Until I moved away from home to go to college, every single haircut I’d received was delivered by my beauty-school dropout mom. Her cuts were convenient, consistent, and always free. She’d use a simple set of shears and a tablecloth for a smock. She never asked me those dreaded questions I now get when I sit in the stylist's chair, like "So, how do you want your hair?" or “What are we doing with your hair today?” Instead she took charge and just gave me what she wanted.
Last fall marked my SF five-year anniversary, a commitment to a place I like to call the “weird capitol of the world.” Once settled in, it was time to search for that barber, stylist, or hairdresser I could trust. To this day I still don’t claim loyalty to any one person in particular. I’m like a hair drifter in a sea of stylists. Sometimes I wonder if when I don’t return, they’re puzzled by my disappearing act. I suspect my nomadic habits are partly a yearning for the comforts of home. But the problem is, nothing quite fits me right.
Caught between working a corporate job and volunteering in the nonprofit world, my hair is a living (I guess, technically, hair is dead) contradiction. If I go too short, I’ll secretly be jealous of the guys with the long, luxurious locks and all that freedom and youthful rebellion. But if my shag is too edgy or takes on crazy shapes and sizes, it might not seem appropriate for all those white collars in the newsroom. Obviously, I’d need a consultation to realize my hair dreams.
My hair journey has seen an interesting cast of characters, from the blistered-lipped Peruvian dude who seems to have a racket on Mission Street’s $12 eco-cuts, to the slightly pricier, “tran-tastic” stylist from the old Transformer in the Lower Haight.
When it came to cutting off my wavy black hair, using scissors on top and clippers on the sides, the Peruvian man worked wonders if I didn’t mind looking fratty. But when searching for the all-over scissor cut that promised less of a scalping, I’d see The Transformer until he moved across the street to a place called Blown Away. I never did see him at his new place.
I haven’t had any traumatic hair experiences in the city per se; not like that time in college when I found out the barber was a racist. I sat silently in his chair while he held sharp shears in his hand. At the time, I had a bump on the back of my head from being mugged and pistol-whipped at gunpoint. The barber’s first question was, “Were they black?” I guess in his book I wasn’t dark enough to be offended by that.
For the most part, everyone does a good job for what they’re paid. Even some of the students at Zenzi’s Beauty Academy go above and beyond. I used to go there a lot. The problem is you never know who or what you’re going to get in that game of hair roulette. Classic SNL fans and stylists alike should appreciate the wise words of Velvet Jones when he said, “In the world of hair, anythin’ can happen.”
One time I even employed a Belarusian who makes house calls. Classy, right? I looked like a lesbian with a Mexi-mullet when she was through with me, but I don’t blame her. She pretty much gave me what I asked for. Only she didn’t say beforehand that it wasn’t going to be the greatest idea. I just figured a stylist would know exactly what would look best, kind of like mind reading.
It was time for real solutions, and a consultation.
Daren, a stylist of 20 years who works at Festoon Salon, pointed out that, indeed, I was in a “hair conundrum.” He offered palpable suggestions like slicking and sweeping my longer hair on top, while maintaining cropped sides for that more professional look. But Melissa, the salon’s co-owner, said that my hair was all about texture and that my narrow face should always be taken into account. This earned my trust, and that’s when I knew I was dealing with hair experts.
There was much to be learned at these fancy hair places. Melissa, a trained Sassoon stylist defended the salon’s high-end prices by saying, “You’re paying for the experience.” At $150 a cut, I was pleased to learn she offers a more affordable price for “experimental cuts for art kids.” I guess I qualify as a starving artist by default when I disclosed that I was a writer.
At the quoted price of $60, I realized a discount cut from an upscale visionary was where it’s at. It was time to go back to Festoon and revisit Melissa for more than just a consultation. I booked an appointment for her assistant to cut my hair.
I arrived early for my visit on a rainy Friday. When I removed my hat, I could tell by her voice that she was a little disappointed. “Oh, your hair’s shorter!” she announced with surprise. These weren’t the longer locks she had remembered from our previous meeting.
I changed into a smock and was soon staring at the ceiling while Melissa’s assistant adjusted the water temperature, made small talk about her Burning Man getaways, and started shampooing. After complimenting my “shiny, healthy” hair, she was more than on my good side. The amount of shear precision and time taken with a straight razor was a good sign she’d have a satisfied and returning customer.
Melissa instructed her assistant on how to shape my hair to my unique bone structure, pointing out my prominent features. I was also impressed by her analysis of the hair on my neckline, which is tricky to get the right length. Melissa noted that my neck seems to go on forever, so it needs a precise line that will compliment my profile. I ended up with a nice, natural looking line.
The art-kid cut was a success. In parting, Melissa challenged me to grow my hair back out. I agreed to do just that and promised not to return for three months.
In San Francisco, we’re in the land of the fashion free-for-all. Recently, I was at an awards ceremony – and I shit you not – I saw a man with bangs cut into his long dark hair, accompanied by a thin sinister moustache. I can only describe his androgynous attire as some sort of Lady Zorro getup.
We express ourselves with our hair and it's fairly easy to manipulate and change. Once you're in the chair, don’t get caught up with the notion that what's done is done and there's no turning back. Hair regret is only of temporary permanence. And who knows? You might even find the stylist that sets you free.
If you're interested in visiting Melissa at Festoon's Financial District location (there's also one in Berkeley), she's available Fridays by appointment. The husband and wife stylist-owned salon maintains a professional atmosphere and has a friendly staff. You shouldn't feel shy about calling Festoon at 415-421-3223 to talk about your hair options. They'll likely have what it takes to make you and your hair happy.