I’ve always been uncomfortable in hair salons—or “beauty parlors,” as we called them when I was a little girl. My first recollection of being in a beauty parlor was when I was still a toddler visiting my grandparents in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I don’t remember when it was—whether it was that winter of 1957-58 when my mother, brother and I lived with my grandparents, or later. But I was still young enough that I had to sit on a wooden board across the armrests of the chair for the lady to cut my hair.
I went with my mother and grandmother. We three “ladies” were getting our hair styled. My grandmother in those years went to the beauty parlor regularly for perms, and she had convinced my mother to get a perm also. I went along to get my wispy, straight hair trimmed. There was no talk of my getting a perm, which was all right with me, because I didn’t like the smells.
The outing was supposed to be a privilege for me. My younger brother was home taking a nap, while I got to go out with the grown-up ladies. But I felt uncomfortable and out of place the whole time.
It only took a few minutes to cut my hair. Then I sat on my high perch and listened to the women talk—not only my mother and grandmother, but the other customers and the salon personnel. They chatted about hair and fashion magazines and small-town gossip. I felt very inadequate and wondered how I would ever learn so much about being a lady. But at that point I had no doubt that I would—somehow all the accouterments of womanhood would come my way, and I’d be as fancy and polished a lady as the women in the shop that day.
Well, I never did absorb that information. I never picked up the art of chit-chat. I never became interested in styles or gossip—it all seemed a waste of time. As I matured, I wanted to look nice, of course, and I wanted to fit in. But it never came naturally.
I don’t think it came naturally to my mother either, and she certainly was not a good teacher of styles for a daughter. When I was about twelve, she gave me a hand-me-down dress coat of hers that looked like an aqua bag on me. I hated it, but wore it for two years. My grandmothers bought me more fashionable clothes than my mother did—and that remained true until one grandmother died and the other slipped into dementia.
And I grew to hate beauty parlors. Through most of my childhood, my mother trimmed my hair. I was in high school during the early 1970s, when so many girls wore long, straight hair. Straight hair I had, and plenty of it. I wore it with bangs for a while, but I ended up in tears every time my mother cut my bangs. She cut them too short. I learned the knack of trimming them myself using Scotch tape as a guide. No need for beauty parlors in those years. After I grew out my bangs, there was even less need for beauty parlors.
I only had one perm in my life, and that was in January 1979. By that time, ritzy Californians called the shops “hair salons.” I went to one in Palo Alto and turned my head over to the “stylist”—the first time a man ever cut my hair, by the way. I let him do his damage. All my friends thought the perm looked great, but my husband and I both detested it. I’m a straight-haired girl, and proud of it. The only relic from that experiment is that I still part my hair on the left, as that Californian guy dictated.
Ever since then, I’ve gone for convenience. Keep it straight. Cut it off every two to three months. Curl the ends under so I look like I care. Now, after more than a half a century, I’ve come to terms with my discomfort in hair salons. I just avoid them as much as I can.
What adult customs did you envy as a child? What’s your feeling about them now?