Dominican hair salons offer some great opportunities for observation.
Apart from the equipment, they have nothing in common with their British counterparts. No bored teenage trainees mumbling their pre-programmed “been anywhere nice on holiday” or “done your Christmas shopping yet” questions.
In Dominican salons you get a gaggle of loud, feisty banter between stylists and clients, about a range of subjects, from the personal to the political, to showbiz and sex. As a foreigner, I’m not always expected to join in, and somehow I’m relieved, because I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to meet the pace or volume of these exchanges.
Another difference is the prices. A good salon in London will charge at least £100 for a cut and style. Here you can have that done for under RD$1,000, and that’s in the really good places. There are hundreds of mid-level places where they’ll wash and dry your hair for about RD$200, and cut and dry for not much more.
I’ve got good, strong hair. Not ‘pelo bueno’ in the Dominican sense because it’s not straight, but thick and curly with a tendency to frizz, especially when the weather is humid. When it was long, Dominican stylists would urge me to have it dried straight, even though the effect is very temporary in a humid climate. Also, the temperatures they use on those hairdriers have to be felt to be believed. Sometimes my hair would smell scorched for days, even after washing.
Long hair in this climate, like the practice of wearing skin-tight jeans and artificial fibres, is an enormous challenge to the balance one tries to maintain between style and comfort. In the end I couldn’t hack it. Wearing my hair loose was like torture, and what’s the point of having long hair if it’s going to be tied up all the time?
For the same reasons that I only ever wear loose clothing and natural fibres, I went for the short cut. The downside is that short curly hair looks horrible, so I have to keep it very short, and a good cut by someone who is used to non-Afro hair is essential.