The White Lie

November 2012

About 30 years ago, I decided to try a new barber. Forgive me; they were called hair stylists by then. As I recall, she was kind of a babe. I remember this because the story I’m about to tell you happened in one of those places where everyone was more beautiful and infinitely hipper than I could ever hope to be.

At the time, I was 29 and fully follicled. But there’s a kink in my genetic code. My mom’s hair was completely white by the time she reached her mid-30s. Perhaps sympathetically, my father’s hair, four years older, got chalky about the same time. I don’t remember either of them without hair the color of Rocky Mountain snow. Already I’d noticed a few stray grays of my own. 

“So,” I asked as my new stylist prepped me, “how gray is it up there?”

She spun me around, stalling while she thought of a diplomatic answer that wouldn’t risk her tip. Finally: “I think gray hair looks great on a man of 40.”

She stopped the spin so that my chair faced the mirror. We stared at ourselves for a moment.

“Um,” I said, “what about on a man of 29?”

She studied me again. Then, without hesitation, in soul-crushing words I remember to this day, she said: “Oh, if you were 29, I’d tell you to dye it.”

If we humans wear our hearts on our sleeves, then we wear our vanity on our heads. And that’s why we decided to plunge into the wide, wonderful world of Orange County’s hair scene. A few months ago, we asked style writer Erin Stafford to tour the salons of Orange County. Ask around, we said. Identify the most talented and trusted stylists, and ask them to tell us who they think are the best among their peers. Talk to local style leaders for their input. If you see someone with amazing hair, ask them who cuts and colors it.

This month we present a list of 30 stylists whose work we can reliably recommend. The list isn’t comprehensive; there no doubt are great stylists in many salons not mentioned here. But if you’re looking, we’re confident you’ll find a great match among the names we list.

Me? I’m still looking for someone who’s not afraid to look me in the eye … and lie.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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