Tim Hussin for The Wall Street Journal
by Selam Aster
As I plan to make the move from New York City to my hometown in California, there’s one thing I can’t stop agonizing about: no, it’s not the great friends or the subways (that have spared me from anxieties related to car insurance or gas prices) that I’ll miss most. It’s really all about the Dominicans.
You see, they are important to my life. Ever since I moved to New York, the money and time I spend on my hair has been cut in half. By my own definition, that has greatly improved my quality of life. Less stress, less mess.
As many a Black female knows, going to the hair salon is a time-consuming affair that can drain 25 percent of your weekend. Growing up, I thought trips to the salon would be glamorous and stress-relieving endeavors. I soon found out that unless you have a personal stylist, going to the salon would be experienced as a laborious yet necessary ritual.
For me, Dominican hair salons have alleviated the laboriousness of it all. It’s not a perfect experience but it is a better one for me. There are no appointments and not much waiting around (a signifier of many Black salons). This is how it works: I walk in anytime (including Sundays and Mondays), stand in line for the wash bowl, move to the hair rolling station, sit under the dryer and then get my hair blown out. I’m in and out in less than 2 hours, which is far less than the 4-5 hours I spent at hair salons when I lived in Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, it is a trade off. Dominican salons use cheaper products and don’t really prioritize customer service (read: rude and abrupt), but for someone who values getting the job done over customer service, I have been more than satisfied.
What I do miss is the camaraderie between stylists and clients in Black salons. Since I don’t speak Spanish, there’s not much “conversating” going on, and that takes some of the fun out of the whole thing. But since I am still not trusting of the Dominican hair salons when it comes to getting hair cuts and color, I’ll occasionally make a visit to my go-to Black salon and shell out $100+ for my quarterly services.
A friend asked me if I felt guilty for patronizing Dominican hair salons, rather than the Black salons I grew up with. My answer was no. I don’t see many Black salons completely suffering from the competition. If anything, this competition, which really only exists on the East Coast, may only help Black salons improve their way of doing things and becoming more efficient. I can’t discount the fact that some people just really love hanging out at the salon all day, and so, for them, the old way of doing things is no big deal. As for me, I’ve seen what my life could be like with less time spent on hair but am preparing myself for the rude re-awakening when I arrive in Cali. At least, I have an iPad to keep me company on my 5-hour trips now…*sigh*.