It was about the mid to late 70’s and my mother thought it was about time for me to get my hair trimmed up. She said I needed to go to a mens barber shop this time and had made me an appointment with a shop that was over by the college. The building was a 2 story circular structure with different shops all the way around it. Mr Anthonys mens hairstyling was on the second floor right next to a shop I had been to many times to get black light posters and long tee shirts. Mr Anthonys had a large old fashion wooden door and no windows to the outside. My mother told me that they were a vintage barber shop and that they would do a good job with my hair. One of her friends takes her son there to get his hair done. I knew who she was talking about and he was younger than me and had medium length curly hair that always looked good. So I agreed to go even though I had not been in a barber shop for quite a while and usually had my hair done at a beauty shop.
The day came and I walked across the college campus to the big blue circular building. I admit I was a bit nervous and did not to get it cut too short as I still liked setting my hair in rollers and the curls they produced. My father had taken me to his barber a couple of times and they hacked my hair to pieces which caused a fight between him and my mother. My mother told him that from then on she would handle getting my hair done. Thus I ended up with her shampooing and setting my hair and taking me to the beauty parlors. This made me wonder why she had a change of heart and wanted me to go to a barber shop this time.
I arrived at the big wooden door and opened it up to step inside. There was a nice plush waiting area and a man sitting behind a counter that had a lot of hair products and styling aids in it. I looked behind him on the wall and there on a shelf was a display of many of the old shampoos, hair tonics and styling gels from years gone by. He asked ” Can I help you please?” I told him that I had an appointment for a trim today and told him my name. He looked it up in his book and said ” Oh yes, here you are. Johnny will be with you shortly, you can have a seat over there and Robert will start your manicure while you wait.” I said “manicure?” The man replied ” oh yes, you are booked for the works today, so sit back and relax and enjoy.”
I went over to the manicure station where I met Robert. He took my hands and started to soak them in some liquid. I asked if this was Palmolive and he laughed and said ” I love that commercial, it would work better if you had rollers.” He started to work on one hand then the other. Clipping and trimming, then filing and buffing. He buffed my nails to a nice smooth shine and then applied a “protective coat” as he called it, but I knew it was clear nail polish.
I could see through the opening into the shop as there were lattice partitions to help block the view from the waiting area. The walkway that led to the styling stations was a black and white tile floor and I could see a man walking towards us. He introduced himself as Johnny and said ” I will be your stylist today and I hope you enjoy the day. I am going to take good care of you.” He led me down the walkway past some of the other styling stations. Most had walls on both sides for privacy of the client. A couple of stations looked like the old vintage barber shops and as we walked further some were much more plush. As I passed one station I could see the stylist applying some hair color to the mans hair and shampooing it in. I asked Johnny ” You do color here?” He looked back at me and replied ” Honey, we do a lot here, most all of us are beauticians as well as barbers and con do it all.”
He took me to his station which had an old barber chair that was chrome with red upholstery. He had me sit in the chair and wrapped a black cape around me and started to comb through my hair. He said ” you are booked for the works today, this is going to be fun.” As he combed my hair he asked when was the last time you shampooed. I told him yesterday. He then asked me when was the last time I colored my hair. I told him that I had my hair frosted about six weeks ago. His last question was when was my last perm. I asked him how he knew I had perm as it had been almost a year ago. He said ” well you have great curl to your hair but you can tell by your ends, we will have to trim them a bit before we continue.
He reached back and grabbed a glass bottle and started to apply the liquid to my hair. He asked if I had ever been to an old barber shop before. I told him many years ago. He said well this is an old tradition, it is a scalp treatment that we apply and work in to help prevent dandruff and treat the hair. As he worked in the “tonic” he asked me ” so what else have you had done to your hair?’ I told him ” Cuts, color, frosting, perms and at least weekly roller sets.” He said ” Oh I love roller sets and perms myself, we have not done any roller sets here yet but we do a lot of perms and soap caps to cover gray.”
After about ten minutes he stepped back and lifted up the counter that covered the shampoo sink. He grabbed an applicator bottle and started to apply the contents to my hair as I was still sitting up in the chair. He said ” it is just water, we have to add to the treatment to lather it up and shampoo your hair.” He worked it into a thick lather and shampooed me for about five minutes. He then lifted a lever and leaned the chair back so my head was in the shampoo sink. He applied more water from the bottle and continued to shampoo me. He then turned on the water and rinsed my hair and then sat me back up with a towel around my hair.
He combed my hair and examined it and got out his scissors and some clips. He sectioned my hair into four sections and began to cut the ends of my hair that were damaged. He took off about three inches and kept combing and trimming as he studied the cut. I asked what he was looking for as he cut. He told me ” we have to make sure the damaged ends are gone and the shape of the cut will be good when we perm it.” I said ” I am getting a perm?” He said ” yes, a loose roller perm on these large purple rods to give you some lasting curls. That is why we said the works.”
When he was satisfied with the cut he had me stand up and shake off the loose hair. He changed the cape and had me sit back down in the chair. I looked at the floor to see all of the hair he trimmed and said I hope I still have enough hair to perm. He said ” Honey, you have hair for days, I wish I had your hair, dont worry.” He leaned the chair back again and just rinsed my hair to get all the loose hair off before he started the perm.
He sat me back up and combed and sectioned my hair down the middle, then handed me the end papers the give him as he needed. He combed up a section in the right side, applied the end paper and rolled down the first purple perm rod. With each section he rolled my head got heavier. I could see him working in the mirror as my hair was getting full of the large perm rods. He had to start the back and turned me around away from the mirror so he could wind the back of my hair. As he did that I could see the station just across from me where a man had just sat down and was getting caped. He looked at me and smiled and said ” how does that feel?” I told him “heavenly.”
I watched as his stylist applied the “tonic” to his scalp and work it in. He said ” this is the best part of my haircut, I pay extra for a longer shampoo.” I told him that I loved being shampooed and set myself and usually go to a beauty parlor to have my hair done. His stylist started to apply the water and lather him up and shampooed him for a long time. After he was leaned back in the sink they sat him back up and applied a soap cap and lathered him up again.
By this time Johnny was done wrapping the perm rods in my hair and was ready to apply the perm solution. He was very meticulous making sure he saturated every rod at least twice with the solution. When he was done applying the perm solution he had me stand up and go over to a chair that had a hair dryer over it. I sat down and he lowered the dryer over my rods and turned it on. He said ” this is a heat activated perm and you will be under the dryer for about 30 minutes, OK?” I told him that I would enjoy the time under the dryer. He said that he would be back with a bite of lunch for us and walked off.
From my vantage point under the dryer I could see three stations across the walkway and got to watch as others got shampooed, cut and colored while my perm processed. Johnny came back with a couple of tuna sandwiches and ice tea. We sat and ate and had a great conversation about how we got into hair and friends we knew. He asked at one point if I would let him roller set my hair at his place so he could stay in practice. I told him that he could shampoo and set me anytime he wanted.
Just then the timer went off and he checked the curl. It was good and he had me get up and go back to his chair and leaned me back into the sink to rinse the perm solution. It took him a while to get it out as this solution was very thick and had been exposed to the heat. After he was satisfied the solution was completely rinsed out he blotted the rods with a towel and then started to apply the neutralizer to my hair in the rods. After about ten minutes he started to slowly take out the rods and shake out the curl. When all the rods were removed he applied the remainder of the neutralizer to my hair and gently worked it through.
It came time to rinse the neutralizer and reveal the curls. As he sat me back up he cupped the back of my head and wrapped a towel under my hair to soak up the water. Two other stylists came over to see his handy work and were impressed. One said to Johnny ” next time I get to do his hair ok?” Johnny said ” no way, he is my client from now on.”
He gently dried my hair and picked out my curls. He noticed that my ears were pierced and asked me if I wear earrings. I told him that I did most days but did not know what to expect when I arrived as my mother told me that it was a vintage barbershop. He said ” well you can be comfortable here, come back in three to four days so we can shampoo it and see how it turned out. do not shampoo until then ok?” I told him that I would wait for him to shampoo it and that I might bring my rollers then and have him set me up when I returned.