Becoming a Hair Stylist

Sometimes, you feel like you could just dye.

Or curl, or cut, or braid. Some days, you want a change in style, a different ‘do, maybe something like you’ve seen in a magazine. Or you want to be the person who makes that happen, so read “Becoming a Hair Stylist” by Kate Bolick and see if you have what it takes.

You have to think that people have fussed with their hair for as long as people have had hair. Egyptian lovelies, for instance, used juniper berries to hide their grays. Roman women used leeches fermented in vinegar as a dye. Wealthy women a century ago had servants do their ‘do’s; just 60 years ago, few people washed their hair more than once a week and most women did their hair at home.

Says Bolick, America’s first hair salon belonged to Martha Harper, who’d inherited a secret formula for hair growth in the late 1880s. During Harper’s time, women grew their hair as long as possible; short hair was “a sign of poverty.” For Black women, Madame C.J. Walker’s potions and pomades revolutionized how their hair was styled, and she became a millionaire for it.

In the 1950s and 60s, though, Vidal Sassoon and “Vogue” magazine made going to the salon a thing every woman wanted to do: getting your hair styled at a salon was suddenly affordable, and stylists were believe to be specialists with skills — even though, at the same time, people often callously thought that styling hair was a career for those lacking intelligence.

Today becoming a hair stylist takes a lot of hard work, training, and keen people skills. You’ll have to get a certain amount of schooling, depending on the state in which you want to practice, and you’ll learn the basics first, followed by human anatomy, sanitation, and chemistry. You’ll get tons of hands-on experience, and if you want to style African American hair, you may take extra classes before tackling a two-part licensing test. Once you’ve done that, says Bolick, “the sky is the limit.”

While there is an abundance of information inside “Becoming a Hair Stylist,” and while it’ll help prospective beauticians to decide if the career is right for them, this book is also a little disappointing.

Author Kate Bolick relies quite heavily on the story and experiences of one salon owner and her employees in New York City, adding snippets of tales from other large cities, but she misses writing about neighborhood and rural salon owners whose stories could have added so much more to the overall. That lack does a disservice to the multi-thousands of people hoping to become small-town independent stylists; this, and a dearth of pitfalls a salon owner might find, further lessens the information within.

And yet — for a high-schooler thinking about cosmetology school, or for an adult heading back to school, this book offers at least a basic start. If that’s for you and you’re eager to get going, “Becoming a Hair Stylist” is a book to curl up with.

“Becoming a Hair Stylist” by Kate Bolick, 2019, Simon & Schuster $18, 144 pages

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