Hair stylists are amongst the diminishing number of people who can physically touch a virtual stranger without fear of reprisal. Physicians touch us too, but rather than the trepidation of a trip to the doctor's office, we go to the salon to enjoy a fun, exciting experience that makes us feel special and rejuvenated, and makes us look sensational.
This makes the hairdresser-client relationship unusually intimate. As shears snip perilously close to the face, as a new shape and style reveals itself, and as one begins to feel more beautiful, an uncommonly close friendship emerges, often for a lifetime.
But how this relationship materializes is something of a curiosity. Like a barstool or psychiatrist's couch, the hairdresser's chair prompts people to pour out their hearts. From raising children to navigating marriage to why daddy went out for sugar and never came back to addictions and fictions and predilections on politics and faith, hairdressers hear it all.
Often, after revealing a few insecurities about their hair or the way they look in general, the client starts to feel comfortable about unburdening themselves. It's then that the top comes off.
One client I first saw in the nineties is especially memorable. We'll call her Rachel, on account of her wanting "The Rachel" Jennifer Aniston's iconic hairstyle from Friends. Rachel wasn't blessed with the best locks. Her hair was fine and thin, lifeless and limp. This, of course, made Jennifer's thick, luscious and bouncy style Rachel's perfect fit. (Not!)
After very, very gently explaining why the style wouldn't work for her hair type, and suggesting a shorter cut that would help to disguise the transparency of her waif-like strands (hairs that are cut short sit on top of each other, creating an illusion of fullness, thickness) I was suddenly in her trust, made privy to the troubles in her life.
I heard of how long hair was part of her identity as a woman; of how nuns at her catholic girls school had made her cut her hair short as an arbitrary punishment and that this had affected her since adolescence; and of how, after getting hitched, her husband had left her after three long years. All on her first visit! Happily, I was able to get her back to thinking about her present hairstyle, allay her fears, and give her a great, and suitable, haircut. Rachel was my client for ten years; we became close, and joked about her first time in my chair. She always felt comfortable talking to me, especially about life's challenges.
Many other clients have also become friends. Our children have playdates; we take each other out for dinner; we go for a beer. How many people do you pay for a service, and then take them out for a meal and invite them to meet your family?
Peculiar as it may be, there is a special dynamic between stylists and their clients. When people go to the salon, they are looking for a new and better version of themselves. Intuitively, we know personal betterment comes from inside as well as out. Is that what compels folks to blurt it all out?
Perhaps; but what really makes the beans spill, I think, is that hairdressers are natural born socializers who listen without criticism. This is important. It means that the client can share devilish details without concern of being judged on their tawdry divulgences. A therapist will say a behavior pattern is negative and destructive and prescribe a change in conduct; a hairdresser will laugh along, sympathize, relate, recommend a drink.
Stylists are fun. Our confident, extravagant or even outrageous personalties are, thanks to countless client appointments, fine-tuned to the art of conversation. Sharing and swopping stories with your hairdresser is like sharing a creamy chocolatey cake: it halves the guilt!
It's why the hairdresser-client relationship is built, not only on how the stylist makes you look, but on how they make you feel.
By Nick Arrojo, Owner and Founder of ARROJO N.Y.C. and author of two books, Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Great and Feeling Fabulous Every Day, and Milady's Standard Razor Cutting by Nick Arrojo