Working Lives

Styling hair in the sixties (1966-1980)

Location: Norwich, Stalham

June talks about working in the hairdressing industry from the 1960s to 1980. She started as an apprentice and soon took on her own clients. Ways of working and fashions changed over the years from hood dryers to blow drying.

Leaving school and starting work in a salon

I left school when I was 15 in the summer of 1966 and went straight into hairdressing. I started work withing the next few days of finishing school for a lady at a corner shop salon in the end of a row of terraced houses in Norwich on a three month trial. There were no other staff. Mondays were my day off.

The lady lived above the salon, which consisted of two rooms.The first, as you entered had a dressing table with two mirrors in the centre. As well as one or two basins, and a seating area. The second room had a row of hooded dryers and a stock cupboard. The owner’s kitchen where I had my lunch, which I brought with me, led out to a small backyard where the towels were hung out to dry. I can’t remember what happened if it rained!

My job was to make sure the towel pile was well stocked, keeping the shampoo bottles topped up, hair rollers, perm curlers, clips, pins, brushes, all cleaned and neatly placed on the trolley. I was given a list of other cleaning jobs to do, a different one for each day. I remember one was cleaning the shop windows. I always had a broom in my hand sweeping the hair up; if I wasn’t doing that, my hands were in water shampooing.

I was working there when the Aberfan disaster happened, when the rain caused the slag heap to collapse onto a school and several children were killed. A client came in and told us- everybody was upset.

Nearby was a block of flats, and one day I had to drop leaflets to every flat about a special offer. My wage was about £1.5.0d or £1.15.0d. I am not too sure exactly. Which out of that my bus fair each day, and to give my mother money for keep, did not leave a lot. Some salons did day release training, but the salon I worked at didn’t, so I did all my training at the salon.

As I was on a three month’s trial, no apprenticeship papers had been signed, I looked for somewhere else nearer to home, and was  lucky enough to start a new job in the October at Stalham.

Working in Stalham

This time my day off was on a Wednesday, again on trial. The apprenticeship papers were signed In April 1976, which was for three years. It was a bigger, modern salon with three stylists and one girl already into her apprenticeship. Separate areas for reception and hairdryers, the main part of the salon consisted of four back basins and one forward basin. Opposite one long unit with five chairs, each with its own mirror and work space, the staff room had the washing machine and a kitchen area for making teas and coffees for clients; that was one of my first jobs. Also the room had comfy chairs to sit on whilst eating our lunch. A luxury when you’re on your feet most of the day. My first job with a client was to greet, put on a gown and take them, depending on what they were having done, to the basin or dressing table.

As at the previous salon everything had to be kept topped up, clean, tidy, broom in hand or hands in water.

Getting the trolleys ready for stylists, for shampoo and sets, perms, colours and had to be one step ahead all the time, so we were ready for the next client. After shampooing the client I would wrap a towel around like a turban and take them to the dressing table, comb their hair through ready for the stylist to come.

When the rollers are put in for a set, I’d put the hairnet on and take them  to the dryer so the stylist can go onto another client; and when dried I would take the rollers and clips out carefully, but take one roller out first, making sure the hair was dry. If still damp, roller back and back under the dryer.

More jobs at the basin, washing the colour off, remembering to wear gloves. Or bleach. If it was highlights it was done with like a bathing cap on the head with small holes, which you pull the hair through where we want the highlights to be. Or wrapped in tinfoil, all which were removed at the basin. Then the basin was made clean and tidy, and everything put away.

When a perm is ready to be neutralised, I would rinse and apply the neutraliser, leave on for a set time depending on which perm lotion was used, unwind the curlers carefully, and rise and ready to be set. Once again, papers removed and disposed of, perm curlers washed and dried and back onto the trolley.

All the time standing next to the stylist, watching and learning about the cutting of hair, applying colour, perming, setting, by passing whatever was needed like the rollers, perm curlers and papers.

Schoolgirls would come in after school as models to be practised on with shampoo and sets, when the stylist was busy apprentices would apply the colour or start winding a perm. That was all good practice. Whoever was free would answer the phone or the door, and make appointments, if we weren’t sure, we would ask the stylist what they wanted us to do.

The appointment book was marked out for every quarter an hour. Hours of working were normally a 9am start,  they were sometimes 8:30 to 5:30. Late night Friday was 7pm and the last shampoo and set appointment was an hour before closing.

In 1966, it was all shampoo and sets, cuts, perms, colours and bleached blonde hair. A quarter hour was allowed per shampoo and set; if it was a cut as well, longer was marked out.

You could have had a set at 9 o’clock, then one at 9.15, then one at 9.30. By 9:45 the first set would be dry and ready to brush out. If the next client was booked for 10, the 9.15 and the 9.30 sets would have to be brushed out somewhere between. Of course if anybody was late it would put you all out. Normally it would be one hour for a set, longer with the cut.

It was the time of the beehive, all back-combing, high up on the head and smoothed over and hair sprayed. Longer hair with flick ups was popular. Cottage loaf was a favourite for the older ladies: rollers on top and sides to the top of the ear, then rollers put in vertical all the way round to finish off the set. Or, another one, the rollers on the top and sides, and the back in pin-curls, and the hair was then brushed upwards.

Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, all we did were shampoo and sets. We had to come into work New Year’s Day; it was not a bank holiday when I first started work.

It was the time when ladies went to dinner dances and wore long dresses, and the fashion was to wear a hair-piece, the same colour as your hair. A change of style if you had short hair, and would have it placed and pinned and blended into your own hair. Then each section of hair was back-combed, curled round and pinned to hold in place. And repeated to make various styles, or have it to hang in ringlets.

Fridays and Saturdays were very busy with the shampoo and sets, and most of them would come at the same appointment time each week. Perms would mostly take about two hours to complete; some were very strong smelling lotions and various types depending on the results you wanted. Colours also about two hours; again depending on the hair and what was wanted.

In both cases, while the perm or colours were taking the stylist would be doing other clients. Cuts would be booked 15 minutes or longer, there again depending on what you wanted. Mostly children would have a dry cut, and it was very busy just before the school holidays finished.

I was there when it was a three day working week due to the miners’ strike and as we were classed as a luxury we could not use electricity all the time.

One part of the week worked mornings, and part of the next week worked afternoons just doing cuts and taking appointments. The rest of the week I’m not sure how much time was allowed when we could do the normal appointments or how long the strike lasted.

Gradually over time I started doing clients on my own.

Some of the stylists had moved on, and new apprentices had come. All had been good to work with and we had some fun times. I met some very nice clients, all ages and backgrounds, and got to know all about them. Especially when they came in every week. It was lovely that we could have our own hair done and experiment with various styles and colours. I can remember being told when I started there was more to hairdressing than wearing an overall and having a comb in your hand.

It was very interesting, I found there are so many different people that come in with different backgrounds and different things to say, you got to know them, you got to know about them, you got to know their family, because they would tell you.

But whatever was said to us we honestly didn’t repeat it elsewhere. And I think sometimes people perhaps didn’t see many people, especially older ladies; so that was nice for them to come and talk to you. But you still had to obviously concentrate on doing their hair, but you had to listen as well; but at the same time that was interesting.

Changes from shampoo and set to blowdrying

Back then all I did was practically all shampoo and sets. Whereas everything now is blow dried. The only time we really used a hand dryer was if someone’s’ hair had just been cut and just dried off, not blow dried or styled.

I don’t think there’s many people now that do shampoo and sets. Some might, not like the time when I was working. I think only the stylists today is with the client the whole time; if you go in for a cut and blow dry you’re one to one all the time which perhaps could last about an hour. Whereas we were shampoo and setting and we done three in an hour, then put them under the dryer, then got them out. So we had about three if not four people to do in the hour, whereas now perhaps there’s only one.

I enjoyed hairdressing, what I liked best was meeting the people and the variation of work, because you never had two heads of hair the same, you’re never doing the same thing all day. You would have a perm and colour in between all the shampoo and sets. It was interesting and they were nice people to work with as well.

I did hairdressing at Stalham until about 1974, and then 1980 was when I finished working in a salon, I did some hairdressing after for friends and family but not now.

If I were to go back now, I wouldn’t know where to start, because blow drying was then about to come in when I finished and the styles are so different now. I like to go and have my hair done but I don’t want to do it.

June (b. 1951) talking to WISEArchive in Mundesley, Norfolk, on 28th October 2015.

© 2020 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.