Every salon needs one—a senior stylist who defies retirement and continues to love their craft and clients, some of which they have served since grammar school. A senior stylist in your salon is a badge of honor, considering the physical demands on a hairdresser’s arms, legs, feet, and spirit. Going forward, more and more salon professionals over seventy will refuse to go quietly. Seniors are an encyclopedia of knowledge whose wisdom is to be cherished and respected. If your salon doesn’t have one, go out and find or steal one. I am applauding and whistling, writing this last sentence.
Turning 90 years old is no longer some wild outlier. Those who moved with Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons or listened to a 214-pound woman named Jean Nidetch, who founded Weight Watchers in the 60s, are now cashing in on the benefits. The Society of Actuaries (SOA) data says that a 65-year-old male in average health has a 35% chance of living to 90; the odds are 46% for a woman. If our two 65-year- olds live together, there is a 50% chance both will still be alive 16 years later and that one will survive 27 years. And many of these men and women are hairdressers. We could have a long conversation about those statistics, couldn’t we?
PEG O’MY HEART
Take Peggy Schremp (pictured above), who has never stopped working since graduating from Ohio State School of Cosmetology in 1969. She says she prefers her years behind the chair not to be listed on the Wavelengths Design Salon in Zephyrhills, Florida website. “There’s always someone who jumps to the conclusion I can no longer create trendy hairstyles,” she says. I say, their loss—too bad for them, Peggy. Move on, girl.
Peggy taught the latest styling and haircolor techniques to salon professionals as a Matrix traveling educator for years. She remembers how she loved the hair shows, “Hair shows were a big part of a hairdresser’s formation,” recalls Peggy. “You were either coming, going, or getting ready for a show. At the time, every beauty distributor put on an annual event and lots of smaller ones.” Peggy misses the old days and feels there was more camaraderie and friendship back then.
“I see how the internet has made things better, but we lost the personal touch,” she recalls, “Back then, I visited every salon in my territory. We were all on a first-name basis. We looked forward to the annual hair show and seeing everyone.” When supply houses merged with big corporations, the smaller, more intimate hair shows that dotted Peggy’s territory also disappeared, “And with that went the unforgettable chance meetings and relationships, that for me, were at the heart of the beauty industry,” Peggy reminisces.
She still keeps in touch with her former salon clients, “They will always be a part of my life. The salon business has always been about a quality product and extraordinary service but never exclusively so. There was always the matter of heart,” Peggy stresses, “The industry seemed more nurturing and personal to me at the time.”
“We used to have to know how to perform all the services on the salon menu. You just had to know how to do all of the services well,” she recalls and prides herself in her ability to perform every item on the salon’s menu of services. Today, Peggy will gladly share the fine points of a precision cut or the delicate formulation of a color correction with younger hairdressers. She will often pick up services other stylists don’t offer or refuse to do, like perms, hair straightening, retexturizing, and the fine art of preparing a bride for her big day.
“What keeps you coming into the salon, Peggy?” I asked. “The money is nice, but it’s more of an emotional connection I feel for the salon,” she replies. A bond that began in 1969 with her first job at Nick’s Coiffures in Columbus, OH. She remembers the family feel of a salon where everyone shares and is more than just a coworker. Back then, Peggy worked on clients who came in for a weekly shampoo and set. She set hair with Pivot Point cone-shaped rollers and styled it with plenty of backcombing and hairspray to last for the week —and was a specialist at the popular beehive updo.
Despite the advent of lease chair professionals, she continues to be a strong advocate of working as a team, “Teamwork makes the salon work–the team makes the dream, “she says. Professionalism and accountability are at the heart of her work, “Please don’t come into the salon dressed like you are going on a picnic because it affects the entire salon’s image.”
Peggy’s big tip for staying young: keep taking on life’s challenges, a bit slower maybe, but don’t shy away from challenges no matter your age. “Pretend you are playing tag, and old age is chasing you to tag you, keep running, and don’t let old age catch up with you and ‘tag’ you,” she says laughing.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carlos Valenzuela is a bilingual raconteur, success coach, ex‐salon & beauty school owner, author of the award‐winning novella, Letters to Young Carlos, about a gay boy’s struggles growing up along the US/Mexico border in the 60s. Visit his writings at carlos‐valenzuela.com
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