September 25, 2020

Nappy Newz

Black News for Black People.

Why I’ve Returned to the Black Salon When Folks Are Leaving in Droves

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Stylists Joelle Mitchell and Gwen Fields mix hair color at Halcyon Salon in Washington, D.C., May 14, 2015, before doing my hair.Danielle C. Belton

The long waits. The double-booking. The general “unprofessionalism.” The cost. I had a lot of reasons to give up on hair salons, specifically black ones, more than 10 years ago.

In the early years of the recession, there was story after story of black salons struggling as more and more black women moved away from the shop, citing every reason I listed above, to do their own hair or go to Dominican stylists who easily could “blow-fry” their scalps for half the cost and time.

And who could blame anyone for leaving or me for leaving? How many Saturdays of my youth did I lose to the creamy crack? Me and a roomful of women, waiting the length of The Godfather II to get a perm, reading old Jet magazines and eating Chinese takeout while sitting in a gossipy, dingy salon that hadn’t been remodeled since the 1980s.

And yet, three years ago, I, the prodigal scalp, returned to the black hair salon.

Like many women, I left the salon to go back to my roots—literally. I went natural and started doing my own hair in the kitchen as my mother had done for me when I was a child. It was much better than enduring snide remarks about how my hair seemed “hard” or “matted” simply because some perm-addicted stylist had no clue how to handle nonchemically-induced curls.

“I’ll do it myself!” I said, feeling empowered.

Unfortunately, though, since I had gone natural, I, too, had little clue as to what to do with my own hair. I’d had a perm from age 13 to age 21. Meaning, I spent about a decade experimenting on my own head trying to re-create curly looks to which my natural hair had no interest in conforming.

My hair went through a brittle phase, a dry phase, a brittle and dry phase. (Thank you, clear hair gel!) I cut it off a few times to start all over. I didn’t figure out how to do my own hair reliably and consistently until about 2009 and the results were awesome, but as has been documented on this site before, the only person who hates doing my hair more than rude, overcharging stylists is me. But at least my own personal dislike of doing hair came free. The only thing I lost turning my hair from dull to Chaka Khan-dazzling was time.

But it was time I didn’t want to spend.

So I began the journey back. Back to black stylists. Back to black salons.

I went back to the salon for a lot of reasons, but all of those reasons amounted to two things: time and skill, two quantities I did not have an abundance of when it came to me and my hair. I wanted to relax, relate and release while someone else blissfully did all the work. I wanted professional looks! I wanted salon quality!

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