While the number of barbers in Maine has been in decline over the past 12 years, the number of licensed cosmetologists has increased slightly between 2001 and today.

For most of her 25-year career, Renee Vigue has worked alongside her mother in her own salon, Fine Line Hair Salon on Church Street in Oakland.

“You never really hear of a hair salon going out of business,” she said. “There are so many of them, but everybody’s busy.”

Under state law, barbers are licensed to deliver basic services that include what’s normally associated with a barber — cutting and shaving facial hair — but which also includes less obvious ones, such as manicures, scalp massages, styling and coloring hair and working with wigs.

A cosmetologist is licensed to do more, including pedicures, caring for the skin with massages and other treatments, applying makeup or eyelashes and teaching cosmetology, hairdressing, or beauty culture.

Vigue, whose son Derrik just opened a barbershop next door, in the same building, said she has a good idea of why cutting and styling women’s hair carries more job security than barbering men.

The added range of services that people tend to get from a cosmetologist sometimes involve sitting in the chair for hours, and that often means that a deep bond of mutual trust forms.

“It would be pretty boring if we didn’t talk,” said Donna Cook, an Oakland resident who estimates she’s had her hair done 60 or more times at the salon.

“You can’t spend that much time with somebody and not be their friend,” she said.

It’s difficult for many women to find a trustworthy hairstylist, Vigure said. Once a woman finds one, it tends to be a life-long relationship.

“They don’t want just anyone to do their hair,” she said. “When people move, finding someone to do their hair is just as important as finding a doctor.”

Vigue said over 25 years she’s formed deep bonds with many of her clients forged from countless discussions about family, friends and the world at large.

“You know their life. They know your life,” she said.

One of her customers, Pat Ferland, of Waterville, agreed.

Ferland has been coming to Vigue for a haircut once every five weeks for the past 15 years.

Their relationship, which includes what Ferland calls therapy, is clearly deeper than that of customer and client.

“We share a lot of secrets,” she said. “We like it when no one else is here, don’t we Renee?”

When a client can’t make it to the salon, Vigue pays house calls, or visits them in a hospital or nursing home to keep them looking good, often during difficult times.

Two years ago, she said, one of her earliest clients, whose hair she had been cutting for 22 years, died.

The woman’s husband called and asked her to style his wife’s hair one last time, at the funeral parlor.

She hesitated because she had never done such a thing before, but then decided to do it.

“OK, I can’t get emotional about this,” she remembers thinking. “I’m just going to go there and do her hair because that’s what she would want.”

When someone dies, she said, the hair, which is made up of dead cells, remains the same.

The only difference was that she limited her styling to the front and sides, the only parts that would be visible in the casket.

When she finished, she said, she was proud that she had been able to say goodbye to a good friend in a meaningful way.

“I felt like I owed it to her,” he said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
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