Love, friendship keep stylist at salon 50 years

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Wednesday will mark 50 years that Irene Kapp has worked as a stylist at David's Hair and Styling Salon in Jasper.


Irene (Eckert) Kapp loves being a hair stylist.

“I always like to do hair,” she said. “It was something I thought I could like doing my whole life. And it sure turned out that way.”

Wednesday will mark 50 years of Kapp working as a stylist at David’s Hair and Styling Salon on the north side of Jasper.

She trained at Vincennes Beauty College, starting in September 1968 and completing 1,500 hours of work nine months later. After college, she worked at a shop in Evansville’s Washington Square Mall. Then in 1970, a stylist at David’s left. Kapp’s mother told her about the open position.

“Where I was working, I was getting paid by the hour, and they limited your hours. So you can’t make any money,” Kapp said. “And it wasn’t fun living in Evansville, working in a place that didn’t have any windows. You never saw the sunshine.”

Her mother called the owner, David Schmitt, “and he said I should come talk to him. He just hired me on the spot,” Kapp said. “I didn’t know him before. I just went and talked to him and got the job.”

It was called David’s Hair and Barber when she started on April 29, 1970. And she worked on commission.

“In my earlier years, the clients were totally different from today,” she said. “We would work, a lot of evenings to accommodate our clientele who worked into the evening.”

Also in those years, there were different kinds of other activities going on at the shop. A dental lab in the basement, and a car wash was on the parking lot, Kapp recalled. And every evening, there was a group of people who would play cards in the basement.

“Our salon room was directly above where the card tables were,” she said, “and often you would jump from the hard [hand] slap on the table. You could hear the talking and the smell of smoke from the smokers.”

An addition was built in the ’70s, and housed a clothing store, then a painting and wallpaper business. And other smaller businesses operated in the addition over time.

“Someone sold soup out of there. Someone had church services at David’s, on the west side,” Kapp recalled. “Laundry pickup was there, and there was an insurance office. There was Fatman pizza in the back.” An appliance repair shop and a reflexology business were also located in the addition at some point.

Kapp has enjoyed her job a lot. “They say if you like your job, you’ll never work a day in your life, and that is a very true statement. I’ve never dreaded work.” The only time she wasn’t there was when she had her two children, now adults Amy King and Adam Schmalenberger.

Hair styling has changed over the years. Where there were mostly curlers used, now the dominating styling tools are curling irons and flat irons. When she started, a haircut cost $3.50, a shampoo and set $3.50, and perms were $10, $12 for those with long hair.

“We did four versions on the shag haircut over my time,” Kapp said as an example. “Some were choppy, some were flipped up and some were flipped under.

“You can cut hair asymmetrical and you can do a lot of stuff with the new clippers, and cut it all off. Today, they make clippers that you can carve designs into the hair. You see a lot of the kids with pink hair and green hair. I don’t do that; I don’t have those colors.”

There are 12 stylists at David’s. “Everybody has their own business, and they do their own thing. I do not do fluorescent colored hair. I don’t have any clientele for it, and I don’t want to start it. We have stylists that do that.

“Perms are not really too much in style anymore,” she said. “Although there are some people who won’t be without one, the majority have gotten away from perms and have gone to more casual styling.”

The industry has also changed. “Well, there’s definitely no loyalty anymore not like there used to be,” Kapp said. “A hairdresser could pretty much depend on an income, because their people were loyal to them. Today, it’s just overrun. There are so many hairdressers, one on every corner.”

But she does have loyal customers. “The loyalty that we have, and that I still have to this day, are my ladies who are like 90 years old that need help with their hair,” she said. “They can’t do their hair themselves, so they get perms.”

In the early years, people would get their hair fixed weekly, coming to the salon at their appointed time to have it shampooed and fixed again.

“One time I found a tear drop off a chandelier in a lady’s hair because it had so much ratting or back-combing teasing,” Kapp said. “She had bumped to a chandelier and one of the teardrops came off. And so that was in her hairdo for a whole week.”

Another one of her clients was in the hospital, and would not let anyone do her hair, waiting until she could get back to Kapp. “You could see the regrowth, how much it grew out,” she said. “So, in essence, the whole hairstyle got bigger.”

Kapp now works three days a week. And for a while, she also worked from home so that she could spend time with and take care of her husband, Art, who has multiple medical ailments. He passed away April 10 of this year.

“I thought about retiring at 50 years, especially if he still would’ve been here,” she said. “But I’m going to go back. I want to go back to what I had, and enjoy my work again.”

Kapp has thought about challenging herself to do a YouTube video of her cutting hair blindfolded. “I love to cut hair. But I have to find my person that I can trust that they won’t switch out somebody else while I’m blindfolded.”

She has no doubt that she could cut a beautiful style while blindfolded.

“I cut my own hair, and I cut with feel,” she said. “Maybe it’s a gift, I don’t know. But I just feel and I cut my hair dry. I cut with the natural growth, the way the hair grows on the head. And it’s gonna lay like it looks until you need another haircut. Or you just let it grow out, and it will be a longer version of what you had.”

Kapp has worked with generations of people in a family. “There are generations of friendships,” she said. “People bring their kids, and they bring their kids and their kids. For some, it’s four generations.”

She appreciates the loyalty, and works to be loyal to them as well.

“In my 50 years, I’ve tried to be a friend,” Kapp said. “I take time to listen, be funny and trustworthy, someone they could count on. I’ve also felt fortunate to have them for my friend, who allowed me to bring out the beauty in them.

“As long as I’m able bodied, I’ll probably be cutting hair.”

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