- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

Angelique Clark of Wheaton was a nervous wreck the first time she cut a client's hair in the clinic of Montgomery Beauty School in Silver Spring, but the cut turned out fine, and her jitters disappeared by the time she met her second customer.
Mrs. Clark, 33, has dreamed of becoming a hairdresser since childhood, when she would spend hours in front of the mirror styling her hair. For practical reasons, though, she became a certified accountant and resigned herself to cutting friends' hair in her kitchen. She graduates from beauty school in May.
"When you create a style, it's coming from the heart," she says. "You have different people with different shaped faces…. You have to use your creative mind to make something that they will like and that you will be proud of."
Cosmetology school graduates may expect to find a job without too much trouble. According to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences in Alexandria, about 6.3 job openings exist nationwide for every beauty school graduate.
Tony Fragomeni, director and owner of Northwestern Westchester School of Hairdressing and Cosmetology in Peekskill, N.Y., says the abundance of jobs in the industry is because of a misunderstanding about the field. He says most people assume that hairdressers make a low income. However, he says, many of his graduates make six-figure incomes as stylists in New York City. The income of graduates varies widely, though, depending on their expertise and their client base.
He also disapproves of the stereotypes that men in cosmetology are homosexuals and women in the field are airheads.
"It's a prestige problem with the profession," he says. "Sitting around the dinner table, if you said you wanted to be a hairdresser, your parents would say, 'You're better than that.'"
Cosmetology is not a default vocation, Mr. Fragomeni says. On the contrary, people choose to enter the field with enthusiasm. It is one of the largest fields in the service industry, and a typical hairdresser may have 300 regular clients. Cosmetologists also frequently are employed to assist actors in movies, television and stage plays.
"Hairdressing is one of the arts that allows you to maintain a youthful look," he says. "The beautiful thing about our business is everybody ages."
Beauty schools educate students on topics such as haircutting, hair coloring, "perming" hair, straightening hair, skin care, manicures, pedicures and makeup. Aside from the hands-on skills, students also learn about the science of hair, business skills and client relations.
The courses serve as preparation for state examinations, which certify applicants with professional licenses. In the District, Virginia and Maryland, students must have 1,500 hours of cosmetology instruction before they can apply to take the written and practical tests for their certification. A full-time student would graduate in about 11 months, a part-time student in about 18 months.
Before students begin to practice their skills on customers who brave beauty school sessions, they first learn on mannequins. All the basic techniques are demonstrated by instructors on the plastic models, says Patricia McDougal, director of education at Montgomery Beauty School.
Mrs. McDougal, for example, teaches the proper technique for using a curling iron, how to hold shears and how to position a wig all on a mannequin. She also uses mannequins to teach haircutting in the four standard ways: in layers and long layers, a blunt cut and an angled cut. In addition, she shows how to change or adjust hair pigment with permanent or semipermanent color, which involves reviewing the procedures for first-time applications of color, retouches and highlights.
After about 350 hours, or three months', of working on plastic models, students begin working with clients in the school's clinic. Because the students are novices, the school's salon offers reduced prices.
For instance, it may cost $8 for a haircut and as little as $20 for hair coloring. A professional hairdresser might charge more than $50 for a haircut or more than $100 for hair coloring.
"It's a trade they will have with them for the rest of their life," Mrs. McDougal says of her students. "Everyone wants to look beautiful. That's the trade you provide."
Occasionally, a student haircut goes awry. When it does, a teacher will step in and salvage the remains.
Dee Gamble, senior instructor at Graham Webb International Academy of Hair in Arlington, says she has rescued clients and students from their $16 haircuts from time to time. However, the school has a 99.7 percent pass rate on the state certification exams.
"Clients know it's a school and mistakes happen," Miss Gamble says. "For the most part, they roll with it. We go back through the haircut and redo it."
In some instances, when students have tried to color a customer's hair price: $38 it has turned green or orange instead of the desired hue. For this, Miss Gamble teaches corrective procedures.
"I would just explain to the client that it is going to take a little bit longer getting to the goal than they originally thought," Miss Gamble says. "We have high-quality students here, so they don't do such a bad job that I can't fix it."
Avoiding mistakes takes lots of practice. Andrea Adams, 21, of Columbia, Md., a student at Graham Webb, says her mother is her favorite guinea pig. Almost a third of the students at the school have four-year college degrees, and 35 percent of the students turned to cosmetology as their second career.
"It's a lot harder than you think," Miss Adams says. "It's not something that you can do just because you think it's easy. You really have to work hard to do it."
Apart from the hands-on training, students are required to study trichology, which is the scientific study of hair. To understand how hair grows, they also need to have knowledge of the body's circulatory system, the nervous system, and the skeletal system.
Making sure the instruments, such as shears and combs, are sanitized and disinfected from one client to the next also is important.
Learning from books is usually the most challenging aspect of cosmetology school, Mrs. McDougal says.
When students start taking courses, Mrs. McDougal says, they usually don't realize how much information they will have to absorb.
Even if students apply good techniques with customers, the hairstyles they create won't be as effective without the additional book knowledge.
"We are hair doctors," she says.
Although most hairdressers are women, it is no longer taboo for men to pursue a career in the field.
Anthony Aiello, 37, a student at Northern Westchester, says he doesn't worry about any gender issues.
He focuses on developing his talent, not being the minority of the group.
The school's 1,000-hour course of study costs about $9,000. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
"I'm one of two guys out of about 40 or 50 females," he says. "At times, it's kind of awkward, but it doesn't bother me. … Sometimes, the customers who come in actually ask for a guy."

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