IT WAS 1969.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon and The Beatles performed their last concert. But for Debbie Raffo it is the year that goes down in history for another reason – it marked the start of five decades of hairdressing in Hampshire.
She laughs as she recalls her first ever day at work in the hair salon at the Fryern Arcade in Chandler’s Ford.
Then aged just 15 and responding to an advert in the Daily Echo, she never dreamt that 44 years and hundreds of perms, bobs and punk dos later she would be ending her career in the same shop with her name above the door.
“My parents lived in Eastleigh and my dad didn’t have a car. It sounds silly but Chandler’s Ford was a foreign place to me so there’s no way I would have found the job position without the Echo, so I have a lot to thank the paper for.
“When I first started I used to wash hair, sweep up, make tea, even take the owner’s poodle to the vets. If I was told to do something I would just do it. I was very shy and too frightened to walk across the salon unless I was told I could.
“I remember being a bit of a project when I went for my interview. They said ‘do you think we can do something with her?’ and they told me to put make up on and look the part.
“I never dreamed that I would own the shop.”
But that is exactly what happened and Debbie, 59, who was interested in styling after growing up with hairdressers in the family, has witnessed firsthand how hair styles and women have evolved over the decades.
“I’ve seen it all because I didn’t have any children so I never had any breaks from work.
“Back when I first started it was all about backcombing and beehives. It was the bigger the better.
“Women would come in every week because they couldn’t do the styles themselves. They wouldn’t wash their hair or even comb it between hair styles.
“I lost a lady in her 90s who came to the salon every week since she left school. She had never washed her own hair since she was at school.
“These days women want practical wash-and-go styles and they don’t come into the salon too regularly.
“Today younger women are much busier and the styles reflect that. Even people with straight hair use straighteners.
The styles are much closer to the head whereas in the early years people wanted it bigger and more volume.”
But despite the changing styles from beehives to bobs, there is something all women throughout the decades have in common – the love of celebrity style.
From Dusty Springfield’s perfectly backcombed beehive, to “the Rachel”, Debbie said certain celebrities have gone down in history for their hair styles.
“I have seen them all over the years. There is no denying what a huge influence these idols have on women’s hair and style.
“The iconic cuts are copied again and again and they become synonymous with a generation and at the time. It is all everyone wants and talks about.
“A few hairstyles become true beauty icons.”
Debbie, who has owned Raffo’s salon for 21 years, will close the shop for the last time on March 16 to spend time with her husband Paul and family but she admits her thoughts will never be far from hairdressing.
She recalls the time when she was flabbergasted to be given a month’s wages in tips in the 1970s by Lady Chamberlayne who owned an estate in Otterbourne. And the time she gave husband Paul a matching hairstyle when she permed his hair in the afro 1980s to make him look like Kevin Keegan.
But it is Debbie’s faithful group of customers – some who she has styled for 44 years as well as their children and grandchildren and her colleagues – that she will miss when she closes the shop due to her lease expiring.
“It is my life.
“I love how someone can come in feeling low and needing a boost and then it’s like a tonic how it makes people feel so much better.
You could have a new dress on but if your hair wasn’t up to much you wouldn’t feel good.
“It’s a nice feeling knowing you have made people feel good but the time has just come to a bit of a natural end.
“It will be strange closing up for the last time. I have seen many shops come and go and I will definitely feel a bit of sadness because it holds so many memories for me.”