An interview with Nancy Dear, local stylist to the stars
On a list of things that makes Portland Portlandy has to be our haircuts. The array of ironic and non-ironic coiffures parading around any social event typically out-dazzles a barrage of parading glitter ponies, although the distinction is practically negligible.
The queer community shines in this department. It’s more than rainbow hair dye running in streams of sweat down our beaming faces at Pride. It’s a yearlong commitment to visibility and the joy of expression. Personally, I never thought I’d be around for the return of certain styles, but the serious debate of, “Do I get a perm or a bowl cut?” is real.
Who better to chat with about the hair-dids of our community than Nancy Dear? She’s been cutting queer hair for almost 3 years, has just transferred to the Mississippi Bishops, and is the favorite coiffeuse of yours truly.
Walking into the Mississippi Bishops is always pleasant. The store is cute. Generally, the wait is brief, and the beer is always cold. Did I have a beer at 11 a.m. whilst waiting for my friend to finish her current cut? Yes, and the man behind me was grateful that I broke the seal.
Nancy looks adorable. She has light pink hair, a vintage looking dress that is bright without being childish, sparkling blue-green eyes, and a laugh that is something between a giggle and a roar. The manager, Sara Bird, who I’ve also been fortunate enough to get a cut from, is there with a sense of grace and calm that balances the store energy nicely.
Lyska Mondor: Queer haircuts. What constitutes a queer/gay haircut?
Nancy Dear: Sometimes, a gay haircut is a very traditional haircut on a nontraditional man. Sometimes, I’m doing classic men’s haircuts on femme ladies. Sometimes, it’s detailing, a certain edge that is harder or softer and reflects as queer, and I would leave that out of a straight haircut.
It can be a compromise between what is acceptable as being visibly queer professionally, and visibly queer socially. It gets complicated.
LM: Do you cut any queer celebrity hair? Besides me?
ND: Um, well, I think so. I cut Shannon’s, and Jenny Bruso’s hair (a.k.a. DJs Action Slacks and Bruce LaBruiser).
LM: Everyone knows you do hair. Do you get sick of talking about it?
ND: No, I really like talking about hair. I love what I do.
LM: Should we give it a nickname, like “The Craft”?
Nancy Dear. Photo by LIsa Galloway
ND: I alternately refer to what I do as ‘hair magic’ or ‘hair party’. My Facebook page is called “HAIRPARTY With Nancy B!”.
LM: What’s the best hair in the animal kingdom?
ND: Lions, duh.
LM: How would you give me a lion cut?
ND: Lots of time, and lots of product.
LM: What about outrageous or bizarre hair?
ND: Those are usually not regulars. Also, there are things that people ask for that I don’t think of as weird cuts, but maybe they are. There’s a person who comes in and gets an undercut bowl cut, and I do that on a few people. Maybe that’s weird. I do a lot of tails, and a lot of pony manes. It all feels normal to me.
LM: What’s the key to getting a good haircut? Is it communication?
ND: Yes, I had this guy in my chair that couldn’t tell me what he wanted, except that he wanted a lot of it cut off. I said, “Okay, we’re going to use free word association.” Eventually, he came up with “swarthy.” It worked!
I’m not very literal, and neither are most stylists. Bring me a picture of a chicken with a thing that you like, and I can do it.
LM: Is there anything different or special about cutting hair in Portland? You seem like a natural here.
ND: I don’t know. I think what I like about it most is being part of people’s lives, and being part of the community. I like looking out into a crowd of people, looking at their hair, and thinking, “Mine, mine, mine, oh… and mine!”
Get hair magic from Nancy Dear at Bishops Barber Shop on Mississippi. I suggest that you do, and you’re welcome to bring a photo of your favorite animal as a reference tool. Find her Facebook page at “HAIRPARTY with Nancy B!”
About Lyska Mondor
Lyska Mondor writes regularly for Just Out. She is a published poet and aspiring sci-fi author.