Tipping Point


Years as a salon Saturday girl taught Tory Frost that tipping the trainee can be mutually beneficial

I was 14 when I got my first ever job at my Aunty Peg’s hairdressing salon. It was a smart, neighbourhood place, frequented by a mix of older ladies in for their cloud-like perm and set, younger women who knew by word-of-mouth about the great cuts at brilliant prices and husbands sent with a note for a short back and sides.

I was the Saturday girl, hired to sweep the floors, wash hair, make cups of tea and rinse away eggy perm solution. All for £2.50 an hour.

I had to do some truly grim jobs for that £2.50, like shampooing a 20-a-day smoker who didn’t wash her hair between fortnightly visits. I pulled hair out of plugholes on the hour, emptied ashtrays (this was Teesside, in the 90s) and had to be civil to a horribly racist and ignorant regular, because I wasn’t brave or senior enough to tell her to do one.

But the four or five ladies who tipped me every visit used to absolutely make my weekend. That extra quid meant another drink at the pub on a Saturday night. It meant a CD single from Woolies a few hours later, or a new Boots Natural Collection tinted lip balm. It was mentally added to my fund for a mobile phone that I never actually managed to afford.

I don’t mind admitting that tippers always got extra special treatment from me – a longer head massage, better care taken to not to wash a tide-line into their foundation and more frequent offers of a fresh brew. They were always the older, kind and interesting ladies, often with the least amount of their pension to spare but by far the most manners and class, and I made sure they got their pound’s worth.

My salon life ended more than 20 years ago; I never had the desire, attention to detail or dexterity to be a stylist. This was just my way to get free lowlights when all my schoolmates were making do with hair mascara. But today, the hair and beauty trainees that do most of the dirty work are still paid pitiful wages.

The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is just £2.73, rising to £3.30 in October. Add to that working every weekend, getting dry and knackered hands from shampooing, hours bent over a sink and no promise of a job once you qualify, and trainees get a pretty bum deal.

I may not have been an apprentice, but I still learnt a lot in that salon. How to wash a woman’s hair without also washing off her eyebrows, to do an excellent bouncy blowdry and passable fringe trim and to always be polite, courteous and look busy at work.

But I also learnt that, even if you can’t afford to tip your stylist, always, always tip the person who washed your hair. That few quid, or whatever you can spare, might just buy you a longer massage and an extra biscuit with your tea. But it will definitely get them closer to an actual living wage, and a drink at the end of a very long day on their feet.



Image credit: Austin Kirk

Tory Frost

Tory is a freelance journalist who writes about most things for money and beauty for fun. Her favourite smells are Elnett and Oud.

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