Dec 10, 2010


PHILADELPHIA - You would certainly expect black and white women to shop at the same stores, luxuriate in the same spas, even frequent the same makeup counters. And more than five decades after Rosa Parks held on to her bus seat, they do.

But there was one beauty barrier that was never breached: hair salons.

All things being equal, women's hair was not.

Because no one, according to the conventional wisdom, could style a black woman's hair except another African American, salons were the only institutions more segregated than church on Sunday mornings. It's a well-known scene: Black women gather at their beauty parlors for everything from straightening to socializing.

But this last bastion of separation may be going the way of the hot comb. Pushed by a recession-driven shakeout and shifting trends in hair care, the walls are starting to come down.

Walk into Saks Fifth Avenue's salon in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. - historically home to a mostly white, upper-class clientele - and you will see black and white clients getting their hair done by white and black stylists.

There's also an increasing number of black stylists at typically white Center City Philadelphia salons, including Bubbles and Adolf Biecker. And black-owned beauty salons are hiring a more diverse group of stylists.

Of the six stylists at the year-old Ends Hair Design and Day Spa in Northern Liberties, Pa., there are three African Americans, one Asian, one white stylist and one Latina.

Brandy Davila, who is an African American and an owner of the multicultural Salon Tenshi in North Philadelphia, opens her doors to all clients and stylists.

"And I'm finding it's a learning experience for everyone," Davila said. "White clients get to see what goes on with African American hair, and my black clients see that white people's hair isn't as easy to deal with as we think."

This new take on diversity is no small thing. Black women have gone to self-segregated salons not just to get their hair coiffed, but to feel positive - and safe - during their experience. (There's a reason that the latest YouTube sensation of a brown Sesame Street puppet singing "I Love My Hair" has legions of black women talking.)



  1. I'd say within the last 3 years or so, I've let more white stylists work with my hair. Primarily to cut it because all the other stuff I can do myself. The first white stylist I let do my hair completely was quite a while ago and I was actually quite pleased.

    I do like to support good Black stylists when it fits into my budget. But I do think it's great to expand the idea of who can actually do our hair.

    Just remembered this of my white coworker friends has really curly hair and I recommended "a black haircare" product to her. She's been using it and she likes the result. We were just talking about this.

  2. I had three white roommates in college so I learned a long time ago that white woman struggle with their hair and body image just as much as we do, if not more on that body image thing.

    One of my roommates had extremely tightly curled hair that she wanted straighter. I told her to get a relaxer. Of course she had never heard of such, but she talked to her stylist about it and her stylist told her she couldn't because she'd have to stop her monthly color, so I told her to press it. Do you know that girl started using my pressing comb and then came back to school the next semester with a plug in version of her own. Yes, she did!

    I am rocking my natural hair and the first thing I learned about hair products when I got here was to get out of the African-American hair care section. Bad ingredients for natural hair and honestly alot of bad ingredients for relaxed hair, but that's another discussion. Natural heads use all kinds of products traditionally thought of for white women and they work, wonderfully.

  3. Does this mean we are not going to be able to have the DVD man, the purfume man, the pocketbook man, and the rib dinners anymore. Cause you know we have to have that in "our" salons. It just won't be the same.....

  4. I think we've been pigeon-holed into think that there are set products only for us. Things have to be packaged and marketed a certain way for us to even pay attention but alot of it is the same product for "other" women. There are some that are different. I think we need to be smarter and realize there are alot of resources available to us. it may look different but it's very likely that it can work for us too.