Split Ends: A Woman's Life with Her Hair by Richard Stein

Richard Stein

y career as a hairdresser began for me in London in the early sixties. I was a Cockney kid who had gained entree into the glamorous world of the Mayfair beauty salon as an apprentice. It was a most exhilarating time and place. London was swinging and at the same time poised to become the fashion influence for the world. Hairdressers like Vidal Sassoon (one of my most important mentors) were opening the door for kids like me to become part of the growing beauty industry. By the time I was seventeen I was already a successful hairdresser. I was eighteen when I was offered the chance to work in New York City and there I have made my home these many years. My success in London followed me to America.

In addition to my work in the salon, I found great opportunities here for a study program that I had created for myself. I delved deeply into music, art, literature, and metaphysics and found in them rich material that synchronized with attending to people's beauty needs. The two pursuits, hairdressing and my personal study program, amplified one another perfectly. The beauty salon was the natural place for me to bring the ideas I was studying and to create another level in my daily work experience. It became clearer and clearer to me that how one presents oneself in the world physically is intrinsically linked to one's inner state.

Over the years I have observed that something magical happens in beauty salons as women talk about their hair or their make-up or their clothing. When there is empathy rather than competitiveness, trust begins to grow. For years, I've witnessed this magical "something" in my salon as women share their hopes and fears, their successes and their disappointments, their triumphs and their failures. The salon then becomes transformed from a place where one comes to be beautified into a haven of safe and relaxed conversation.

Beauty salons began to appear in the early 1900s and catered to women from varying backgrounds. Here, women who might not otherwise have made contact, enjoyed a new-found freedom to connect. Feminism, an extraordinarily wonderful movement, thrived in this milieu and I am proud to have witnessed some part of it and to have been an active supporter.

When I opened my salon in 1972, it was the first salon to openly service men and women in Manhattan. Astonishingly, up until then, it was actually illegal for men to frequent women's salons although, paradoxically, women were permitted in the barbershop. Today, the beauty salon is a uni-sex environment -even, you might say, a uni-sex event. Men and women now meet each other safely in the salon and watch each other being dyed, permed, or teased without embarrassment, and certainly with less vanity. It has become increasingly obvious to me that hair plays an extraordinarily important part both in the way we view ourselves and the way others view us. The psychological impact of hairstyle in terms of self-esteem and self-image is powerful. Yet there is so little written, so few resources available, to help us understand this intricate and complex issue. In response to the paucity of material about hair in all its ramifications, prompted the idea for this book. It is an idea that has generated much excitement. When I invited some of the women whose hair I style to contribute to this book of prose and poetry, the response was enthusiastic and, I must say heart-warming. Women who write for other women can promote the healing of the split ends of distorted attitudes that have arisen. For that, perhaps, a fresh perspective on the multi-dimensional subject of hair will emerge.

I hoped to create an atmosphere of face-to-face, across the table conversation with these women. Hearing their personal stories and making an emotional connection, even for a brief moment in time, gives me a deep sense of gratitude to the participants' generosity and willingness to allow me into their lives.

Richard Stein Hair Salon, New York City

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