IT'S INEVITAITABLE. The minute I sit down in that swivel chair, my tongue loosens and the chit-chat begins. By the time my hair's been scrubbed, trimmed and dried, my stylist probably knows more about my personal life than my own mother. Actually - seeing as how mom goes to the same hair stylist - that might not be true.
Hair stylists are a staple of life. As a local barber once told me, "If you're breathing, your hair is growing." Every six weeks we visit the salon to be pampered, beautified and, admittedly, listened to. "I love the fact that I see so many different people - company CEOs, single moms. It's very diverse, but there's still that common thread that clients want to feel good. For some of them, the only people they talk to is us," says Hair Benders Internationale stylist Kim Hoge.
As a result of the hours upon hours stylists spend listening to their clients, they have earned the prestigious title of "hairapist." The infinite wisdom of Urban Dictionary tells us that a hairapist is "one who cuts hair for a living, and, after many years of hearing it all and providing advice, receives an honorary PhD in therapy." It may be an "honorary degree," but that doesn't mean Chattanooga's stylists don't know how to solve a problem - whether it involves a bad do-it-yourself dye job or a teenage daughter who's going through her rebellious stage.
Stylist Curtis Fairbanks recalls a woman who came to see him at Hair Benders after attempting to dye her own hair. Fairbanks used his expertise to correct the botched hair color, and afterward, with tears in her eyes, she thanked him with a fierce hug. Fairbanks says on that day, he knew his chosen profession was much more than a job. "Other than your primary doctor and your lover, your hairdresser touches you in places no one else will - your head and your hair," says Fairbanks, quoting a client who actually is a psychologist.
"It's a trust thing. Hair is a big deal. It has an incredible power in how someone's day goes. When they trust you to do their hair they probably trust you with a lot of other things too," agrees Meredith Miles, cutting specialist at Studio 59 Salon and Spa. To put it simply, Michael Bone of Level 10 Salon says, "They feel more comfortable when you make them feel beautiful. I'm a people person. I like the crazy stories that they have."
When it comes to crazy stories, our hairapists have definitely seen and heard it all. "What they don't teach you in hair school is how to listen and not take it home. Once you hear it you can't un-hear it," says Fairbanks.
BE THE BEST CLIENT:
Show up to your appointment on time -your stylist works hard to give you fabulous hair. Give them the greatest gift by valuing their time.
Give a handwritten thank you note and holiday cards at the appropriate times - stylists love to know they've done a great job.
Do you hold a license in cosmetology? Probably not, so there's no need to direct the professionals. If you've been telling your stylist how to cut your hair in the same style for the past five years, they get the picture and know what to do.
If you had a good experience, tell them how much you love your hair after each visit. At the end of the day, your satisfaction is No. 1 on their priority list.
And stylists have to try to "un-hear" a lot. Hoge and Fairbanks recall some of the unforgettable days in the salon, like when wives unknowingly sit across the salon from their husband's mistress, only to be joined by the husband himself on a couple of occasions (wonder how they got out of that one). Or the time when a female client looked Fairbanks square in the eye and asked for a little extra hair dye to take home because she said she had a blind date that night and "wanted the carpet to match the drapes."
Then there are the occasions when stylists may listen a little too well, as Fairbanks learned after receiving a series of love notes from a rather misguided client.
"I feel like my clients trust me. I try to forget about some things I am told and move on so that I'm not tempted to tell things that it's not my place to tell," says Miles. "I think people are this comfortable with us because they know us and have been coming to us for a while but they don't see us anywhere else."
Stylists are experts at making a client's visit all about them. "I think we are a sort of an escape," comments Bridget Davis of Bridget Davis Salon. "They can come here and leave their problems. It's kind of a disconnect."
Fortunately for the stylists, it's not all scandal and awkward requests. "It's always good to hear about great things happening in people's lives. At one time 15 of my guests were pregnant at the same time. I swear I think it was my chair. I wouldn't sit in it," Miles laughs. "You have all these friends that you get to share happy moments with."
Plus, some of the biggest life events require a professional touch, like proms and weddings. "We grow up with a lot of these kids. I always cry when I do their hair and put their veil on," Hoge says.
Davis, who just opened her salon a year ago, says that she feels successful because of the people she is surrounded by. "Making that connection is 90 percent of building a business - understanding a client's needs," says Davis. "I think hairdressers should be good listeners because the clients' lifestyle makes a difference in our work. They need a hairstyle that fits their lifestyle. There's so much fear built up, either with their hair or life in general. They trust us to fix their hair and maybe their life," Davis laughs.
Male vs. Female
According to stylists across Chattanooga, men can be the pickiest clients. Yep - all those manly, just-rub some-dirt-in-it guys care a lot about their hair and how it is cut. "Men are so picky. And they don't want you to be running late," laughs Hoge. Fairbanks agrees with Hoge, but says, "It's a nice break for me. We talk football, cars. Conversations are definitely a lot more emotional with women."
To give credit where credit is due, when a man finds a good stylist, he sticks with him or her through it all. "My male clients are very loyal to their stylist, even more so than women are," Miles says. As a male stylist, Fairbanks says he comes across problems of his own. "It's hard as a guy - guys are problem-solvers," says Fairbanks. He recounts a time when one of his female clients unloaded about some upsetting problems at home. Fairbanks worried about the situation for the next six weeks, asking her about it when she came back in for her next hair appointment. The client looked bewildered, saying everything was great at home. Fairbanks says he learned a valuable lesson that day - sometimes women just need to vent.
HAIR BENDERS INTERNATIONALE 1615 Gunbarrel Road, Chattanooga, 423-894-2973
STUDIO 59 SALON AND SPA 2309 Hickory Valley Road, Chattanooga, 423-894-1175
BRIDGET DAVIS SALON 2545 Lifestyle Way, Chattanooga, 423-710-2118
LEVEL 10 SALON 1110 Market Street #205, Chattanooga, 423-634-2042