June 2017        

A dedicated follower of fashion

Michael Healy

The year 1967 was a time of upheaval and change in conservative society, attitudes, and fashion, and a confident young working class reflected this change.
     It was a period of buoyant demand for youth labour, some of whom decided to pursue careers as apprentices in the hairdressing trade. Government inspectors monitored the conditions, training and wages of the apprentices. (Such inspections are now a thing of the past.)
     Michael began a three-year apprenticeship at Raymond’s Hairdressing Salon, 24 London Road, Southampton, in June 1967. The proprietor, Raymond Bessone, known as “Teasie-Weasie” Raymond or “Mr Teasie-Weasie,” born of poor immigrant parents, cultivated a French accent and came to be regarded as the first celebrity hairdresser.
     Raymond trained Vidal Sassoon, who later created the straight geometrical cut. A young Sassoon, together with left-wing and Jewish organisations, broke up meetings of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in London; the Daily Telegraph called Sassoon an “anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser.”
     The Raymond salon was fitted with regency chairs, gilt mirrors, and chandeliers, and works of art adorned the walls—the height of luxury in 1967. Receptionists greeted customers at the front desk, cutting and setting and the new-fangled back-wash basins were on the ground floor, and upstairs were colour, perming, and beauty. The female apprentices wore a pink uniform with pink mod-style shoes; male apprentices looked more like waiters, dressed in black with a bow tie. Staff members were called Miss and Mr, and music was not played in the salon. This reflected traditional conservative values at a time of social change.
     Social movements also helped shape the concept of fashion. In 1970, the year Michael qualified, he found employment in a unisex hair salon that brought in the era of the cut and blow-dry. He now had the choice not to wear a suit or uniform, and could listen to the music of such artists as Rod Stewart, Bowie, and Neil Young. With a small number of unisex salons in cities and towns, this offered the opportunity to earn a good salary.
     In a sad turn of events, the industry is now under attack, with training courses that take a few months or less, and a few weeks to churn out a hairstylist. With a hairdresser’s salon on every street corner, it must be difficult for a young worker to negotiate a decent wage, fifty years after Michael entered the trade that once offered working-class youth an optimistic future.

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