What Hairdressers Can Do Next
Hair appointments come with a level of uncertainty and can be an anxiety- inducing experience for people, even when they are largely catered to. With much of the hairdressing profession being focused on straight hair, many are stuck with very few options than to have their hair cut in the same way. The slow emergence of curly specialist salons in the last decade has forced hairdressers to address a demographic that is too often forgotten.
In the UK it is mandatory to complete the NVQ Level 2 to become a qualified hairdresser. This includes learning standard washing and cutting techniques as well as basic colour services. It may come as a shock to some that curly hair is not featured on the main curriculum, unless in reference to perming. Not to mention there are optional modules on afro hair which focus solely on the process of relaxing hair. Immediately, this tells us that the hairdressing curriculum serves only those with straight hair, an idea which is outdated.
Some hairdressers have recognised the pervasiveness of this issue; many have started their own salons catering specifically to curly hair. However this is not easy; it often takes years of dedication and learning the craft voluntarily on top of their day job, as my hairdresser did for over a decade. While curly hair may present as more challenging, it is surely the job of hairdressers to create an inclusive environment for their customers. Straightening curly and afro hair to fit the tried and tested methods the NVQ taught them comes across as lazy – this is not a “one size fits all” situation. To put it simply, one does not go to the GP to be turned away because they do not treat colds. GPs have knowledge in treating most medical ailments and can refer patients to a specialist if necessary.
Hair length, texture and curl type are often used as an excuse to charge customers a higher price. Using pricing in this way leads to harmful notions as to what constitutes “good hair”. Texturism is a sensitive topic widely discussed within the Black community and exploited by the salon industry for profit. We should be celebrating different hair types, not ridiculing them for being seemingly “more demanding” to work with. Service based on time could be a great compromise in providing the start of a solution to this debate.
At 23, I was finally in a financially comfortable position to treat myself to a premium service which included a: wash, curly cut, balayage colour treatment and diffused curls. Honestly this was probably the most money I had ever spent on myself. Most hairdressers will charge between £30-50 for a wash and cut; for some families this is expensive and can be off-putting for people looking for a quick, affordable service. In order to carefully select a salon with exceptional reviews and an impression of trust driven by their specialist knowledge, one first must be in a privileged financial position to afford such high-quality service.
While curly cuts remain a specialist service due to the lack of training, they will also continue to be more expensive than your average haircuts. If curly haired people would like to confidently enter their closest high street salon in the near future a) without fear of breaking the bank and b) trust they are consulted by someone with knowledge of their hair type, then the hairdressing industry will need to step up their game.
Proximity and Convenience
It is no secret that we are creatures of habit and haircuts are no different. For most parents, maintaining their child’s hair is probably one of many duties to keep on top of. Consequently, most will opt to take their child – with little thought to the nuances of hair type – to the local salon they had frequented themselves for years to “get the job done”. There is no shame in this as it was simply a case of familiarity, convenience and affordability at the time.
Nevertheless, accountability shouldn’t be overlooked, given the positive impact a great haircut can have on a child’s self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
Resources: Technology and Social Media
Lack of knowledge is too often used as an excuse to validate hairdressers’ hesitance to adapt their style when faced with curly haired customers. Over time we have seen the rise of technology and now have the internet at our fingertips. An abundance of guidance, presented in audio, visual and textual formats are readily available to hairdressers and customers alike. This information allows the customer base to make informed decisions on where to get their haircut.
Additionally, social media has spearheaded the influx of self-taught hair washing routines and styling techniques via the expertise of YouTube and Instagram influencers. Technology has aided our accessibility to information on salon services within our radius and beyond, along with keeping us in touch with independent tips and tricks for everyday use. What may seem like the best of both worlds should not however be misconstrued; hairdressers should not lose sight of developing the profession just because more people are independently learning how to wear their curls. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to utilise the many resources at their disposal to improve the service they aim to provide their diverse clientele.
Race and Ethnicity of Hairdressers
When conversing with fellow curly people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds there appears to be a common theme around: lack of awareness in managing different hair types or refusal to acknowledge curl types exist, instead opting for blow-drying it straight. The latter stems from Eurocentric beauty standards which continue to persist in Black and Brown communities. This obsession to straighten, blow-dry and chemically relax the appearance of naturally curly hair to fit the idea of “neat” is a tale too often told by my peers.
We as customers look to the professionals to share a level of guidance with us when providing a service. Unfortunately, we are let down more often than not by non-Black hairdressers due to their lack of knowledge in relation to adapting the style of their service to suit curly hair. Only recently did I learn that dry cuts are recommended for curly hair. Moreover, terminology like porosity is widely known within the Black community yet is practically unheard of within other ethnic groups.
It is worth noting that visiting hairdressers outside of your own race can be a delightful experience, especially when your hair type is similar to theirs. A cousin of mine fondly recalled a trip, where a lovely Ethiopian stylist expressed her admiration for her tight curls. The elation she felt from this joyful reaction to the sight of her hair was immense, considering it was the complete opposite of what she had grown used to hearing from our own community. Ultimately, naturally curly hair transcends race and so hairdressers of all races should have some knowledge of the best practices in dealing with such hair types.
Understanding hair types and textures
Both salons and consumers have a part to play when it comes to familiarising themselves with hair types. Where society has allowed us to believe curls are synonymous with Black hair, it is inevitable that non-Black customers will feel intimidated at the thought of entering a salon which centres hair types frequently associated with the Black community.
In hindsight, I believe it is this type of misinformation that caused my hesitation in entering the salon where I had my first curly cut. They clearly advertised that they catered to afro and curly hair; what was actually an example of great marketing, turned out to have unintentional repercussions. This was also due to the fact that I had probably never seen these two hair types clearly distinguished from one another – let alone catered to within the same salon.
This highlights the importance of knowledge on hair types, both within the industry and in mainstream consciousness. While customers now have more resources than ever to get informed on their curl patterns, some may still feel intimidated at the thought of booking that initial consultation. For this reason, salons should be more forthcoming with information on hair types they cater to and give a warm welcome to new clientele.
Overall, hairdressers have a lot to improve on and have the perfect opportunity to do so. No one is expecting changes to occur overnight and we would much rather see a long-term evolution of the industry, starting with a revision of the NVQ. Additional modules on cutting different hair types will be key in boosting the confidence of junior stylists who might be overwhelmed by the sheer range of hair types. The hair type classification system can be used as a reference point for stylists in the meantime to help inform how they should tailor their style to the customer’s needs.
It is not too much to ask that hairdressers be ready to learn how to correctly wash and cut different hair types. While it may be intimidating to see curly haired customers, we must challenge the idea that there is no demand for curly cuts. The only way pricing will become more standardised is if more hairdressers learn the trade. We should feel comfortable travelling to our local salon with the reasonable expectation that there will be a hairdresser who has basic knowledge in dealing with curly hair types. The COVID-19 crisis forced salons to close for an extended period of time. This and recent societal changes should have given hairdressers ample time to reflect on the steps they can take to get more involved, whichever race they belong to.
Anitha is currently a researcher of consumer behaviour, but her interests also range from cultural psychology to political history and of course all things curly hair as Dark Hues’ Hair Editor.
Be sure to check her out on Instagram.