The Beauty Parlor in the Old South

vintage salon


Remember the beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias? It was set in Dolly Parton’s den or front room, if memory serves, with chair-mounted dome dryers, piles of spiky curlers, fuzzy edged gossip magazines, the ammonia gas seeping into her curtains and linoleum.

I’ve never been to a home salon for my own hair. I was raised in the Midwest where getting your hair done was like getting a vaccination. To suit my mother it needed to be antiseptic and quiet. She didn’t chat much with strangers and she still hates getting her hair cut.

Then I moved to Georgia. Big change. The row of hair dryers was gone in 2001, but BLONDE was still a thing. The blonder the better, be it in curls, a bob or a pixie. To get your blonde done right (yes, I tried), you shopped at a few different salons. I went at first to the nearest hairdoer, but she gave me a mullet. So I tried up in Buckhead, where the Atlanta aristocracy goes. They weren’t a whole lot better. I ended up with a former stripper on the East Side. Her name was Jessica. She was by far the best stylist and colorist I’ve had. She knew my hair type, knew the amount of time I’d actually spend doing my hair at home, she even asked about my emotional life, all to get me the right length and color. It worked, and I paid her well for her skill.

In the research I did recently for my Savannah novel, Laerka, I wanted to understand what the home hair salon was like. I moved to Ohio before I had a chance to learn, but here’s what I found in an article from The Cabin.net in which journalist Chris Bynum from the Times-Picayune describes the history of classic hair salons. His interview with historian Kathy Kemp, also of New Orleans, uncovers the glory of the one time corner beauty shop in her 1999 history, The Beauty Box: A Tribute to the Legendary Beauty Parlors of the South.

‘Sometimes in the mornings, I’d have a judge’s wife sitting next to a call girl, and nobody knew the difference. Because a call girl then was very, very fashionable. They aren’t trashy-looking; they weren’t gaudy. Some girls I did three times a day,’ says Louis Truxillo of the Fountain of Beauty, whose clients over his 33-year career have ranged from the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Lindy Boggs, to silent film star Janice Schilling.

Some [clients] have had standing weekly appointments for 30 years. And some of them were Bourbon Street legends such as stripper Linda Brigette, whose big blond hair he was constantly recreating from upswept styles to long cascading curls.

see full article at http://thecabin.net/stories/013199/wor_0131990077.shtml#.VqEJ3RUrLIU

One day I’ll go see Savannah stylist, Elysianne, who I imagine as a home salon owner and Gullah conjure woman in Laerka. In the meantime, I go to Stephen at Nurture Salon in Grandview, Ohio. I get to watch his tattoos increase and I chat with his electrician friend about LED lighting. It’s nice, but it ain’t quite as awesome as that Fountain of Beauty.

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