rock style holds true: pale imitations just make you look like a wanna-be. 


Personal Beauty: A Treatise on Old-Timey Good Looks

"What is personal beauty? It is the combination of correct proportion and color with perfect performance of function. Perfect performance of function requires health and grace; proportion and color are under the control of fixed laws of taste." 

Imagine my delight when I happened upon this little pink volume in a used bookstore, and it fell open to the quote above. How true is it that a woman is her most beautiful when the glow of health and happiness lights her up from the inside? And how each woman is beautiful in a completely different, unique way? Clearly ahead of their time, the honorable (and charmingly verbose) doctors  D.G. Brinton, M.D. and G.H. Napheys, M.D. expound at length on the ways a woman can keep herself youthful and comely.

Published in 1870, the book addresses each part of the female body in detail: the hair, the skin, the hands and feet, the neck and bust, and the human figure overall. Tips and tricks are outlined in minute detail to keep every part of the body at its best. In the introduction readers discover that"these cares and arts will enable many a wife to recover and retain the affections of her husband, and many an unmarried woman to obtain that attention and courtesy the want of which gives her now unhappy moments." 

Although at times the text is almost comical (one subheading reads "On Corpulence and Leanness," with sections for a Bill of Fare to either decrease or increase in flesh as needed) there is a sense of wholesome good sense about it. The advice given here isn't to spend hundreds of dollars on a miracle cream or snake oil to resurrect sagging features:

"What aid can cosmetic science here offer to one not gifted by nature with a handsome face? The vast majority of persons are neither repulsive nor beautiful in feature, and it is the expressions of their faces which grants or denies them popularity and success...No one but can recall some face where petulance, or grief, or pride, has left indelible imprints. Like a mirror, the unguarded expression tells tales of all that is passing within us." 

In other words, ladies of yesteryear and today, for good looks all  your life, put on a happy face. :)


She's baaaack...Tabatha Takes Over!

God, I love Tabatha Coffey. Please tell me you know her already from "Tabatha's Salon Takeover" on Bravo. Or maybe you watched Shear Genius a while ago (I tried out for that show! We could have been buddies!) and rooted for her to win the ultra-crafty hairstyling competitions.

Tabatha was eliminated in the sixth episode for being less than friendly with with her (admittedly kind of a dumbass) co-stylist, but made a triumphant return when the series ended to claim her $10,000 prize as Fan Favorite. How's that for a first impression?

She would cheerfully beat you with those shoes. 

Tomorrow night, April 4 at 10pm, (omg there's an all-day marathon before! Mom record it for me please?) Tabatha returns to Bravo with a fifth season of ball-busting and tough love, helping clueless salon managers, owners and stylists to pull themselves together. The premise of the show is that Tabatha will fix your business and save you from imminent disaster, but her price is total control. Tabatha fires employees ruthlessly, evaluates and corrects the ones she plans to keep, inspires and intimidates the owners to manage their books, inventory, resources and staff more efficiently. For one week she has the keys to the salon and utter dominion over it. Upon seeing her darken the doorway, most stylists shit their pants.

Tabatha is especially gleeful to watch because the woman just will not take an ounce of shit. She mercilessly dismantles illusions, excuses, disorganization and bullshit with her sly wit and snide comments. As a girl who has always liked an apt, albeit salty term, I have to admit I love her free use of profanity. It gives me simple joy to hear rude epithets roll off her tongue in that Australian twang. My mom turned to me during one past season and asked exactly what Tabatha meant by the terms "gobsmacked" and "fuckwit."

Most of the business owners and employees will admit to the camera they think she's verbally abusive, crazy, mean, a complete sociopath, but most of them just call her a bitch. Maybe, if you're a bitch first. But over the course of the show I have seen her coach people who are struggling and inspire confidence in them. Her comments about haircolor and styling to faltering stylists have helped me in my own salon work. She is a technical genius and has perhaps the best head for business I have ever seen, combined with lethal common sense. And so I appreciate Tabatha way beyond "bitch." It's a term she has come to embrace. In Tabatha's words, Bravery, Intelligence, Tenacity, Creativity, and Honesty make you a B.I.T.C.H. Pretty cool, huh?I guess I'm a bitch too.

Check out one of my all-time favorite episodes. These people are clueless.