Confiding women: Hairstylists say clients often talk about lives

Jana Sutton visits her hairstylist for more than the feathers and other accents she enjoys having in her hair.

Wade Spees // The Post and Courier

Lisa Hutto tries to make sure her clients leave Piccolo Hair Salon feeling as great as they look.

Every Friday for nearly two decades, Jana Sutton has been treated to the magic that Marvalene Hinton serves up at Hair Jazz. She's thrilled with the job that Hinton, one of Summerville's most respected stylists, does.

But her reasons for continuing to patronize Hinton go beyond the excitement of having rooster feathers expertly added to her hair.

"It's like going to a psychiatrist or a psychologist," Sutton says. "You get all of your problems worked out. She's just a nice and easy person to talk to, and she keeps what I tell her to herself.

"I have told her some things that I have never told anyone else," Sutton says. "I could tell her almost anything. She would not look at me any differently. She does not judge."

The relationship Sutton and Hinton have mirrors those of many women and their hairstylists. Salon visits provide clients with opportunities to talk about dilemmas, accomplishments or simply to vent.

Samiyah's Hairstyling Salon

At Samiyah's on Savannah Highway, women sit in Nivi Grimball's chair and share feelings about launching careers, choosing husbands, raising families and managing their health. While doing so, they sometimes create sagas stretching over many years.

Grimball has styled some clients' hair for their wedding days, heard the details paving the road to separation, and helped them to design a new look once they are single again. She's followed their children's lives and those of their parents. In the process, they develop a deep relationship even though Grimball might talk very little during appointments.

"You never want to push them beyond their comfort level," says Grimball, who has been a stylist for 16 years. Many just want someone to listen.

Grimball looks forward to her client's visits and catching up on their lives, whether it's a job interview, a big party or the results of a second mammogram.

"Perhaps they are trying to have a baby and you want to know how the fertility treatments are going," she says. Knowing a client's body language tells the stylist whether to ask the client for an update or allow her to speak when ready, she says.

Grimball tries to treat each client the same, but occasionally one will have a proclivity for exaggerating problems. She cautions those against becoming a drama queen.

But even the best stylist can do only so much to help with a client's mental and emotional well-being.

"When I say my prayers, I always pray for my clients' well-being, whatever is going on in their lives," Grimball says.

Piccolo Hair Salon

A new client recently walked into Lisa Hutto's shop, Piccolo Hair Salon on St. Andrews Boulevard. The woman's body language said she had something more than a hairstyle on her mind. Hutto paid close attention as the client started asking her questions about marriage and family.

"There must be some reason, something she can't wait to get out," Hutto, a hair designer for 34 years, told herself.

In barely 10 minutes, the new client, who had recently moved to Charleston, began providing Hutto with the details of her impending divorce and generally stress-filled life.

"The relationship between a stylist and her client is very intimate and can start as soon as she sits in the chair," Hutto says. "I have been privy to everything from their sex lives to the crazy, goofball things their kids are into. You get so close to people.

"They don't necessarily want a solution. They want to reveal things in a safe place. There isn't anything that is off limits. It's sort of like Al-Anon. It's a place where they can shed that old hairdo. It's a place where they can shed that old problem."

These days, part of the reason is that people are starving for dialogue. When what they are saying warrants a response, Hutto finds it is important to give one. Everybody needs cheerleading sometime. Many people who visit her salon go as much for the boost they get.

Hutto sometimes finds it necessary to think before responding to what a client says. She's found that when it comes to things such as affairs and other types of betrayal. There is a fine line between a professional and personal relationship that should not be crossed. Still, she strives to give the client what they need, including holding hands and saying prayers.

"They are part of my extended family," she says.

Angie's Hair Studio

North Charleston salon owner and stylist Angie Ravenel tries to keep things motivational in her place.

"Many women have a lot of stress on the job," says Ravenel, a hairstylist for 20 years. "They may not be happy with their position or want to be appreciated more. When it's not such a good day, I try to give them a pat on the back."

She says she can tell when a client needs a good listener and when it's time to help a client develop a solution to her problems. If Ravenel feels the client is having the same problem over and over, she might suggest counseling.

"You do get those people who feel like they want to have problems. I don't have a lot of drama clients, but when someone gets carried away, I might say TMI (too much information). Most of my clients respect what I say."