Will Sutton: Cutting, twisting, braiding hair requires skill. It’s time to stop regulation.

In my younger years, there was a stretch when I didn’t go to the barbershop often. Back then, I grew my hair long. Real long. Big Afro long. When I did go, I didn’t want the barber to mess up my carefully coiffed and designed ‘fro. I wanted my ‘do to stand out. And it did.

Later in life, I had a series of barbers who skillfully kept my hair well-groomed and shaped, including former Mayor Richard H. Gallot Sr. when I was in Grambling. He always asked what I wanted, though he knew the answer was always the same. He had decades of experience, and he balanced his skills with his customers’ wishes.

More recently, I haven’t been going to barbers because I no longer maintain hair atop my head. I’m bald — by choice. I can grow a full head of hair, but I don’t want to spend time grooming — and I don’t want to spend money for someone to do it for me.

Grambling's Richard Gallot

Richard Gallot Sr. sits in his barber’s chair at his barber shop in Grambling, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana. Grambling State University students, Grambling city business people and citizens often visited to discuss business, politics, the latest community news or to get something notarized. Gallot, 87, who was Grambling’s mayor from 1981-1985, recently died after an extended illness.

Plenty of people, men and women, want grooming services — and they should get what they pay for.

Not that long ago, reporter Matt Bruce examined Louisiana’s grooming industry, specifically cosmetology and braiding. I know enough people with all kinds of hairdos that I’m no longer surprised by how much time some people spend getting their hair done — and how much they spend.

In April 2003, the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology changed its regulations to include a test and more for those we might call braiders, people who twist and turn strands of hair into braids, cornrows or dreadlocks. It’s to enhance public safety, the board claimed.

It took Bruce’s reporting to confirm what I suspected: A lot of the beautiful hair in Louisiana is coiffed illegally.

Bruce reported that the Louisiana Cosmetology Act requires braiders to have at least 500 hours of training before they can hang a shingle or post on Instagram calling themselves professionals. As if that’s not burdensome enough, a legal braider has to take a written exam and a hands-on test proving their skills on a mannequin. 

All of this for an “alternative hair design” special permit.



Is this the board’s way of saying Black, or at least non-White?

White men and White women have all types of hair textures, and they sport quite a variety of hairstyles. Similarly, people of other ethnicities and races have a variety of hair textures. This is Louisiana. Black folks here have thin, coarse, thick, relaxed and natural hair types to reflect the multi-ethnic backgrounds of their forebears.

The cosmetology board focuses on what happens in salons. Though many salons offer braiding — including some Walmarts — I’m pretty sure many of those who know what they’re doing with braids operate from their kitchens, living rooms and small rental spaces.

Based on Bruce’s reporting, my own research and women I know who get their hair handled by braiders and locticians, most folks who seek someone who can weave their hair could care less about an official, legal piece of paper. They just want to trust that the person giving them a great look knows what they’re doing.

Other than social media, a lot of this business is word of mouth. 

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