It was a typical evening in early September—campus was still vibrating with the excitement of new classes and negligible amounts of homework. Dorm rooms and campus apartments were sticky with the waning summer heat. In Townhouse 46, the front door was open to cool down the kitchen but also to let out the smell of bleach and hair dye.
Jackson Teague was multitasking, dyeing Lorena Lomeli’s ’15 bangs and giving Kiran Kawolics ’15 a cut and color. Wearing paint-splattered overalls, Teague chatted animatedly about campus goings-on, mutual friends, work. As he brushed out Kawolics’ hair, he paused occasionally to see if the bleach was taking to Lomeli’s bangs.
Teague does not go to Vassar, but he has become dozens of students’ go-to hairstylist, making midnight drunken haircuts in the Cushing bathroom a thing of the past (for the most part).
But before he was executing professional-quality ‘dos on friends, his younger sister was his number-one client.
“I really owe a bunch to my little sister Simone for letting me start doing hair on her and her Bratz dolls,” Teague wrote, estimating that he started experimenting with hair at age 11. “
“I probably did so much damage to it at the time, but it looks great now, so whatever,” he joked. He added that he would even fashion makeshift weaves for his sister’s dolls, braiding yarn and gluing it to their heads. “That was probably around the same time I started working on my own hair, just after the last time I had been to the hairdresser. I think a lot of wanting to do it myself came from me always feeling uncomfortable when I was in the chair as a young kid,” Teague said.
He went on to explain, “I used to have beautiful flowing ringlets past my shoulders, [but] then one day my dad…took me to a barber shop in the Fort Greene area in Brooklyn and had it all cut off.”
Throughout his adolescence, Teague’s list of clients grew little by little. His family owned a restaurant for 10 years, and, when the staff came over to his house for any reason, Teague would break out his rudimentary salon kit—a brush, a comb and children’s scissors—and go to work. He admitted to having a couple missteps, but for the most part, his customers were satisfied.
“The better [haircuts] would come back to me telling me they had friends and other co-workers who would rave about their new cut, asking for details, only to find out about the 16-year-old who had cut their hair with purple safety scissors,” said Teague. His next big break arrived with the onslaught of prom season. Remembering the flurry of updos he completed during that time, Teague said it was the first time he felt “official.”
“It was just this really natural progression. As I grew up, I grew more confident in myself and my work, so that eventually I was going up to people at parties saying, ‘Oh, your hair is yellow but you wanted blonde? Let me fix you up.’”
Though interested clients can now find out about Teague’s hair styling on his Facebook page, Jackson O. Teague Hair, this is how most of Teague’s networking happens—at a Townhouse or off-campus party or by word of mouth.
“I [first] saw Jackson around Joss with his friends,” wrote Jess Mitchell ’15 in an emailed statement. “I saw his personal style and learned after hanging out with him a bit that he was getting into hair. Our relationship began when he was coloring my hair. Later, it grew into haircutting and styling.”
Nataly Castro ’15 had a similar experience, stating, “I found out about Jackson through a couple of friends who had previously gotten their hair done by [him]. We’re also friends so he had talked about doing my hair. I’m very overprotective of my hair, so I don’t let many people cut it because I’ve had a couple bad cuts. But I trust Jackson, so I let him do what he believes would look good on me. He has yet to fail me.”
Aside from his technical skill, students said they go to Teague for his familiarity with emerging trends.
“I recommend Jackson simply because he cuts hair at salon quality, but with a youthful, creative edge. When I return home to my old hair stylist, I feel like they don’t understand the looks and choices I go for with my hair,” said Mitchell.
Though it is typical to go to a hair salon with specific instructions for the stylist, most of the time Teague’s customers brainstorm new looks together or let him have free rein.
Wrote Alix Masters ’15 in an emailed statement, “We’ve always been pretty collaborative on the various styles he has gifted onto me (although I think he did convince me to dye my hair purple once, which, for the record, was before Kelly Osborn or Nicole Richie ever did it). I went to him wanting extensions and we both sent each other inspiration photos before coming to an agreement on the correct hair vibe[s].”
She added, “That said, I’d let him do basically whatever he wanted with my head, brain, mouth, ears [or] body.”
Lomeli agreed, affirming, “The first time he cut my hair, I definitely gave him the freedom to do as he pleased. He can tell what will look good on you, but also what goes best with your style and personality. This past semester, I have been slightly more specific with what I want, but it always looks great in the end.”
Lomeli said she had always wanted bangs but didn’t think they would look good on her. At the end of spring semester last year, Teague reassured her that he knew what to do and cut v-shaped bangs. This past September, he dyed them turquoise. “I never in a million years thought I could have bangs and somehow he made it work,” said Lomeli.
Teague is perhaps best known for his vibrant dye jobs: His Facebook page boasts photos of clients sporting emerald green, lavender, hot pink and blue hairdos. With both cuts and dyes, though, Teague said he is still pushing himself to learn new and different techniques.
“Since I started off cutting my and my sister’s curly hair, I consider that a specialty of mine. With curly-haired clients, I just wing it because I’m so familiar with it—how it twists, falls, springs back up. For other hair types, I’ll be on YouTube for hours looking at different techniques and then trying to find my own way to translate them into something I like,” he said. Currently, his favorite method is balayage, what Teague describes as a freehand method of painting on highlights to create a softer look.
While it is easy to consider hair from a purely aesthetic point of view, Teague believes hair can be a crucial part of one’s identity. He admitted that even though one of his mantras is “It’s just hair,” hairstyles have been formative in his own personal growth.
“Speaking for myself, my hair has always held significance as far as my gender goes. It felt stifling and oppressive as a child going to the barber shop for regular buzz cuts.”
Teague remembered dyeing his hair black in middle school when he experienced depression; styling it in high school to project heterosexuality; cropping it when he came out senior year; shaving it off before college as a “cleansing;” experimenting with color and fauxhawks.
“As for right now, I’m letting my hair grow out its natural color. That’s come out of recent steps I’ve taken in finding out what it means for me to be Black and white, queer and gender fluid, and accepting all of that,” he said. Recently, Teague has even taken on making his own wigs.
“It’s an immediate—well, after the hours it takes to make one— feeling of slipping into a skin that feels so your own you’d swear that shit were growing right out your head,” he said. “I can only speak for myself though—I’m always more interested to know other people’s hair stories and the significance it plays in their own identity.”
Many of Teague’s clients are friends, and many friends are his clients. These friendships, Teague explained, are partly due to his particular relationship to Vassar as a space and institution.
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, Teague said the campus’ museums were a common field trip destination, but later, the College came to play a different role in his life and in the lives of his friends.
“Toward middle school and the end of high school, Vassar was a paradise, especially when students were on break. It was a playground for me, where my friends and I spent many a night exploring, taking walks that lasted hours,” he said. As a kind of liberal niche in the greater community, Vassar campus began to be an escape, Teague explained. “I could walk around smoking weed and drinking and not be looked at twice for being not-straight.”
As time passed, many of his friends began attending Vassar and he got involved in a relationship with a student. “Its meaning changed. It was no longer my home away from home. I was being introduced to people, being shown around the campus and being asked what my major was. I was an outsider in my one-time safe haven. This was something I struggled with for years. I eventually made my own friends on campus; only this time, Vassar was no longer an escape, but a huge part of my world.”
Teague said this shift became complicated, especially when students had negative reactions to Poughkeepsie or treated him as an outsider.
“I was always at the risk of being told how much someone loved that I ‘had the nerve’ to hang around and go to Vassar parties. It was always a possibility that I would open the doors to a massive bashing of the town I grew up in depending on how I answered the question, ‘Do you like living here?’ And I was always perplexed by how terrified students were at the idea of walking down Main Street or in downtown Poughkeepsie,” said Teague.
Nonetheless, he said he was happy to find a safe space where he could grow, stating, “I was able to find and connect with like-minded people, something that I’m sure other queer people, people of color, people playing with gender, and other minorities struggle with in small towns everywhere.”
For Teague, being the campus hairstylist has been a way to reclaim a familiar space on his own terms. Now that the majority of his friends are seniors, Teague said he can’t help but feel like he is on top of the world again. “Now, instead of being someone’s townie best friend or boyfriend, I have a facet of my identity that I created for myself,” he said.
Teague said he is not sure what is on the horizon for his hairstyling pursuits, but he is eager to see how it will unfold.
“I think I might want to get my license, but honestly I know I still have a lot to learn and I don’t necessarily want to go to school for it right now,” said Teague. “I really am open to following the natural progression of this freelance hair business I’ve started and having it evolve as I do.”