Since I first heard about blow dry bars a few years ago, I’ve been curious. Quick $35 straightening sounds like a perfect why-didn’t-I-think-of-that idea for the kinky and curly headed, but the salons are marketed primarily to women who already have straight hair. I knew that the black/white, textured/straight salon experiences are somewhat different, but it never occurred to me that many white women don’t go to hair salons as frequently as black women are generally accustomed. I grew up on a steady biweekly schedule, but the straight-haired sistren I polled averaged no more than a couple times a year for a new cut or color.
According to The Daily Beast, this is one of the reasons blow dry bars are so wildly popular: a basic salon visit at an affordable price (around $40) is a novel concept for that demographic. And here I was taking scalp massages and 4-hour naps under hooded dryers for granted. Who says there’s no such thing as black privilege?
My opinions on blow dry bars were thus mixed. As any coily coifed woman worth her locks knows, straightening is a complex feat that’s not to be taken lightly. Highly textured hair is more fragile and prone to heat damage, and most of us have been literally burned at least once. I liked the idea of a walk-in, quick service shop when the mood hit but I was doubtful that such a place could or would actually straighten my hair well without damaging it one way or another. A blow dry bar eventually eventually opened locally, but I was never pressed enough to try it (was that a pun?). It’s been a good two years since I last straightened my hair, I have to be careful in the shower, and I don’t think I even own a brush anymore. But when Jo Cowan, owner of the newly-opened Charlotte location of the Blo Blow Dry Bar franchise offered a complimentary blowout during the salon’s media preview, I jumped at the opportunity.
As soon as I added myself to the list, I reached out to Jo about the company’s general stance on textured hair and asked if I was even blo-able. I expected an enthusiastic, company-line “yes” that would give me little actual comfort, but I was pleasantly surprised when she responded with an equally enthusiastic, “I’ve been wondering the same thing myself,” and emailed the franchise head office for feedback. They replied with an enthusiastic yes that gave me lots of comfort:
Why it gotta be eurotherapy though?
I really appreciated the awareness and honesty. Blo was already getting brownie points and I hadn’t even hit the shampoo bowl! The exchange also highlighted the benefits of collective franchised training and consistency across the brand, with local ownership and a personal connection. I was pretty sure my tresses would be okay.
Before my appointment, I did a thorough detangle and deep condition in the shower and started on my way. And yes, I was 10 minutes late. Why? I mean, you can fill in the blank but I honestly went to the wrong location! There’s another, competing blow dry bar in my neighborhood with a similar name and I erroneously arrived there… on time. Luckily, Blo is right around the corner and I was able to call and let them know I’d be a little delayed. That rattled me and I was still a bit nervous about the whole endeavor but since it was their grand opening, there were plenty of sweets and champagne to soothe my spirit. Plus, all the treats were from local bakeries and confectionaries that I will definitely visit in the future. The Jewell Treats cupcakes were delicious and who knew there was a legit bulk candy store on Selwyn? Candy Girl Confections might become my new weakness. The champagne was provided by petit phillipe, which has been my favorite spot to splurge on special occasion chocolates for a while now.
As much as I love sugar cookies? I wanted to hang around just to snack!
Kaitlyn was my Blo Boss and though I was momentarily salty to not get one of the black stylists (I was still scared and hadn’t seen the champagne yet!) it felt like more of an adventure. But I was in good hands; Kaitlyn is actually very experienced (she previously worked at the salon I’d popped into earlier) and it turns out that a good friend of mine who I’d trust with my hair was one of her cosmetology school instructors. As for both clients and other stylists, I was pleased to see that it was a multicultural thing, and I wasn’t the only brown girl in attendance!
The first order of business was choosing a look from the menu, which threw me off a little bit. There are levels to this? Apparently so, as there are seven styles to choose from including ponytails and an updo. I picked the “Holly Would,” which promised bountiful curls. I was curious to know how some of them, like the tousled “Pillow Talk” would translate for me. My “bed head” has never been anything resembling sultry.
I dunno if I want to know what a beach wave would look like on me. Some things might not be for us.
Kaitlyn washed and conditioned my hair with the Smoothing variety of both products and followed with 7 Second Leave-In as a detangler, all of which include thermal protectants. UNITE products are sulfate, paraben and alcohol free, which is a must for curly girls especially. I have a thing about not wanting to ask too many questions, but she didn’t seem annoyed at all with my mining for details down to the brand of brushes they use (Olivia Garden). After a good blowing that didn’t produce any smoke at all (unlike my many failed at-home efforts and some salon visits I’ve had), she flatironed and curled my hair simultaneously to minimize the time and amount of heat. Even with skipping the extra curling step, my hair took about 2 hours. That’s about average for me, but 2 clients cleared the neighboring chair in comparison. Simply because they’re accustomed to taking an hour or less per customer, I’d recommend letting the bar know if you have a head full of natural hair when making an appointment , just to make it easier for them to allot their time.
Kaitlyn had my hair laid like egyptian cotton sheets. No weave!
My hair turned out great! Kaitlyn finished off with UNITE’s Tricky Stryling Wax and a good helping of argan oil, which my hair absolutely loves, and she really took time to catch and/or recurl all the little flyaway pieces and ends. Those little straggly bits are usually more noticeable on our hair when straightened, for some reason. It wasn’t a shiny bone-straight china doll press, but I definitely got what I asked for and expected: lots of body and soft curls. I feel that suits my look better than a shiny super straight style, but next time I may experiment with the menu and see if it makes a difference to request the “Executive Press”. Kaitlyn also commented that I need my ends trimmed, which a loctitian had also pointed out a couple weeks earlier while my hair was ‘froed up. I get it! It’s been a good year since my last trim and I really shouldn’t have gone this long. But since blo can’t do cuts, I’ll get around to it. For me, that’s the one drawback of blo not doing quick, small cuts. I prefer to have my ends clipped while my hair is straight.
before… and after! I’m not sure if I look a bit younger or a bit older. Just… different.
So the experience was great, the rock candy was welcomed, but the real test is how it held up. The weather was pretty cold and very dry so that was a huge plus, but my curls barely survived the afternoon. My hair was still pretty and voluminous, but (probably?) since I opted for the flatiron curls instead of the iron, I had more of an allover soft-body wave going on after a few hours and needed to touch up that night before going out. To be fair though, my iron-curls don’t super-set without a whole lot of drying alcohol spritz and setting lotions.
Despite that, I was very happy overall. It actually lasted a full three weeks — that’s the longest stretch of straight hair I’ve had since 2001! I wrapped, rolled and occasionally re-curled it in the in-between, but I used minimal products and my hair never felt dried out. As for the bounce-back? There were no permanently straightened tendrils after I rewet it and my natural curls were back to completely normal just out of the shower. I didn’t need any crazy amount of deep conditioning or treatments to get back to normal, just my regular 3-Minute Miracle routine. I really think the UNITE products went a long way to helping that and I may purchase some of them in the future. There was a bottle of 7 Second Detangler in my goodie bag, so I’ll definitely try it out later.
About an hour after leaving the salon. A tad crestfallen, but still fluffy and straight.
So all in all? I give Blo a 4.5/5. One point deduction for the fallen curls, and I wish I could’ve gotten a quick clip, but add a half point for the cupcakes. The location is closer to my house than any of my standard salon options and the $35 price tag is a bit cheaper than the least expensive of those, so I will definitely check them out if I decide to straighten my hair on a whim in the near future. In fact, I’m inspired to get it straightened more often now! It’s a fun, different look and not quite as difficult to keep up as I remember it being before.
But maybe that’s just because I found a brush.
Blo Charlotte is located at 2850 Selwyn Ave. For more info or to book an appointment, call 704.375.7110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet them @bloheartsyou or Charlotte franchise owner Jo Cowan at @carolina_curls.