views updated Jun 11 2018

hairdressing Whether ornate or simple, hairdressing has been employed by nearly every society from ancient time to the present. In 400 bc some Greek women dyed their hair; in the Roman period, dyeing and bleaching were common. Japanese women used lacquer (a precursor of modern-day hair spray) to secure their elaborate coiffures. Whatever the style, there have been groups of people who made their living and built their reputations by cutting, shaving, curling, and styling the hair.

Hairdressing is a profession that has appealed to both male and female practitioners. While in earlier periods, male hairdressers (often called barbers) mainly worked with male hair and women worked with women, during modern times, such distinctions have become less rigid. It is, however, still rare to find hairdressers who are willing to transgress racial boundaries in the styling of hair. Barbershops and beauty parlours remain amongst the most segregated of public spaces. Nonetheless, whatever the race or sex of the participant, a first trip to the hairdresser is often viewed as a rite of passage. A boy's first haircut is an event, a non-biological marker of movement from babyhood into childhood. A girl's first trip to the hairdresser marks her entrance from childhood into young womanhood. For both, the place where they encounter the hairdresser introduces them into what may become a significant social sphere in their lives. Barbershops and beauty salons have historically served as a primary site for gender-specific interaction, support, and nurturing.

Prior to the first few decades of the twentieth century, career choices were limited for all women, but particularly so for poor and migrant women, and those of ethnic minorities. Hairdressing has been a particularly attractive career option for such women because of the ease with which one may set up a business. A reputation as a sought-after hairdresser could lead to a career that was performed in the home, if one so chose, or in the more public setting of a shop, if resources allowed. In either case, hairdressing could support a family at monetary levels significantly higher than derived from domestic, factory, or agricultural work. Hairdressing did not require college training and one could have some control over working hours — making it an ideal occupation for women with small children to raise.

Beginning with the crude curling iron used by women of ancient Rome in creating their elaborate hair styles, hairdressing came to be associated with a variety of technological accoutrements, ranging from simple combs and hairpins to hold the hair in place to complex electrical appliances for drying and grooming the hair. In addition, chemical processes were used to tint, wave, curl, straighten, and condition the hair. By the twentieth century, hairdressing itself and the manufacture of materials and equipment had become an occupation and practical art of large proportions.

Noliwe Rooks

See also body decoration.


views updated Jun 11 2018

hair·dress·er / ˈhe(ə)rˌdresər/ • n. a person who cuts and styles hair as an occupation.DERIVATIVES: hair·dress·ing / -ˌdresing/ n.