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Collection Occupational Folklife Project

Hairdresser and Beauty Shop Culture in America

In 2012, documentarian Candacy Taylor received an Archie Green Fellowship to document hairdresser and beauty shop culture across America. The resulting 16 in-depth interviews were conducted at various types of hair-related establishments, from upscale New York City salons to home beauty parlors in Philadelphia and West Virginia, and suburban and small town shops in Washington, D.C., Boston, and California. The collector focused on shops that served particular communities and/or immigrant populations, including Asian Americans, Dominican and other Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Indian Americans, and Anglo-Americans as well as a Jewish American wigmaker in Brooklyn, New York, who made wigs primarily for the Hasidic community.

Supplemented by exquisite documentary photographs, Taylor's humanities-based ethnographic research explored the role of beauty shops as a nexus of community interactions and community discourse, especially as a site for conversations about gender and race. Her fieldwork combined oral history, qualitative field research, and critical race and class theory to examine a group of workers that previously had been largely overlooked.  In addition, she documented the physical challenges of the occupation. "Ironically, a job that has been relegated to 'women's work and pink-collar labor,'" Taylor wrote in her Fellowship proposal, "can be as dangerous as other physically challenging and male-dominated labor occupations."

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