She slips into Dee’s Golden Door at the same time each Monday morning. Slender and stylish, she’s north of 70, though by how much, one doesn’t ask. It’s not important; the reason she’s here has less to do with age than with an era—a time when the weekly hair appointment at a place like Dee’s was a commitment as ironclad as the resulting hairstyle. This morning, the ritual involves transforming a head of sparse, straight white hair into a corona of hibiscus-colored curls, the kind of five-layered, back-combed, hours-in-the-making style that is as far from do-it-yourself as one can get.
If one can get it at all. Which is why the woman, who calls everyone “honey” (and, because she’s asked that her name not be used, will here be known as “Honey”), is grateful that Janelle, her hairdresser of many years who’s now retired, comes to the salon on NE Fremont Street one morning a week just to do Honey’s hair.
“You can’t find people who can do this anymore,” Honey says, as Janelle meticulously sprays the curls and swoops them into place. “And she’s perfect at it.”
“When I married my husband 42 years ago, I asked, ‘Do you like seeing me in rollers?’ He said, ‘Not particularly.’ I said, ‘Good; I’ll get my hair done professionally.’?” —Sandra, retired first- and second-grade teacher
Honey is not alone in her loyalty to stylists who can still create the beehives and bouffants, the finger waves and barrel curls that make the pageboys and chignons of the Mad Men ladies look positively wash-and-go. The four women who work at Dee’s have been confecting these styles for more than a hundred years, collectively, for a clientele whose average age now hovers around 80.
“We’re a salon that does roller-sets; a lot of places don’t,” says Nancy Tilton, who started working at Dee’s in 1974, when she was 20, and bought the salon from the husband of its namesake, Doris “Dee” McDowell, 10 years later. Wearing Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and tennis shoes, her brown hair in a bowl-shaped bob, Nancy never stops moving, rarely stops talking, is always alert to who’s walking in, who might need a lift home, and who missed an appointment.