On the Job: Qualities you need to make the cut as a hairdresser

By Edmund Ho

For the second in our ‘On the Job’ series, we sent Edmund Ho to try his hand at hairdressing. Will he be able to cut it?

By Edmund Ho |

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Edmund Ho went to a hair salon to find out if he was a cut above the rest.

I have never been a fan of the hairdressers; when I was younger, my mother had to wait for me to take a nap before carrying me to have my hair cut. I’ve never watched Edward Scissorhands – because scissors. When I was told I was to shadow a hairdresser, I was not thrilled. But at least I wasn’t a personal trainer for a day.

I was sent to work in Elite Hair Group Hair Value, which is a hair salon in Mong Kok. It’s run by Rick Chow, who has been cutting hair for more than 10 years. He started out as an apprentice and is now a full-fledged hair stylist. The salon was empty when I arrived, but it is bustling during peak hours, packed with patrons ready to have their hair washed, cut, and styled.

Rick started me on the task of washing hair. Already, I felt like this was hard. Washing someone else’s hair feels a lot like brushing someone else’s teeth, because you’re so used to only doing it for yourself.

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Of course, I wasn’t allowed to do this on an actual human; we used a dummy’s head for my training. It worked out well because I repeatedly got shampoo, water, and conditioner in my “client’s” eyes, which probably wouldn’t have been received well by a real person.

“The key is to think about how you want your hair to be washed, whether you would think the water is too hot, or the shampoo too foamy. You should treat the client’s hair with that same care,” said Rick. After the seemingly endless task of washing the hair of the “client” with shampoo and conditioner, the next task was to cut it, which I began with some hesitation.

As I cut, Rick asked me whether I am afraid of seeing my own blood, which wasn’t very reassuring. The usual technique, as he demonstrated, is to run a comb through the hair, grasp the hair tightly between your index and middle fingers of the left hand, and then cut along the line.

Edmund learns that the first cut starts from the inner layer of the hair.
Photo: Alejo Rodriguez Lo/SCMP

“It is important to hold the hair firmly, otherwise you won’t get a straight line. You might end up giving the hair a jagged edge,” he told me.

This first cut starts from the inner layer of your hair, and becomes the “guideline”, which you follow for each successive layer of hair for maximum evenness. Rick’s dry prediction that I would cut myself (thankfully) did not come to pass, though I did still have a lot of trouble successfully holding both a pair of scissors and a comb in one hand.

After about 20 minutes of repeatedly cutting the poor dummy’s hair, Rick joked that maybe I would be better off shadowing the salon’s receptionist instead.

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In the end, I managed to hack off about three to four inches of the mannequin’s hair in roughly an even line. It was then time to blow-dry the client’s hair. Rick told me that hairdressers try to keep the hair out of the client’s face, but this proved easier said than done. The hair kept flying into the eyes of the dummy. Every time it happened, Rick (jokingly?) said that would be a firing offence.

To make up for my poor performance, Rick made me sweep up all the hair on the floor – an integral part of being a “junior” (or a trainee) at any hair salon, to keep the salon clean and tidy-looking for the next client.

Though my hands smelled like shampoo and conditioner for the next two days, and my pride was cut to shreds by Rick’s harsh but honest feedback, my day’s work at the salon helped me get a more thorough understanding of the grit and precision it takes to be a hairdresser.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda