Monthly Archives: October 2009

Step 1: Check Your Appearance

My 600-hour adventure learning to apply makeup, excavate pores, and wax, um, everything. Learn more about the project, or catch up with Orientation.


This is a Wakeup Call Mirror

From the “Graduation Requirements” workbook, which Barb says we should carry with us at all times:

When you’re made aware that a client is here you must:

1. Check your appearance.

2. Go out to the waiting area to greet your client.

Barb says hair and makeup should be done before we get to school. “If you don’t wear makeup, that’s okay as long as you don’t look like you just woke up, or really bad like you just left a bar or something.”

Most days, I don’t wear makeup. Just saying.

[Photo Credit: “Girl Looking In A Mirror” by This is a Wake Up Call/Lee Summers via Flickr.]

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Filed under beauty standards, In Class, Makeup, Orientation

Orientation: The Professional Must Constantly Strive for Excellence

My 600-hour adventure learning to apply makeup, excavate pores, and wax, um, everything. Read more about it here.


James VanDerZee, Beauty School Photo

Barb is the admissions director at Beauty U. She’s a whole different ball game from Sal over at Beauty College, and I’ll admit, a major reason that I chose to enroll in Beauty U’s Esthetics Program over BC’s Cosmetology Course was that when Barb called me “sweetie,” it didn’t sound gross.

Last week I received a letter reminding me to be on time to orientation and to “bring a pen to write with.” Tonight I arrive five minutes early to find the room already jam-packed, and everyone has a pen placed squarely on the desk in front of them. Everyone sits in anxious silence until the girl next to me whispers, “This is so awkward.” Her name is Tiffany and she’s taking the cosmetology course, while her mom is considering esthetics. Tiffany is 18, along with about three-quarters of the women in the room, but there are a good handful of us who are older. I spot one gray head. When Barb asks who signed up for evening classes, it’s our hands that go up, reminding me of today’s New York Times piece about community colleges being so swamped thanks to the recession that they’re offering midnight classes.

Barb is also not kidding around about the need for punctuality. “My thing is, don’t be late,” she says right off the bat. (Barb has a lot of her things.) We start promptly at 5 PM and are told that the doors will be closed at 5:15. When a terrified latecomer arrives at 5:18, everyone holds their breath, but Barb grants her entrance with a heavy sigh.

Barb leads us through our orientation packets — the dress code (all black), rules (no gum chewing, no cell phones, no eating in the salon), and fire evacuation procedure. She interrupts herself frequently to expound upon what she’s written: “My thing is, no dresses, because when we let you girls wear dresses, people showed up like they were going to a club.” “My thing is, don’t wear open-toed shoes because we work with chemicals here and you don’t want to spill chemicals on your pretty toes.”

The rule we spend the most time on is “Client Awareness.” That means you’re not allowed to refuse a customer at any time. “I don’t care if they have bad skin or open wounds,” says Barb. “You can tell your instructor, but you can’t no.” If you refuse to serve a customer to their face, you’ll be sent home — and every hour you miss is an hour you’ll have to make up later.

Barb stops for questions a lot, but hardly anyone asks one. This concerns Barb, mostly because she doesn’t want to hear it later if we don’t understand something that she’s telling us now. The classroom has mirrors on every wall, so I can see that we seem to be following along just fine. Tiffany asks if we can wear leggings. Kosher, as long as you have a long sweater on top. “Good, because I wear leggings a lot,” she says, with relief.

When we finish, everyone lines up at the salon cash register. I write a check for my $1500 down payment, while the platinum blonde behind me confides that she’s already nervous about our weekly tests. “I have three learning disorders, so I’m not so good at test taking,” she explains. “But I do my mom’s hair and I just seem to have a natural gift for it.”

I tell her that I think she’ll be just fine.

[Photo Credit: “Reception in the Office of the C. J. Walker Company” by James VanDerZee, 1929, from here.*]

*Do click through, because it’s got a great story — Madame C. J. Walker, founder of the beauty school pictured, was reputed to be the first self-made woman millionaire in the USA.

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The Interview is also a Sales Pitch.

My 600-hour adventure learning to apply makeup, excavate pores, and wax, um, everything. Learn more about it here.

Beauty School 1

Sal is a big guy, with the thick, golden mane of a man who knows hair is his business, and dyed eyebrows to match. His office is decorated with motivational posters that say things like “Leadership” and “Positivity,” along with photos of his daughter in a shiny blue prom dress. He has very bright blue eyes and stares straight at me when he holds for laughs. Which is often.

Beauty College is tucked into a dingy storefront on a side street off this upstate New York town’s languishing business district. There’s a crack in the glass of the front door and someone has forgotten an umbrella in the corner. It’s a big room with mirrors and fake wood-paneled walls, linoleum floors and mannequin heads scattered about.

I fill out an “Interview” form that makes frequent references to The Professional Beauty Industry, as in “Why are you now interested in joining The Professional Beauty Industry?” and “Do you have any family members currently working in The Professional Beauty Industry?” It also notes that The Professional Beauty Industry has plenty of job openings despite the recession, and that the average salon employee can expect to make $18.01 per hour, once you factor in tips. Assuming a 35-hour week, that’s about $32,000 per year before taxes.

Beauty College charges $12,800 for it’s 1000-hour training program.

Sal gives my form a cursory glance and informs me that since I already have a bachelor’s degree, I won’t qualify for any financial aid grants, but he welcomes me to apply for a loan and embarks on a lengthy explanation of the various ways I can go $8,000 to $10,000 in debt for the foreseeable future if not the next ten years. It’s really all down to the government, he explains, because Beauty College is very willing to work with me, but the government has all these rules. “I don’t want to get political, of course.” I can even go ahead and get started with the next round of classes on September 14 – he doesn’t mind if I can’t write him a check until October. I say I need to talk the finances over with my husband and he nods sympathetically. “Bring him in, if you want. He might feel better if he checks the place out for himself.”

Then we talk about why Beauty College is a much better investment than what Sal likes to call “Traditional Education.” Traditional Education basically trains you for nothing, being the main difference. You write term papers and party and learn “philosophy” for four years, but then, what do you have to show for it? Does anyone say, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Virginia?” What jobs would an English major even qualify you to have? Sal knows what it’s like. He was a Phys Ed major himself.

Beauty College, on the other hand, gives you marketable skills that translate to specific jobs. They work with you every step of the way. They ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Virginia?” More to make a point than to listen to the answer — Sal doesn’t actually put me on the spot with that question, but moves right along to explain all the contacts they have with salons all over the tri-county area and, of course, in New York City, so they always know when someone is hiring.

Beauty College will keep in touch and make sure to continue to offer me plenty of other opportunities for advanced education, which is so important in The Professional Beauty Industry. After all, their program (the full cosmetology license training) takes 1000 hours. During that time, I’ll learn to cut, color, perm, straighten, and relax hair. I’ll learn to add weaves, extensions and braids. I’ll learn to paint nails, wax skin, and apply makeup.

“But the thing is,” Sal says, leaning forward and raising one blond eyebrow confidentially. “In 1000 hours you basically learn just enough to be dangerous.”

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