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FASHION : Shear Terror : You ask for 'just a trim'--you get a hatchet job. What's a hair owner to do?


I'm not going to name names here. Not because I think you deserve the anonymity, mind you, but because you already know who you are.

Certainly you remember me?

I was the high school student who came to you for a trim, and you hacked off eight inches.

I was the college student you thought would look good with golden highlights, and I ended up looking like an albino.

I was the conservatively dressed woman going after her first job, whose "gentle body wave" looked like a French poodle plugged into a wall socket.

I was the professional woman you said had a face for a short cut, whose hair ended up looking like Sinead O'Connor's on a bad day.

But I admit it--it was really all my fault. Mea culpa.

I told you what I wanted, but then I gripped the armrests in wide-eyed silence as you proceeded to ignore me. The one time I asked you if you were sure about what you were doing, I stupidly believed you when you said yes.

Even when-- voila! --you swiveled me around to have a look at your handiwork in that hand-held mirror, I smiled. I actually tipped you. How were you to know that I wouldn't want to leave my house for six months?

Granted, I'm not the first person who has experienced shear terror at the hands of a hairstylist. But the difference is, I took my agony like a man. I learned how to wrap turbans. I sang country-Western songs like "Don't It Make Your Brown Hair Pink?" I told people I liked the idea of wearing a wig.

I didn't do what some people around the county are doing.

They're going around hopping mad . They're pointing the finger of blame at the person who wielded the scissors. And they're taking their anger out of the salons and into the legal system.

"One woman said she'd had a bad permanent," said Darlene Gonzales, office manager of the Ventura County Bar Assn., which has received several inquiries about suing hairdressers. "She said they burned it bad and she had to wear a wig. We referred her to a lawyer."

Gonzales said she doesn't know how many lawsuits have been filed against salons in the county over botched cuts, disastrous perms and other hair-raising experiences. But several stylists said they don't consider lawsuits out of the realm of possibility.

"I know of one case that just happened," said Leslie Smith, owner of the Foxy Lady Beauty Salon in Ojai. "One of my friends was sued by a lady over a perm. . . . They settled out of court."

Smith doesn't think that clients should have a right to sue over hair. Hair, she says, grows back. It's not as if you're ruined for life. And besides, she argues, there really is no way of telling whose hair will react badly to a chemical and whose won't.

Michele Tindell, a hairdresser at Scamp's in Thousand Oaks, agrees. Even though the threat of a lawsuit is real enough to prompt her and many other stylists to carry malpractice insurance, Tindell says damaged hair is often the fault of negligent clients.

"Normally it is because they have something on their hair (such as a lightener) that they haven't disclosed to the hairdresser," Tindell said. "Often, it is because of a communications breakdown."

This seemed like a logical explanation in the case of a New Jersey woman who filed charges against her New York stylist, claiming assault and battery--and she is seeking $75,000 in damages. According to an article in the March issue of Glamour magazine, the woman says she asked for a trim and a foot of hair got chopped off; he claims that she knew how much he was going to cut and told him that she loved it.

I could imagine how this terrible misunderstanding must have started: She says something like, "I just want you to take of the dead ends," and he, aware that all hair is composed of dead tissue, naturally assumes that she wants him to cut it all off.

But this kind of thing could happen to anybody. Is it really something we should put into the already overburdened court system?

I have what I think is a better solution. In the spirit of improved communications, salons should change their names to reflect their level of expertise. This would work much like the motion picture rating code, or a stock that is judged to be low- or high-risk.

If shops had names like Mr. Vincent's House of Interns, Simi Valley Chop and Shock or Ventura Curl Up and Dye, patrons would have a much better idea what to expect.

And if they still chose to go inside, they'd have no one but themselves to blame.


Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion; if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.

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