A Hairowful Experice: What Happens When You Do Your Hair At the Thrift Store…

The New Economy/The Great Recession/ whatever moniker you’ve assigned to this financial fiasco we’ve found ourselves in has forced millions of Americans into habits that are foreign and sometimes uncomfortable for them. These are indeed times of hardship, and with a Congress and White House that can’t seem to get anything done or work in tandem to give even the illusion of progress, it would appear that we are in these difficult times for the long haul.

When the bottom dropped out 8 years ago, citizens reacted in a myriad of ways. Some shot and executed their entire families before taking their own lives. Others took a more moderate approach by hosting fewer parties or shopping at food banks. Then there are those of us who have lived in a recessionary America since the Emancipation Proclamation and we’re raised on how to take a dollar and make it stretch all week. Cultures that have long been adept at taking a pot of rice and beans and a cup of flour and turning them into a four course meal were not so devastated by the emerging (read ravaging) new economy. Still, we are always looking for ways to save money while still giving the façade of prosperity, just as our foremothers taught us.

Thrift Store Awesomeness

It was for this very reason that Mom Five Times (M5X) – my cohort in conservative crime – and I ventured to Empire Beauty School in Dunwoody a few days ago. With almost a dozen children between the two of us, we are perpetually on the hunt for a bargain in order to meet our families’ physical needs. She and I have little in common, but the peculiarities that we do share – those being an intense appreciation for coffee, cackling, and an inability to do hair – have bonded us together in a fulfilling friendship over the years. It is the lattermost trait that took us into the doors of the beauty school that fateful Saturday morning.

We each have three daughters who individually possess long and/or thick hair. Neither of us can cornrow, or barely braid at all for that matter. There have been more than a few occasions where we’ve sent our children to school looking busted. There’s just no denying it. Finally, we decided that there was no good reason for our girls to look so ill-favored, particularly after we researched the price list on the school’s website.

“Girl. It’s only $40 for box braids…and $20 for braids and twists!” she exclaimed excitedly.

“You can’t beat that,” I grinned.

“I’m going to call them and see if we can get an appointment for this weekend,” she said, turning very business-like.

M5X was in the zone. She lives for two things: Jesus and a bargain. I watched her scuttle off to a quieter part of the house to make the call. When she returned, she informed me that they only do walk in appointments between the hours of 9am and 1pm.

“Let’s meet there at 9:00 then?”


Now, the thing that is so peculiar about Empire Beauty School is that it is the only school in this area that caters to Black hair specifically, unlike the Paul Mitchell School whom I’ve had several bad experiences with. I was thrilled that they would be able to understand the needs of and style my girls’ natural hair without all the hurdles and confused frowns that all the hallmarks of almost every visit to the Paul Mitchell School.

M5X and I arrived at 9:15 am the next morning, armed with bags of hair. There was already a line at the door. Crap.

We were instructed to give our names at the counter and to have a seat. The school was on the second floor of a strip mall in a middle class neighborhood. The walls were painted a warm butterscotch color and there were about 40 stylists stations lined up in the facility. By 9:30, no one had begun to get their hair done. Forlorn Black women with sneakers and scarves sat with their arms crossed defensively across their chests as they waited. One brown skinned girl was shouting on her cell phone in Amharic, sending patrons fleeing her shrill, unpleasant timbre.

Finally, at 10:00, M5X and I were called to the register.

“What service did you want to get today?” asked a glossy dark skinned woman clad in black knit and adorned in silver accessories.

“I’d like twists for one of my girls and cornrows for the other,” replied M5X.

“And I’m getting cornrows with extensions for mine,” I added.

“That will be an extra $30 for extensions,” I receptionist informed me.

I wanted to balk, but I knew that that would not do. I checked my emotions and nodded emphatically to indicate that the absurd upcharge was ok. We were instructed to sit back down and wait to be called.

I took some time to look around the room, since I had little else to do. The girls were playing on tablets and Nintendos, and M5X had engrossed herself in a travel magazine. It was an hour and a half into our wait before the sounds of blow dryers and the smell of burning hair finally began to fill the air. Progress, at long last. All of the students (or ‘Future Professionals’ as their aprons boldly proclaimed) looked positively miserable. None of them looked as though they had any joy in their tasks, but more so than the girl doing box braids on her client directly opposite. I contemplated taking her picture, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Just to give you an idea

Just to give you an idea

Her skin was the color of oatmeal, dotted with raisins, and she had a weave that sat just below her shoulder blades. Each track of hair was a different color: blond at the base, pink on the crown, green in the middle and turquoise at the ends. She wore a tight white T-shirt and shiny black pants and popped her gum methodically as she parted her client’s hair. It sounded like a hail of gun fire. I mean, she looked like a reject from the Bonner Brothers Hair Exhibit. I stared at this aberration of professionalism and wondered if she’d ever considered a career in the circus in lieu of doing hair. She certainly had the costuming down, and UniverSoul is playing this month, coincidentally…

At 11:00 we still had not been seen. At this point, more students began to casually traipse in at go to their lockers. An enormous Mammie-like woman walked around to the “waiting area” dragging a towel around her, wiping up drips of water on the floor. Loni, M5X’s second daughter had unwittingly dropped her drink on the floor (which was covered in hair from the day before) and on the vacant stylist station where she was sitting. The Mammie huffed and wiped up the spill.

‘”Somebody spilled water all over this counter,” she said loudly to one of the students standing opposite her.

“And they just left it sitting there?” she replied in disgust.

“Mmmhmmm,” said the middle aged woman.

She then turned her attention to Loni, who was ignoring the whole conversation and was sitting with her legs folded in the swivel chair.

“Sweetie,” the woman said patronizingly, “I can’t have you sitting in my BRAND NEW chair with your legs over the arm. You’ll have to sit over there. This is the salon. That’s the waiting area.”

The two spaces were a foot apart.

Seeing that there were no other chairs in the waiting area, she pulled two chairs from the nail station in the corner and instructed Loni and an elderly patron (who was also waiting in the salon) to sit on those.

Soon we had passed the three hour mark of just sitting and waiting. All of the girls were hungry and agitated. I went to Wal-Mart to buy us some snacks and passed a door that said “Kiddie Kutz” on the way out. Could this be a miracle sent from on high? I took a chance and walked in the door. It paid off. They did ALL kinds of kids’ hair.

I whisked my girls out of the pathetic realm of Empire Beauty School and into the regal world of Kiddie Kutz, where they were treated to complimentary juice boxes and cartoons. It cost me $90, which was $40 more than I intended to spend that day, but totally worth the experience and time saved. Nadjah had a party to get to at 1:00 and we had to leave.

What happened to M5X? Seven and a half hours after we arrived, her girls finally got seen. I think they finally left the salon around 5pm. It was a ghastly experience. The students derided her girl’s hair, calling it “damaged” and picking at it disdainfully. I would have been livid. Ain’t nobody got time for that! But I suppose that is the cost of doing ones hair at a cut-rate, budget institution. M5X and I discovered another bond that we share during this adventure though: There’s not enough hood rat in either of us to ever entice us to darken those doors again.

It’s SO hard to get your hair done in North Fulton, I swear.