Raised by ‘80s stylists

Headgames Hair Studio is located directly across the street from the shut-down emergency room. Anna Casper | Lariat

Nicole Henderson, hair stylist and owner of Headgames Hair Studio, located on Camino de los Mares in San Clemente, CA, spends another day in the salon that she was raised in since 1984. 

“The people that have the best photos have the least amount of clients because they spend all day doing one person’s hair and it’s like I’m over here slaying it just like taking the photo whenever I get the chance,” she says. “I have some friends that do that and I’m like ‘That’s great but you’ve done like one person’s hair today.’ So I know I am making more money than them.”

Henderson has been styling hair since the age of 13 and started by cutting her teacher’s hair.  Academics were never her strong suit in middle school.

“I was really bad in school,” she says. “So I had two teachers, and they were both like ‘Well you’re not really good in school, but you’re good at art, so I’ll let you cut my hair.’ I started cutting my teacher’s hair.” 

Without having to rely on the amount of Instagram followers, or a trending TikTok to survey Henderson’s work, clients sit in the chair encouraging her to do whatever she wants to their hair. 

“I have a bunch of clients that follow me, but they don’t want to see my hair pictures, they already know it’s bomb,” she says.

Bleach is delicately painted on the client’s copper hair, creating radiant pieces that make the copper-red tone pop. 

The most clients that Henderson can handle in a day is 22. That includes hair styling, haircuts, and color. She is able to color two clients’ hair and do a haircut at the same time.

Her parents opened the salon in 1980 before she was born in 1984. “Clientele has never been an issue,” she says. There is nothing more special to her than growing up with ‘80s hair stylists and taking over the family salon. 

Shiny foil weaves throughout the client’s hair, light reflecting off of the tin foil from ceiling lights.

In the meantime, while waiting for the dye to process, Henderson talks about stories of when she first started as a stylist at the age of 13. 

“I had a friend who had hair down to her waist and her mom was a lesbian artist painter,” she says. “I was probably 14. My friend wanted to color her hair bright red and do it spikey. And I was like, ‘It’s on. It’s happening.’ We didn’t ask permission. And so I cut off all of her hair, bleached it out and dyed it bright red.” 

This validated her career choice even more. She knew her passion was to follow in her parent’s footsteps as a hairstylist. Little did she know, she was going to take over the family business too. 

Time’s up. She slowly lifts the foils to see how the color is turning out. The dye is fully absorbed. Nicole takes the client back to the bowl to peel out the tin foil, wash out the dye, and shampoo and condition the hair.

The blow dryer drowns out their conversation.

“This is called a highlight, lowlight, and grey root touch,” Nicole says.

Nicole slowly turns the chair around to face the mirror, fresh layers of blonde and red copper overlapping, adding color and dimension to the face. The client’s smile is radiating with confidence.

“I just come to work, I do what people want, and I kind of suggest how they would look their best,” the stylist says. “I really try to make people look their best.”

This client’s son is up next, sitting in the chair, eager to get a trim. 

The barber cape flies over his face, laying on top of his clothing going just past his knees, and buttoning behind his neck. 

The hair trickles down, resting on his lap, and on the floor mat.

His smile says it all. With a haircut that was exactly what he was hoping for and a little bit of gel, he is pleased to see the middle part flowing back with a feathery texture and not hanging in his face.

“This job doesn’t really feel like work,” she says, “and that’s pretty cool.”