Nevada hair stylist celebrates 40th year in business

Marlys Barker Nevada
Journal Editor
Vicki Tendall stands at the door of her home beauty shop, where she has been doing hair for most of the past 40 years. Tuesday was National Beauticians Day, a time to honor those who work in the profession. Photo by Marlys Barker

Editor’s Note: This is a more detailed version of a shorter story the Ames Tribune ran earlier this week.

A Nevada beautician said three iconic females and their hairstyles set the tone, over the past 50 years, for what others wanted when it came to hair.

First, there was Olympic ice skater Dorothy Hamill, whose wedge haircut, curled under at the edges, became the rage in 1976 when she won the gold. Then it was “Charlie’s Angels” actress Farrah Fawcett who set the stage for feathered, big hair in the ’80s. And finally, Vicki Tendall, 69, said, it was television’s “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston who made the straight, long hair (which was popular in the ’60s and ’70s) a thing that was “in” again.

Tendall knows the styles that people, especially younger gals, wanted over the years because she’s done all of them for clients during her nearly 50 years of cutting and styling hair. And if you loved something in hair at one time, Tendall is a strong believer that every 20 years or so the styles of yesteryear resurface.

A little-known holiday, called National Beautician’s Day, was celebrated on Tuesday of this week, and the Journal is featuring Tendall in honor of that holiday. To our knowledge, she is probably the longest-tenured current beautician in Nevada.

“Doreen (Gillespie) and Ruth (Soseman) were ahead of me,” Tendall said of two Nevada beauticians who’ve retired. “Now, I’m the queen of roller sets,” she said with a laugh, while working on taking out the rollers for a client as she talked. She still does about half a dozen of these a week.

2018 marks the 40th year that Tendall has been in business in Nevada, and next year will mark her 50th year of being a beautician.

The 1968 graduate of Nevada High School (celebrating with her classmates their 5oth reunion this past weekend), Tendall said she had two choices she considered for her career. She was either going to beauty school or going to go to college to become a home ec teacher. “Beauty school was quicker,” she said with a laugh. She also admits she didn’t like school all that well and going for four years of college didn’t really appeal to her. “And I really liked doing hair.”

She attended Bernell’s Hair Styling College on Fifth Street in Ames, and graduated from there in 1969. For the next 10 years, she worked in other shops in two other towns, Perry and Boone, before coming to Nevada. She first worked in Nevada for Dori Peterson in her shop next to Ben Franklin, and later opened a shop in her home, The Hairbender. She was in her home shop from 1978-1986, and then styled hair for a couple years across from the fire station in the little building that now houses Gypsy Alley. She returned back home in 1988 and has been back in her home shop for 30 years.

In her early days in Nevada, Tendall said, the cut that made her known in town was the Dorothy Hamill cut. “I had a lot of people, especially younger girls, come to me for that haircut. And I loved doing the younger girls, because I was young.”

That Dorothy Hamill cut, she said, “it changed everything. It had to be blown dry and you had to use a curling iron on the ends. Those were things we didn’t learn in beauty school. Quick hair stuff.”

She also, through the years, said one of the things she enjoyed most was “up-dos,” when girls would come to her to get ready for special events, especially prom. “Getting girls ready for prom was the highlight of the year to me,” she said.

Tendall was a great go-to person when it came to big events, because another thing she’s very good at is sewing. She can mend something or take a hem up an inch in a jiffy. And she very much enjoyed also being involved in a costume business for 25 years, where a lot of her hair styling and seamstress skills came into play.

One thing about the hair business, Tendall said, is that your customers often grow older with you, especially your “regular ladies,” as she calls the women who come to her weekly for a shampoo and set, usually at the end of the week. The older ladies are accustomed to this way of having their hair done. And to this day, Tendall, as well as her “regular ladies” believe strongly, “a wet set on rollers is the best way to make your hair stay.”

Tendall said as she’s aged, her clientele has aged, because younger clients generally choose younger stylists. And as women get older, they often want someone with more experience. “I had one lady call and ask one time if I knew how to do petal curls. I finally asked her, are you really wondering how old I am?” The lady admitted, yes. “But I was trying to be nice,” she said. Tendall still laughs about that. She knew what a petal curl was, of course. And she knew why the lady was probably asking.

In the olden days, beauty schools spent a good deal of time on the chemistry aspect of permanents and solutions for color that are used in the hair business. One lady sitting in Tendall’s shop as she was being interviewed, said she wants an older stylist, because she believes they have more schooling when it comes to using those chemicals, and what to do if something goes wrong.

Growing old with your clients, Tendall said, also means going on location for some of her regulars who can’t get to her shop any longer. As long as they live close by, she’s able to do that for a few. And, it means getting called to the funeral home to do hair quite frequently. Tendall said she actually got called to a funeral home pretty early in her career, so she’s been doing that awhile. She doesn’t mind the task. “It’s my last chance to say ‘good-bye,’ and it means so much to the family,” she said. She admits she often has to have a good hard cry while doing this, but it’s an important thing to be able to do.

Tendall has also learned over the years that being a longtime beautician in a community means wearing more than just a styling cap. She also a therapist, psychiatrist, seamstress and medical professional, as she’s had more than one child of a client playing at her house and needing a Band-Aid over the years. “There’s a lot of side things going on here,” she said.

Presently, Tendall is on what she calls “the five-year plan” when it comes to her future. A few years back, when she was 66, she cut her work days back to four days a week, dropping Saturdays. Within the next five years, whenever she gets her home sold, she will be moving to a smaller living space and closing her shop for good. It will give her some time to enjoy other things, and spend more time with her three kids and seven grandchildren.

She had a mentor when she worked in Boone. One of the hair stylists she knew there had worked just shy of her 92nd birthday. She’s still a mentor in Tendall’s mind, but Tendall doesn’t want to go that long. She’s enjoyed her time as a stylist, has enjoyed the career and how it allowed her to get to know so many people and visit with so many people. But she’s also ready to do other things.

Even when she’s no longer doing hair and no longer known as “The Hairbender,” Tendall will continue to live in Nevada. She’s enjoyed being part of her hometown all these years. “I grew up here. My heart’s here.”