Beauty-school Drop-in

Welcome to September, that superheated and interminable transition between summer and … late summer. While many students are preparing for college life in San Antonio, others are called to a less-traveled path, via which they will train to be the professional aestheticians in our lives. Jokes about beauty-school dropouts aside, the business takes itself, and your appearance, very seriously.

Cosmetology is stringently regulated by the state in ways that make a traditional college student grateful for the ability to sleep through a class once and a while without too many repercussions. Each day is long in cosmetology school, usually eight to 10 hours, and students are required to account for their time. Per state regulations, students must clock 1500 hours of classroom instruction and practical experience — they keep a time card and get only a 30-minute lunch daily. Students who miss too many hours are dismissed.

“We treat `the student` as an employee and not as a student,” says Mariana Gaona of the Aveda Institute’s admissions department. If a student doesn’t clock in or out when they are supposed to, they can incur a $5,000 fine.

The devil is in the details at beauty schools: Each student must perform 100 manicures during his or her course of study and the student-to-instructor ratio cannot exceed 25-to-1. Cosmetology students study not only hair, but nails, makeup, and basic skin care as well. The first six weeks are spent entirely in the classroom, and budding stylists must learn the six basic cuts on mannequins before they go out on the floor to tousle the hair of actual clients.

“By combining those six, you can create anything,” says Flor Molina, an Aveda instructor. To her, “up-dos” seem most difficult for students. “They require a lot of creativity; most students don’t even want to try them.”

Beauty is a harsh mistress, and her lessons go beyond color theory and thermal styling into subjects one might find suited for medical school: Chemistry, anatomy, and physiology are important, and subjects such as bacteriology, infection control, and the nervous system are taught in all cosmetology tracks. Stylists need to recognize when a client comes in with a skin disease, for instance, whether or not it’s contagious, and how to handle it.

For Keith Taylor, co-owner of Shag the Salon and a beauty-school student at the Milan Institute of Cosmetology in San Antonio, communication skills are key in a successful stylist. “The biggest failure in the industry is the failure to ask the client what exactly they want and to understand it,” he says. “Being able to do a good consultation and then have good conversation while you’re doing the hair is what makes a good salon.” He said that even a mediocre hairstylist can develop a following if he or she is personable.

“Part of the training is that when you teach `students` to hold the shears, you teach them to talk to the client,” says Gaona. “The students tell them exactly what they’re doing.”

Once a student has finished styling a (brave) customer, an instructor must check the work and sign off on a job (hopefully) well done. “It’s nerve-wracking when you work on a client for the first time,” said Aaron Burroughs, an Aveda student. “Everyone who does this is very concerned about how the person will look, and is devastated if they mess up someone’s hair. This is an art form, not just something you fall into.”

The students would like you to take note: Perms are out. Beauty schools still teach them and students must perm at least one live head during their training, but it is a dreaded procedure, time-consuming and difficult. Cosmetology students are trying to learn creativity, too, so the next time you stop by one of the city’s many schools for a cheap hairdo, let them tell you about all of the new styles they’ve been learning and need to practice.

Most of Aveda’s students are fresh out of high school, although the institute’s next class includes a woman with a master’s degree in international business. The state requires only a seventh-grade education to enroll in beauty school, but most institutes want to see a high-school diploma or a GED. Training lasts from six months to a year and usually costs between $10,000 and $16,000.

San Antonio has 10 beauty colleges to choose from, the youngest of which is the Aveda Institute, open since April 2005. Taylor said that some beauty schools have a reputation for being rundown and suggests that prospective students visit the places they are interested in before applying. “Look for a varied clientele,” he said. “You don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing over and over on blue hairs.”
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