curly hair hairdresser Tom Zappala sitting in his Melbourne salon with long curly hair

Curly Hair Journey

Once upon a time, I was a musician in Hollywood. Yup, that’s me in the 1980s. Back then, I was a drummer. Also, those are 100% my natural curls in that photograph. To style, I would apply a thick leave-in conditioner followed by a spray gel and then diffuse. Apart from the frequent shampooing, everything else in my ritual back then is what I help women with on their curly hair journey. Once hair is cut well, moisture with a bit of hold is a simple and easy way to get curls to look great. Some may disagree, but the knowledge accrued and practised back then remains equally relevant today.

When I look at that photo, there are a few things I notice. Firstly, my haircut is not a triangle. Secondly, it’s not flat on top. The frizz is in check, the curls are defined, the haircut has shape, and it’s flattering. How could that be? Didn’t hairdressers only learn to shape and care for curls after hearing about the Curly Girl Method? Before its social media explosion, no one knew anything about curly hair—right? Despite what many may think, my curly hair journey began long ago. As a result, I’ve more curly hair history than any hairdresser in Melbourne.

Genuine Curly Hair History

The notion that before 2001, no one wore their curls naturally and hairdressers always straightened them is patently incorrect. In Hollywood during the 1980s, long curly hair was king. Yes, there were a lot of perms, but a lot of it was natural, too. The hairdressers I went to knew how to cut and care for it, just as I did. Were some salons clueless about curly hair and often chose to straighten it? Absolutely. That said, as far as I was concerned, I saw plenty of incredible curls in the community back then. So, how did I learn to cut and care for them so well?

Simple. I decided to avoid working in a trendy or up-market salon where the primary focus is Caucasian women with straight, highlighted hair. Despite my inexperience at the time, I knew that working in such a salon environment would significantly hinder the development of my haircutting skills, just as it does today. Also, those conservative hair salons wouldn’t have appreciated my curly hair! Instead, I chose to work at a low-end haircutting salon in a multicultural part of Los Angeles. The clients of that salon often shared one thing in common. Each had challenging hair. 

As a result, I learned how to cut hair on the thick, curly, and wavy multicultural hair that salon hairdressers consistently struggle with or think of as ‘difficult’ clients. Indeed, my first curly haircut was on a co-worker with fine, ringletted shoulder-length curls. Guess what? I cut her curls dry—more than 30 years ago! Dry-cutting isn’t new. My curls in that 1980s photo? I dry-cut and styled them myself. Specialist Expertise—I don’t use that phrase lightly. It is used with honesty and integrity.

Past, Present & Future

Reflecting on my earliest years of cutting curly hair and learning to manage my own, I am grateful to all those initial clients. They were patient with me and provided essential feedback that helped shape the foundation of this career. They understood that I was passionate about doing my job well and making them happy. I encouraged and fostered a professional relationship that emphasises communication. That is what it takes to be great: determination, discipline, and professional intentions that place client contentment above all else. Every week in the studio, my focus as a curly hair specialist remains unchanged.

Across Australia, many hairdressers only started offering curly hair services after the CGM burst onto social media. While it’s great more hairdressers are supporting curls, too many are promoting an unrealisitic beauty standard to sell cosmetics. As a trusted professional with true curly hair expertise, I use my platform to help educate and provide a service that proves there are multiple ways to successfully and happily live with hair. As one of the few hairdressers in Melbourne with genuine curly hair expertise, I remain committed to ensuring people have access to an honest and trustworthy professional.