What it’s like to get your hair cut at a feminist salon


Barbara Blum

Relaxation, straightening, progressive. The wording that refers to the idea of ​​taming your hair is not part of the vocabulary of hairdresser Milagros Olmos. In fact, it would be better to say hairdresser, since Milly, as she likes to be called, is Argentine.

She runs Espacio Secreto, a feminist beauty salon in Jardins, São Paulo. Previously a clandestine bingo hall, the small two-story house renovated by her and her boyfriend now houses shelves of natural products — all vegan —, posters in favor of abortion rights, paintings with the anatomy of the vagina and flags with the words “fire in the patriarchy “. The employees are all women.

The Espacio Secreto salon, by Milagros Olmos – Karime Xavier/Folhapress

“We work with real hair for real people. We don’t do straightening or progressive hair. We help the client deal with their natural hair and no one is going to force you to color something white,” says Milly, sprinkling in a few words in Spanish.

There are no windows for passersby on Alameda Franca to see the cuts made by the hairdressers, nor stacks of old gossip magazines with dated horoscopes — although astrology and birth charts are common conversations there.

The salon even has an educational feel, both due to its feminist vein, which even welcomes children with a space full of books and toys, and due to its patience in teaching clients about how natural locks work.

A hairdresser since she was 18, when her mother-in-law paid for a course for her, Milly is quick to diagnose the particularities of hair. During the report’s visit, she immediately noticed the difference in texture between the top of the reporter’s hair, which was curly, and the base, which was straight, and asked if the preference was to highlight the curls or to reduce the overall volume.

It’s really different from regular hairdressers, who treat lack of uniformity, swirls and volume as a problem to be solved and not something that can be incorporated into the style.

It is not uncommon to find professionals who see gray hair as a problem or who say that certain cuts are not suitable for round faces. Bangs, then, are a separate controversy, considered prohibited for curly women and older women.

But, for Milly, frizz and gray make up the look — and, she says, this is part of a larger movement of women freeing themselves from oppressive hair patterns.

It was from a liberation that the salon was born, says the hairdresser. She was in a, in her words, toxic relationship with a former partner. With two young children to look after and her self-esteem shattered, she decided to drop out of society and relationships. “Staying at home crying was not an option,” she says, and thus Espacio Secreto was born.

Detail of the decoration of the feminist salon Espacio Secreto – Karime Xavier/Folhapress

Milly’s feminism is not just decorative. After some time cutting old clients’ locks at home, she noticed that the cozy environment appealed to them. “It was a space where you didn’t need to be tidy,” she says.

She states that there is a certain culture of setting up in salons — including these modern ones, where people come out with multicolored curls and combat boots that cost rent.

“I worked in big famous salons where you needed to look put together, alternative, stylish. What if you don’t want to? What if your hair has grown and you need to cut it?”, she says. It clicked that his next venture needed to embrace the idea of ​​informality and welcoming. In Milly’s words, “a salon for those who don’t like salons”.

The hairdresser arranged the chairs close to each other, despite the large space, to ensure a cozy environment. She says it works, and that clients talk to each other and make friends.

An old salon habit is preserved there, despite the revolutionary tone with which Milly paints the enterprise: gossip. “I find out about things before my husbands, I find out about pregnancies before my family,” she says. “But the salon gossip stays in the salon.”

She believes that this openness to conversation appears even in the cuts.

Milly remembers a story about two clients, a couple, who went together to touch up their haircuts. They were going through a difficult artificial insemination process and one of them, when the cut was finished, screamed. Excited, she said she found her own image again. Milly says that, years later, the client still has the cut from that occasion and that his wife sent messages thanking the hairdresser for her work, which even improved the couple’s romantic life.

“A person doesn’t come here and ask for a shoulder-length cut,” he says. “She says that she is depressed, in the postpartum period and needs practicality because she can’t take care of her hair.” It’s up to Milly to translate their needs into a style that makes sense for each person.

The price, however, may scare off those unaccustomed to fashionable salons. Milly charges R$250 for the first cut. And it’s the price, she says, not the feminist attire, that puts men off. “They don’t accept paying that much.”

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Source: Folha

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