“Ninety percent of my customers are bigwigs,” enthuses hairstylist Ric Walker, oblivious to his pun. The 37-year-old former resident of Nocona works at what is arguably Dallas’ swankiest salon, Neinast in the Crescent. While Walker does the usual hairdresser things—cutting, coloring, styling—he specializes in hairweaving, a tedious process of sewing new hair into a head of hair that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. And in a city where women have big hair and are proud of it, the women who haven’t been so blessed come to Ric. “But,” he says, “it has been very hard building up my business because most women won’t tell each other that they’ve had this done.”
Gail Meyers, who just happens to be from Nocona also, isn’t so reticent. The petite 55-year-old is prepared to tell the world about her hair. “I’ve abused it,” says the mother of two, who is in the oil business with her husband, Bill. “Well, she had to,” excuses Ric. “She has thin hair, and to get some fullness, she’s had to perm and color it.” Gail admits, “I take my frustrations out on my hair.” Ric assures her that with a weave, the new hair will be easier to manage and will look fabulous. “I’ll style her out and make her look real Dallas-like,” he says. “Everybody in Nocona will say she’s gone and got herself a wig.”
Getting a wig might be a lot less time-consuming. Ric’s process, depending on whether he weaves just the back or the sides or the entire head of hair, can take as long as twelve hours. “I’ve been compared to a heart surgeon,” he says. But the small room in which he performs his procedure is the antithesis of a bare surgical suite. Gail is perched on a Louis XVI chair and smoking a cigarette to calm her nerves. On three walls are pricey paintings from the Galerie Kornye, next to the salon. An oriental carpet on the ﬂoor, another Louis XVI boudoir chair, and a credenza fill the area.
To distract Gail while he readies the tools of his trade—long, lethal-looking curved needles, duckbill clips, dressmaker’s seam rippers, several brushes, and thread (a cotton-and-nylon mix so it doesn’t “rot or spoil,” says Ric)—Ric puts on the soothing sound track from the movie Out of Time. “It’s better than making them read a book while somebody is pulling on their hair,” he says.
Ric starts to prepare Gail for the reality of what is about to happen. “There are horror stories,” he says, and she snaps to attention. “I’ve heard that your hair falls out,” she tells me. Ric is scornful. “That’s when you use glue. Anyway,” he goes on, “you’ll only have a headache for the first night or two, until the braids loosen up.”
At two o’clock Ric dims the lights, and illuminates Gail’s head with a high-powered halogen lamp, and gets down to business. Brushing all her hair up and forward, he starts a tiny braid at the left side of her nape and painstakingly inches to the right, forming a horizontal seam. From a tray he selects a ponytail of human hair—in a shimmery ash blond that just matches the highlights of Gail’s own—and measures the seam of the switch where it has been sewn to hold the hairs together. He cuts it into four widths, matching one to the cornrow braid running across the back of Gail’s head. “I want this all to be concealed—it can’t show,” Ric says as he stitches the seam of the first blond section onto the cornrow. “You can always tell a shabby job—when the wind blows, the hair moves in chunks.” Eight hundred stitches later, Ric finishes the first row.
Ric braces up against the back of Gail’s chair, still stitching; Gail’s eyes have begun to close, and at five-thirty I slip away for an hour and a half. When I return, three rows are in and Gail has a mane that would do honor to Goldilocks. One more hour, one more row, and Ric is ready to wash, cut, and style Gail’s ﬂowing tresses.
Before Ric snips off a good ten inches of Gail’s new shock of hair, she marvels at the transformation—“Wow! I’m gonna look like Dolly.” At about $2,000 (and don’t forget a $300 tip), she’d better. George Kornye strolls in from his gallery to check on the progress, and Gail’s husband, Bill, arrives and settles in to await the finale. Ric gives Gail’s hair a brisk scrubbing and brushes out the tangles like there is no tomorrow. “You could drag her across the room and this wouldn’t come out,” he tells me as he gives her wet curls a good yank. He reminds her that she’ll need to come back every other month so he can tighten the braids, which will move away from the scalp as Gail’s hair grows.
“I’m always worn out at the end of one of these days,” Ric says with a glance at the clock, which now reads eight-thirty. He tosses the rollers out of Gail’s hair and starts styling. Ric is pleased. “This is thick enough to be believable. Gail looks grrreat.” Just then Kornye comes back in and checks out her new do. “She’s Hollywood,” he warns Bill. “You might have to be careful.” Bill, his eyes twinkling, replies, “I was just thinking the same thing.”