Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beauty Salons and Me, My Hair and My Nails

Lounging in a large, comfortable chair at the beauty salon yesterday, luxuriating in a manicure and pedicure, I pondered the deep philosophical questions women occasionally contemplate:

Is this experience decadent?
Should I feel guilty?
Should I enjoy this pleasure, reassuring myself it is a necessity for my health and well-being?
Should I feel good pumping currency into a recovering economy and helping others support their families?
Or should I shun such extravagance, no matter how reasonable the cost?

I won a gift certificate at a charity event about three years ago. As a result I discovered my neighborhood beauty salon, hair stylist and go-to manicurist/pedicurist.

I am a latecomer to the beauty salon and its treats.

Over the decades it was tough finding someone to cut and style my hair. Most stylists had difficulty taming my thick, curly mane. When I found someone, she (once it was a he) either:
-       *   got married and left town,
-       *   got pregnant and quit the business for a few years,
-       *   got fired for unknown reasons,
-      *    the salon went out of business and the stylist relocated to another salon miles from my home,
-       *   retired,
-       *   or I moved.

And when the inevitable time came to color the gray, I did it myself. For years. Eventually the task became overwhelming and dye got all over the bathroom. It sometimes stains.

Now a stylist colors my hair.

As for nails, I did my own for years, and not very well. Usually I did not do anything. My nails were just there. They always chip and break, yet manicurists tell me they are strong and in excellent health. I wish my doctor said the same about the rest of my body…

Hub was ignorant of the whole nail thing before I became a regular. The first time he noticed a sign proclaiming ‘Nails’ he thought it was a hardware store.

Women have always desired pretty nails. Trimmed and polished nails have been a symbol of wealth and aristocracy since ancient times. The Egyptians and Indians (from India the country, not native Americans) polished their nails with henna. Any color sanctioned by Egyptian royalty was not allowed to grace the nails of common folk. Legend asserts Cleopatra sported red nails.

Long nails were a status symbol in China, distinguishing the non-working upper classes from toiling common folk. Nail color disclosed a woman’s status. Gold and silver indicated royalty, while commoners were limited to pale colors.

The quest for beautiful nails became an obsession in certain European circles during the nineteenth century.

Manicures gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1920s with the invention of practical nail care instruments and nail polish.

Nail care became a requirement for the fashion conscious.

Pedicures were a late arrival on the nail care scene, probably because open toed shoes were not worn frequently and long skirts, socks and stockings masked ugly feet.  And pedicures – as well as manicures - were expensive.

But the linking of cheap labor and a smart American woman changed everything.

One solution to lowering costs is outsourcing jobs overseas. But there are jobs problematic to outsource.

It is difficult to ship our nails overseas.

A much-maligned war and a Hollywood actress solved the dilemma by providing affordable manicures and pedicures for women (and men, too) right here in the good ole USA.

It all began when thousands of Vietnamese refugees entered the U.S. following the fall of Saigon in 1975, marking the end of the Vietnam War.

Tippi Hedren, actress (remember Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds?) and philanthropist, visited a refugee camp in California representing the charitable organization Food for the Hungry. She knew the immigrants needed working skills fast, preferably an occupation where knowledge of the English language was not essential. The women admired Hedren’s long, beautifully polished nails, and she realized these women could quickly learn manicure skills. She provided training and helped the refugees secure jobs.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The Vietnamese converted a luxury only a minority could enjoy into a reasonably priced habit most American women could afford.

By 2012, 80% of manicurists in California were Vietnamese, and 45% throughout the country were Vietnamese.

Eventually low priced salons reached my town, and I took advantage of the opportunity to obtain and sustain decent nails.

Good for the economy and immigrants, bad for traditional salon professionals, the debate rages. But times change…

Meanwhile, I confess my manicurist is not of Vietnamese heritage. Born and raised in Turkey, daughter of an American father and Turkish mother, she went to beauty school when arriving in the U.S. at the tender age of 20. She now owns a salon.

And she does a great job. I am happy, she is happy, and that is what it is all about.

I will continue to pump cash into the economy, although not as frequently as my manicurist would like.

But we regularly keep in touch.

And who needs a pedicure in the North over the winter? I wear really cute socks. 


  1. I did not know that about Tippi Hedren...always good to start my day by learning something new. I enjoy a mani-pedi once in a while, but it is not a part of my regular routine. Also, I usually stop short of the application of polish--to the complete befuddlement of some nail techs.
    My nails are also strong and healthy and fast growing and I resent the heck out of the time I spend keeping them short and groomed. A better person would just be grateful.

  2. I have had the occasional pedicure, and only once a manicure. My nails are just there. I didn't know that about Tippi Hedren, what a great story! And she was right. What a difference she made in the lives of millions. :-)

  3. I know what you mean about a stylist for curly hair. I usually look for a curly-haired woman with a good cut and ask who she sees. Then I call. One of my stylists ran away with her drug dealer!

  4. You hit the nail (ahem!!) on the head: I always feel guilty when I'm sitting there and some other woman is slaving away over my feet.
    However. . .I do get pedicures once in a great while - usually through a gift certificate - and it often feels like a medical necessity because my feet get dry and cracked and it takes a good pedicure to smooth everything down.
    My fingernails stay bare. I'm too hard on them and thus have no patience for color.

  5. A very nice story. I did not know Tippi had been so engaged with the Vietnamese community in the U.S. My hair stylist is a refugee from Lebanon. I have had manicurists from all over, only they were pedicurists. I have weak nails and never went for the acrylic kind.