PITTSFIELD — People who have a need to help others often gravitate toward careers in medicine or the social services. Nicole “Nikki” Dimitropolis started out in that direction, but decided to become a hairstylist instead.
Hairstyling is her way of helping people. The Windsor resident has been plying her trade at The Clip Shop Grand Salon & Day Spa in Pittsfield for 20 years.
In a recent interview, Dimitropolis told us why she became a hairstylist, what she gets out of the profession, and how the job is done.
QWhy did you want to be a hairstylist?
AIt was by accident, actually. I was in nursing school. I was approached by one of my girlfriends who I worked with at Guido’s [Fresh Marketplace] and she said, ‘’Hey, let’s go to hair school,” because I didn’t really want to be a nurse. I had always wanted to be a nurse since I was a little girl, but when I got to the clinicals I decided that it wasn’t for me. So we went and shadowed the program at [Pittsfield High School]. I loved it and the rest is history.
QSo you were actually in nursing school when you changed your mind?
AYes. I went through my clinical program, which was Year Three. I wanted to be a dermatologist nurse practitioner, so it would have been seven years. I was halfway through. I started out at UMass Amherst then my dad passed away, so I went to BCC because I had to come home and take care of my mom.
QSo you were already in college and then you had to go back to high school; what was that like?
ABeing a post-graduate has its challenges because you’re going to school with high schoolers again. So, that’s an interesting experience. You kind of have to go backward a little bit. But our teacher was really supportive and he allowed us to have a little different schedule than them.
But it was eye-opening because a lot of those kids were really determined to become hairstylists at such a young age. I wish I knew that when I was in high school because I would have done the program then.
QHow do you become licensed?
AThere is a 1,000-hour training program that you have to go to. They call it a state board licensure. So, basically, you go to school for that, get your 1,000 hours and then you’re able to take your license. You have so many hours perming, so many hours haircutting, so many hours [doing] facials or nails. Once you get all that you can take the test and go work somewhere.
QHave you ever regretted giving up nursing for hairstyling?
ANever. Nope. I just love helping people, and I like the environment that I work with. There’s so many different avenues in hairstyling. I could be a manager. I could be an esthetician. I could be a nail technician. I don’t have to just do hair if I don’t want to. In nursing, I was kind of stuck being a nurse.
QWhere does this urge to help people come from?
AI think it was because my dad had cancer my whole entire life growing up, so that’s why I wanted to be a nurse.
QWhat’s the best part of your job?
AI love doing hair. It’s my passion. I love doing hair transformations and color corrections. I love to have somebody come in who, say, has box dyed their hair one color and then completely transform them, like from black to blonde, so that people can see the before and after. It’s amazing.
QIs it pretty complicated at first?
AIt’s really complicated. It’s takes a lot of education. It takes a lot of trial and error and you don’t always get it on the first try.
QThen how do you learn how to do it correctly while making mistakes?
AI’m really lucky. The reason I started working at the Clip Shop is because they have that assistant training program. We get models and we can do our friends’ and our families’ hair and try and practice on them and learn trial and error and what’s going on before we take on a paying client. And we do have an educator there. We actually have people to help us and to formulate our colors because that’s the hard part.
QDo you have to mix the colors themselves? I’ve been to the Clip Shop and I noticed that it has a sink in the back that looks like a chemistry lab.
AIt does look like a chemistry lab. We absolutely mix all our colors. They’re all custom. In school you begin to learn about hair colors. It’s called a color wheel.
It’s interesting because you go to a grocery store and you can buy these box colors that are God knows what chemicals, and they have these little instructions on them. They say light brown to dark brown, put it on and it will come out with color. But really that never happens. That’s why you have us.
QSo how do you mix colors together?
AIt depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It’s different for everybody. Now, I could put the same color on me and you but it would come out completely different. It’s all about the final result.
QSo you’re saying you tailor your colors to the customer?
AYes. It’s all custom for each individual client and what they want. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
QWhat’s the hardest part of your job?
AI would say when you have to navigate through people. You get people who are in different states. You get people who are very happy when you help them but you also get very sad clients who may be going though cancer and have to wear wigs. That’s the tough part.
You have to really try and be strong for them and try and navigate. We actually took a class at Moments House on how to fit wigs, [how to work with] people that have abrasions from chemotherapy, how to give them products to help their scalp. I actually lost a very dear client a few years ago. I’m still not over it. It was very heartbreaking.
QWhat’s the hardest hairstyle to master?
AI would probably say the perm. It wasn’t my generation. When I came into hairstyling it wasn’t really in style. So they pushed perms on us. They endlessly had us do these mannequin head perms in class. It was so painstaking and it takes forever because the chemical smell gets to you. And it’s meticulous. You have to get every little hair on every single rod. It’s a very tedious procedure.
QWhat’s the easiest?
AI love foiling. I could foil and balayage (paint highlights) all day long. I like to do it because it’s different on everybody.
QYou always hear that barbers are like bartenders because their clients tell them everything. Is it the same for hairstylists?
AAbsolutely. You hear the ups and downs and the bads and the uglies. You kind of go through people’s lives with them and form relationships with people that follow you throughout your whole life. I mean, when you start, maybe they’re in high school and you go through their weddings, their marriages, sometimes their second marriages, the loss of a parent. You kind of experience life with them and through them. And I think that’s the best client. They’re the most loyal ones, too.
QWhat advice would you give to someone who wanted to be a hairstylist?
AI would say you have to be determined. You have to really want it because it’s a lot. It’s an ever-changing career. You have to constantly evolve in this industry or you’re going to be left behind. It can’t be for the person who just wants to learn one thing and be done.