When you’re a kid however you’re raised is considered normal. You don’t know what you don’t know. So when I grew up and my mom would trim my long hair on the stool once before Christmas and once before summer vacation I assumed that was normal. I found it weird when boys at school would show up with crew cuts for summer I just assumed their dads did it. Of course, I knew when my friends would show up with new highlights or a shorted cut that they went to a salon but still the experience seemed so otherworldly to me.
So when I went away to college and didn’t have my mom to give me the bi-annual trims I just let my hair grow. But by the end of the Spring semester, it was almost to my butt and I could tell it was all split ends. Since I didn’t have much money I went to the avid institute that some of the other girls had gone too. They were students but it was cheap and I was on a budget. It seemed every other girl came back with good hair and a positive review. So I called the school and nervously asked if I could get a haircut. (do you just ask? What am I supposed to say?). I scheduled one for next week. Here we go, I thought! I started to think of it more like a massage than a haircut. It would be a relaxing time!
On Saturday I took the bus into the city and walked to the avid institute. It was a massive glass building and I could see two floors of hairs and salon activity. A lump built in my throat as I thought of the implications of the appointment. I saw two girls come out of the building. One was a blond furiously running her hands through your sharp bob and talking animatedly while her brunette friend comforted her.
“Look, the sides aren’t even! She couldn’t even cut it straight” The blond said angrily
“It looks good!” The brunette tried to reassure.
“And she cut it so short! I said to my collar and this is a proper bob like I’m a little girl!” the blonde cried.
I walked past them towards the door nervous that I would leave the academy like the blonde and upset at my cut.
The first floor was bustling as I walked in and walked to the reception desk, full of girls circling. I could feel the students eyeing up my hair like I’m a doll’s head.
I was clearly standing their confused because one of the receptionists was waving to me. I smiled and walked up to her, a girl about my age. “How can we help you?” she asked.
“I have an appointment. Jessica Hale” I said.
“Okay great,” she said checking her computer. “Let’s get you gowned up. She pulled what looked like a robe off of a rack and waved me towards her. I put my arms through the holes of the black silk gown and she buttoned it up the front of me. She felt inappropriately close but I guess I have to get used to people touching me today.
She showed me to the waiting area and I walked up the stairs to the main lounge. My gown swished with every step and as I entered. Everyone else in the room was also wearing a matching gown and it looked like we were sheep tagged for the slaughter. I could see into the large open salon and the countless chairs and students cutting their client’s hair. All the clients were covered in these large capes that only let their little heads emerge from the caped pods. This was such a foreign idea, my mom never needed anything like this when trimming my ends. It felt so excessive for how unnecessary they were. Especially two layers of cover!
I found an open seat and sat down. Across from me on another sofa was a boy from my biology class. We smiled at each other and then I put my head back down into my phone. We’d worked on a group project and he was a sweet boy. He had a big mop of hair like a mushroom and clearly hadn’t had it cut since college started. It was so embarrassing seeing someone I know in a state like this. I turned to beat red and put my attention on my phone. Hopefully, the boys would be sent to a different end of the salon.
My head was on my phone, trying to block out everything about my current surroundings. Then I heard one of the stylists walk into the center of the lounge.
“Can I have, Caley, sally, Jessica and Thomas.” I heard my name and looked up. It was like we were being called in groups to the executioner’s table. Thomas, the boy from my class stood up and smiled at me again as I got up and followed him to the instructor. “Follow me please”. The four of us walked into the salon gowns swishing furiously.
We followed her down a long row of students doing hair. I could see the stylists waiting behind chairs for us. Thomas and another girl went to the other row for their stylists and I was introduced to mine. “Hi I’m Alyssa, have a seat”.
I shook her hand and nervously sat down. “So what are we doing today?” She said looking at me in the mirror.
My hair was still tied up and I undid it letting it fall out behind me. “Wow, you have a lot of hair!!”
“Yes, I haven’t cut it in a while and was looking to trim the split ends,” I said watching her start to brush out my hair.
“Okay great so I can trim the ends maybe two inches or so and give you a blow dry, how does that sound?”
“Great!” I said feeling relieved that this might not be so bad in the end.
“Let’s get you caped up then I’ll go to the instructor.”
She pulled the cape from a drawer next to the mirror and I watched her pull the folded cape out. I watched in nervous anticipation as she unfolded the cape. She stood behind me and watched me in the mirror as she billowed it out and let it float over me. It laid lifelessly on me as she took my hair and pinned it up. she went back to her drawer and I sat there submissively with the cape sliding down my chest as she pulled something else out of her drawer. She came back with a strip of paper and wrapped it around my neck.
What is this, I thought to myself. I looked in the mirror and looked so embarrassing with the tissue around my neck and she pulled the long cape around me. The cape came down over my arms and almost grazed the floor. She walked off and I was left staring at myself fin the mirror. Was I just supposed to sit here like this until she came back? could I move my arms or do I have to stay sitting like this? I looked down the row. All the girls next to were sitting complacently underneath their cape with their little shoes sticking out below. The girl who walked in next to me sat still as she turned her head side to side. Next to hear a girl with blonde hair was pumped super high. She seemed like her chair was one of those magician chairs floating in the air while the stylist meticulously cut her straight bob.
I went back to staring at the mirror when I saw Thomas. He was diagonal from me so I could see in between the mirrors. The instructor was talking to his stylist. I looked at him nervous in the mirror. The stylist was a small girl with an orange and red mohawk/mullet style with a lip piercing.
“So what are we doing here,” The instructor said.
“So he wants a trim and cleans up the sides.” The petite stylist said playing with his hair.
“For your exams, you need a clipper fade. Let’s clean up the sides with a #2 fade so you can scratch that off your list. Is that okay?” The instructor put her hand on Thomas’ caped shoulders.
“Uh, that’s okay. As long as it’s still long on top and a bit shaggy.”
“Great, give him a fade then get him shampooed”
He sat staring at himself as the stylist fussed about. I could see him shaking as he watched her fiddle about in her drawer. He was watching her in the mirror when she came back behind him she had clippers in her hand. She stood behind him and started pumping a level below the chair. He looked at me as his chair lurched upwards with every step. His eyes were pleading at him, completely helpless. I gave him a nervous smile back, doing my best to look reassuring in his vulnerability. But still, I knew I would be next and there’s nothing I could do to help either of us.
When the chair was sufficiently high and even his feet were more than a foot off the ground, he looked at his stylist through the mirror. She held up the clippers in the mirror and turned them with a smirk. When the roaring buzzing sound snapped on Thomas winced and squeezed his eyes shut as if he was about to break out in tears.
“Head down please,” She said. She pushed it down until I couldn’t see his face anymore. The clippers were loud when turned on and I could see Thomas shaking as the plunged into his hair. I watched as the stylist worked her way around his head. She slippered off his sides which were probably 6 inches long. Huge clumps of hair fell into his lap. That must be what these huge capes are for. She mowed into his hair and it continued to spill everywhere. It reminded me of when we shaved our dog as a kid. It looked so naked afterward. I looked at his pale skin coming in through what hair he had left on the side of his head. He looked so sad with all his hair removed. When she finally pulled his head up to look in the mirror his face was forlorn. She unclipped the hair on top of his head and it fell down around his face. “Now time to get hid of this” she laughed as she messed it about.
Finally, my stylist returned with her instructor in tow. “So Jessica here is going to trim the ends so we’re doing a one length trim and bringing it up to the small of her back,” my stylist said.
“Well, you need a layered cut and forward graduation. So let’s see if your client is willing to do some face-framing and add some depth in the back.”
“Is that alright Jessica? It won’t be anything off the length just a bit more styling too it.”
With all eyes on her it didn’t feel right to object so nervously she nodded her head.
“Great, get her shampooed then go to work. Take the length up a bit for the layer to work.
With that, I followed the stylist as she had me stand up and follow her. We walked through the academy and I passed through rows of clients seated like dolls heads or statues under their uniform capes with just crowns of hair emerging.
The shampoo, well that was another. world. It was a bit of a weird set up where they lay you down like for a massage but on your back. And my student must’ve washed my hair for 30 minutes. It was pure luxury. I wish I could just have this part the whole time. I must’ve fallen asleep. By the time she said “you can sit up,” it was like walking out of a movie theatre into the daylight. I went to another place. But then it was back to reality and I was in a crowded salon with another stylist and client in her gown standing over me waiting for my shampoo station. With a towel on my head and one on my shoulders, I stood up and followed my stylist out. Leaving the shampoo room there was a line of students and clients waiting in line. The clients waiting for a basin all eyed me as I rushed by, my gown and cape swishing loudly as I passed. I could see them, biting their nails, playing with their capes at the neck, tapping their toes and trying to get this over with.
When we came back from the shampoo I plopped down in the chair like a sack of potatoes with my gown smothering me. She combed out my hair and I watched passively as she made me look even sillier by tying my hair up in tiny clipped sections. I looked over at Thomas. The stylist was now snipping rapidly at his hair which was pulled straight up from the top of his head. Several inches were falling down onto his chest. He winced when they hit the cape, like tiny pebbles falling in the water. as the hairs kept falling I watched as my stylist had started snipping my length. I watched as she focused but couldn’t see how much she was taking off. I tried to relax and just watch myself. But soon I saw the instructor go back to Thomas and his stylist. The instructor sized up the stylists cut and access it. Thomas said there looking forlorn and covered in hair like a pitiful child.
“You took the fade too high in the back. See how you shaved over the crown? This is just an extended Chelsea. I can’t pass you on this because of that so you should just go for a crew cut and we can asses you on that”
Thomas looked down at his lap and accepted his fate. “Oh, you’ll look so much cuter with this style. This’ll be great.” The bubble stylist said. Perhaps her own wild style wasn’t for everyone.
I was abruptly taken back to my own situation as a 6 inches lock of hair fell into my lap. I looked back in the mirror as the stylist was pulled hair straight up from my head and then snipping another 6 inches from what appeared considerably shorter length. My mouth dropped and my brow furrowed is fear. She repeated in while focusing and cutting more and more. It fell onto the cape which hung like a tent over me. I could see my long blond hair staring back at me. She undid the clips on top of my head and combed out my hair so it fell in front of my face. She repeating pulling the hair up and snipping it. It felt she was intentionally flicking the cut pieces to cover me, knowing my fear and toying with me. Once she was done with the top she came and stood in front of me. She pulled the hair in front of my face straight out and cut off what looked like a foot of hair. It dropped right onto the cape. The silk black cape now covered in my blond hair. My arms gripped in the arms rest as this slow-motion nightmare continued.
I glimpsed Thomas through my curtain bangs. The scissor happy stylist had the clippers fired up again and was joyously running them over Thomas head. What bangs and hair he had left on top were being reduced to the clipper length. It fell all over him and joined the pile of hair clumped in his lap. His eyes were now closed and looked like he was trying to hold back crying. I didn’t mind staring while his eyes were closed. I was mesmerized by the clippers reducing his hair. He looked so exposed with his scalp bare. It looked sort of cute how punny he looked there with all of his hair forcefully removed.
The stylists continued pulling my long hair forward and cutting off long diagonal chunks. At least I still had most of my hair unlike thomas.
The chair next to me was emptied at some point and I hear some commotion behind me
“Yes, sister! Finally, I get you to come to visit me!” A stylist in an apron shouted.
I peered as best as I could and saw a teenager in sweat pants and uggs accompanied by what was clearly her mother. “Look what she did,” the mother said unamused.
They were standing directly behind me now so I could watch in the mirror. “Oh my god did you really try to cut this yourself?” the stylist said assessing the girl’s shoulder-length cut. the cut looked fine to me. it was cut just below her shoulders with some long wavy bangs. “Well in order to even this all out we’re going to take you shorter”
The girl looked down at my pile of hair and her mouth dropped. I saw her start to tremble when she looked up at me in the mirror. We made eyes and she could tell I was just as nervous. My whole body covered in cut hair, who knows how much hair piled up below the chair, and Thomas is the seat across from us completed shaved to the stump.
“I think it looks good uneven. Maybe just even it out” the sister pleaded.
“Not that easy sis, we’ve been needing to give you a good trim for a minute. Come sit here” The stylist said patting the chair. The girl solemnly walked to the chair and sat down. I quickly heard the familiar swoosh of the heavy silk cape. The girl was now covered in the cape. Her pleaded seemed to die down the more her sister prepared her for what was coming. “Please, we can keep the length. this is what I wanted.” Her sister didn’t respond and she looked at her in the mirror as she tied the tissue around her neck. “Please…” but her sister wasn’t paying attention, rummaging in the drawer for more things, forcing her sister to stare at herself taking in her predicament. The stylist came back with a rubber mat and wrapped her shoulders in it.
“I’ll try to do this fast so it’s painless.”
I was again distracted. I saw Thomas start to get up as his stylist said “let’s get you shampooed” He had been motionless for the whole shearing. When he stood up the pile of hair in his lap fell onto the ground. As he got out from behind the chair and he looked at the pile at his feet. The mop that was on his head an hour ago lay like a dead animal on the ground now. His gown and cape swished as he walked off to the basins.
My own chair was turned towards the other girl. I watched as the stylist pushed her sister’s head down. I heard a small whine from the chair as she did so. The stylist held a pair of clippers up and did a fake laugh as her sister peered up, her chin touching the cape. Her sister to the clippers to the back of her neck and cut a straight line bob all the way around her neck. The thick dry hair dumped everywhere. The stylist turned the girl to cut the side the same with the clippers. The girl and I were facing each other now. Her head was tilted sideways and pointed straight at me as she ran the clippers under a comb just below her jaw. She looked at me pleading as if to say “help” but what could I do as my stylist flicked another clump of wet hair, 6 inches into her lap. Her sister put her head straight again then spun the chair as if it was a kid’s game, back to face to the mirror.
My stylist continued to work away and I tried to distract myself from my haircut by focusing on the girl across from me. We were still facing each other and it seemed like the girl in the chair next to me was doing the same as she watched the stylist pull more hair from my head and the dry hair falling like leaves onto my lap. Her chair was then turned back to my face herself in the mirror, getting a look at her blunt bob for the first time. Her dry blond hair now littered the cape and was taken from her shoulders to her chin.
“Oh that looks so much better,” Her mom said behind her.
“Doesn’t it?” the sister stylist said.
The girl sat silently staring at herself in the mirror.
Then the instructor came around the corner. “Wow nice cut.” the instructor said admiring the lined bob. “But you know I can’t count this towards your credit. But remember you just have two cuts left before graduation. A-line bob with bangs and pixie cut. If you can get either of those today you’ll be almost done with school. you could even finish early.”
“I didn’t know you were that close to finishing!” the mom said. “Does that mean I don’t have to pay for the extra months of school if you finish early?”
“Yup! I have my hours just have to pass these last few cuts.”
“Well no use wasting money, do the a-line on your little sister and I’ll the pixies and we’ll be done!” the mom said playing with her mummy cut in the mirror.
“Mom! What! No, I don’t want that cut. This is short enough!” The caped sister protested.
“Shush, you thought you were old enough to cut your own hair short so we’ll decide what cut is best for you!” The mother stared at the girl in the mirror. It looked like the little sister was about to throw a fit but slumped down in the chair defeated.
Finally, my chair was turned back to face my mirror. The blow-dried was turned on and the hair on my cape fell to the floor. My hair looked like THE THING as it was messy and all over but the stylist started to the blow dry my hair.
“Up you get” the sister said to her little sister. The caped girl stood up as her sister directed her back towards the basins. “My friend Lara is going to wash your hair while I do mom. Be sweet for her.” With that, the girl slumped off followed another stylist.
The mom nervously took a seat and was playing with her hair in the mirror with the stylist wrapped a tissue around her neck then threw another huge cape over her. The mom’s hair was about the length of Thomas when he first came. Shaggy, over the ears, and in back. Like a long grown out pixie. A classic mommy cut.
Funny how once caped and tied up like the rest of us, the mother’s strong demeanor and alpha personality disappeared. She was a doll model for the students, just like the rest of us.
“Alright, we’re going to make this into a bit more of a hip pixie. I need to go shorter than your normal cut in order to pass the test.”
The mom tried to seem confident and not notice. “sure honey.”
I saw the stylist fiddling in her drawer and emerge with a pair of clippers. Once she plugged them in and was standing behind her mother again she said “Head down please” obediently her mother put her chin to her chest. The clippers roared to life and I saw the mom lookup. “Not too short right?” The mom pleaded quietly. Her daughter pushed her head back down before she finished her plea. The stylist plunged the clippers straight into her mom’s hairline and I saw a huge clump of highlighted brown hair peeled off her head and dumped into her lap. I saw her mom’s mouth drop. Her daughter held her head firmly in one hand while the other drove the clippers again up the hairline to the crown. Another massive pile dumped into her lap. This was definitely shorter than she was expecting.
“This is going to be very short” Her mother mumbled while the clippers continued their rampage.
“Yes it’ll be much easier for the warmer weather and it’ll be super cute.”
The mother’s chair was turned towards me. She looked at my long hair, what was left of it, in envy. The clippers moved up the sides and the client closed her eyes tightly as the hair tumbled onto the cape. I pitied her. She wasn’t expecting to lose so much hair or any hair when she came in. But this felt like karma for the cut she just had her daughter get. I was thankful my mom was never into haircuts and kept her own hair quite long.
My own blow-dry was finally done. I feel like I’ve been in this academy for days already.
I looked at the cut in the mirror. It did look good but was much shorter than I wanted. Isn’t that the joke? You ask them to trim the ends and they take off nearly a foot of hair? I turned around to look at the pile behind me and it was as I expected, massive.
The younger sister returned from the basin. She had her head down when she came back and plopped down in the free chair next to her mom while her sister administered the haircut. The girl had her head wrapped in a towel and another on her shoulder, making her look like she was covered in old laundry. The daughter sat silently and watched as her mother was buzzed. She wasn’t gloating at her mom getting shorn but was probably praying she wasn’t about to get the same cut. The stylist had now reduced both sides and back to nearly skin, a shocking look for a lady her age. The cut had turned both the mother and the young daughter silent. The stylist had a mischievous smile on her face.
“Let’s get some after photos!” My stylist said. I didn’t know what was coming. but I stood up for the first time in what felt like hours. the limp hair slid down my cape to the pile of hair that encircled my chair. I followed the stylist down the rows of chairs of girls nervously getting their hair cut. We walked back through the lounge area, now more packed than before. There was nowhere to even sit and saw all the girls hanging around in their identical gowns waiting for their name to be called. They all stared at me in my cape and gown as I followed the stylist with my head down to avoid seeing anyone else I know. We got over to a wall with a fancy light on it and I posed for a few photos for the stylist, turning this side and that.
We made our way back through the salon to the chair. I could see the damage the daughter had inflicted upon her mother in more detail now. The sides were shorn and the top was not reduced to just an inch or two. It was just enough to move around and feel feminine but wasn’t much longer than Thomas had left with. I do admit the cut looked good and was well done. I watched as the stylist went over it in more detail with scissors as tiny hairs started to litter the cape.
“Oh my god Jeanie!” I heard a woman say behind me. “Such a cute cut!” Another middle aged woman appeared behind our chairs, her head full of aluminum foil and covered in the same cape & gown. The mother’s head was still bent forward to her chest as the stylist scissored up the back of her neck.
“So cute isn’t it?” The stylist said.
“Oh my gosh look at you!” the other women said to the stylist. “I didn’t know you were working here. So good for you! Oh and look its little liza. Oh, you look so cute. Love a little family outing!” both the mom and young daughter in the chair looked uncomfortable in their current state.
“Alright, you’re all done!” the daughter said to her mother as she whipped the cape off of her, the hairs spilling out around the chair to join her daughter’s hair. The highlighted well cared for hair unceremoniously throw to the ground.
The mother stood up and felt the back of her head, goosebumps running through her as she touched the nape.
“Your turn Liza!” the stylist said patting her chair. sluggishly the girl got up and moved from one chair to another plumping into the cushions sadly. Her sister took the towel off her head and tossed it to the side. “Let’s get this a-line done”
“oh, my a big chop! I love it liza. A mature cut will suit you. She’ll look so cute Jeannie” The other lady said still lingering behind the stylists chair.
“Yes, I always thought a shorter cut would suit her. She decided to give herself a little trim last night which brought us in here today.”
“With a sister as a hairdresser?” the other lady said. “Thats just silly. your sister will set you straight.”
After putting some more product into my own hair the stylist flipped out my hair. “All done!” my stylist said, breaking the 3-hour silence. She finally relieved me from the stupid cape until I was just in the potato sack sack.
“Lets get you going.” I grabbed my purse and checked my phone. I took another look at myself in the mirror. The cut made me look so glamorous. That experience was horrendous and I was so excited to get out of this place. But I couldn’t hate the cut. It did bring out my face more with the layers and felt like Topanga from Boy Meets World. That was always my dream!
In the mirror, I made eye contact with Liza, the younger sister. She was eyeing up my long tresses and happy feeling. Meanwhile, her sister had brought the clippers back out. Again, one hand gripped the top of the girl’s head, tipping it into her chest and the other pushed the clippers up her neck. “Just going to get this nape sharp for the a-line. Will give you a cute shaved bit in the back.” The girl winced as the clippers dived in and the hair piled on her shoulders. She looked on the verge of tears. And that’s when I knew it was my time to get out of this place.
I followed the stylist back through to the front. I paid the $5 for the haircut (you get what you pay for I guess). On the way out, walking around downtown I kept checking myself in every window. My haircut looked so cut and I felt so sexy! I was so happy with the outcome.