Hair stylist Mandy Goldman remembers riding up an escalator in a mall a few years ago when she caught sight of an elderly woman ahead of her with an unusual hairstyle. It was a retro “old lady ’do’’ Goldman said, as though the woman had just stepped out of a 1940s hair salon.
“I knew my nana totally did that hair,’’’ Goldman said. She was right.
Her nana is 90-year-old Frances Crisafulli, proprieter of Franny’s Beauty Shoppe in Natick, established in 1946, where nothing has ever changed and nothing ever will. Not Crisafulli’s signature waves and updos. Not her bobby pins, hair rollers, or clunky vintage domed hair dryers. Not her sparkly gold vinyl cutting chair, patched all over with duct tape. Not even her clients, the handful of them who are still alive.
Though 65 years have slipped by since she opened the one-room beauty parlor in her house, Crisafulli remains as committed as ever to not keeping up with the times.
She stays abreast of current hair fashions but always ignores them. She owns a handheld blow dryer but refuses to use it. Her prices are the same as they were 65 years ago - about $10 for an average haircut. And she says she will never retire because she doesn’t believe in it.
“I do what I want and my customers don’t care,’’ said Crisafulli, after completing an 8 a.m. wash-curl-set for 94-year-old Mary Latour, who has been coming here for 55 years.
Goldman, 32, spent much of her childhood visiting the shop, sitting in the corner on a trash barrel that, of course, is still there. “Her typical day would be: Wash the client’s hair, put rollers in, go under the dryer,’’ Goldman said. “Then another one: Wash, roller set. Comb out the other one. She’d do it all day. She never changed their hair.’’
Goldman is a stylist at Salon Capri in Newton, a sleek salon at the vanguard of Boston-area hairstyling where haircuts can cost as much as $125 and custom-color hair treatments $200. The cutting chairs are black leather and chrome; the stylists dress in black, wield flat irons, and refer to styling gels as “product.’’
“Her [shop] is modern. Mine’s old-fashioned,’’ said Crisafulli, wearing a crisp white uniform fastened primly at the neck with a brooch; her own coiffure is a fluffy orangey-blond. She often tells her granddaughter she does “too much’’ with hair, such as layering and texturing. “Compared to Mandy’s place, mine is just a little room.’’
A very little room, barely big enough for two people. It’s dominated by the cutting chair and Crisafulli’s “booth’’ - the vintage sink and counter fixture she bought for $50 from Orchid Beauty Shop in Framingham where she worked in the early 1940s.
A small door marked “Antiseptic Sterilization’’ hides a cubbyhole where she keeps her supplies. These include a long black comb, a pair of scissors, brush rollers minus the brushes because her customers say they hurt, a can of hair spray and a bottle of wave lotion “to keep the curls in.’’ You will not find fashion or celebrity magazines in Franny’s shop. Her offerings are National Enquirer and the St. Patrick Parish newsletter.
Crisafulli became a hairdresser by default. She wanted to be a nurse, but “we didn’t have money for that,’’ she said, “so my father agreed I could go to hairdressing school.’’
She was a hairdresser in Framingham for three years and was married in 1943. Her husband was stationed overseas in the Navy, and after the war they bought the house in Natick, where they raised four kids. In 1946 she opened the shop in her house so she could keep an eye on them, but was so swamped with customers she recruited them to baby-sit before and after their appointments.
Some days she was so busy that all four hair dryers would be going, two in the shop and two in the hallway. She’d start working at 7 a.m. if a customer needed her and sometimes keep going till 9 at night.
“I enjoyed it,’’ she said. “They told me all about their families. I kept secrets.’’
What kind of secrets?
“I’m not going to tell you,’’ she said.
Her daughter Joy Leone, sitting across from her, tried to pry it out of her.
“Affairs,’’ Crisafulli said. She mentioned a name, then went silent.
“She’s dead,’’ her daughter said.
“They trusted me,’’ Crisafulli said.
If someone liked a particular hair dryer, she made sure they got it. If customers didn’t like each other, “I’d try to take them when the others weren’t here.’’ She kept her prices lower than the other shops because “many had to get rides or take a taxi.’’ (She won’t say exactly what she charges now, because she charges each of her clients differently, but allows that a haircut averages $10.)
She always stuck to her signature hairstyles such as waves and up-dos, never foisting a new one on a customer.
“She is so accommodating,’’ said Latour. “I’ve always had the same hairdo.’’
If Crisafulli ever had a bad day and feeling sick, she’d never let on. “She still tells me, ‘Don’t tell them you’re tired or sick. That way if you kind of mess up . . . they’ll blame it on you,’’’ said Goldman, one of two grandchildren who followed her into the business. The other is Gino Leone, a barber at Depot Square Barber Shop in Wakefield.
True to form, Crisafulli didn’t mention her recent hospitalization for a stomach inflammation and high blood pressure when she did Latour’s hair one recent morning. She fastened a sheet for purple plastic around her neck before tipping her head back into the sink, then quickly and expertly wrapped her thin hair around rollers. Latour is one of about seven regular customers nowadays, though only three come every week. The average age is about 60, Crisafulli said.
“People used to say they could recognize me from the back of my head on account of the waves,’’ said Latour, sitting under her favorite dryer and producing a paper book from a 1950s-style leather frame handbag.
Twenty minutes and she was done. Crisafulli held a mirror to her face so she could see the finished product.
“Just the way I like it,’’ Latour smiled, patting the back of her head. “Ready for another week of inactivity.’’
Linda Matchan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.