It’s hard to forget the ’80s – back in the day when hair was big, brash and bold.
It was an era known for its extravagant hairstyles, when men and women alike teased their hair and no look was complete without a perm.
In the Northwest, the place to learn the art of the permanent wave was right here in Spokane.
A young man named Martin Dow became an instructor at his dad’s beauty school after working as a platform artist for Zotos International Inc., one of the leading perm manufacturers in the world. With his perm expertise, Dow was at the forefront of the hair industry.
But even before he started teaching at his father’s school, the Glen Dow Academy of Hair Design was already a fixture in downtown Spokane. In the decade before – when shags and spikes were all the rage – the academy was already training stylists in various techniques to prepare them for future careers.
It opened in 1969, when Martin Dow’s father, Glen E. Dow, decided to develop a curriculum to improve the quality of education for hair stylists and others in the world of beauty.
Today, the Glen Dow Academy is the oldest accredited beauty school in Washington. In the past four decades, more than 6,000 stylists have graduated from the school, and many have started their own salons locally and nationwide. Its students and faculty members continue to win prestigious awards.
Next Saturday, the school celebrates its 40th anniversary with wine and a fashion show at its historic building near the corner of West Riverside Avenue and Bernard Street.
Former students from all over the country as well as longtime customers are expected to attend the event, which happens to fall on Glen Dow’s 79th birthday.
“Spokane was at the bottom of the food chain when it came to fashion back in the ’50s and ’60s,” the elder Dow recalled during an interview from Oceanside, Calif., where he spends part of the year.
“Cosmetology was very mechanical and the artistic part had not arrived yet, so I had to get out and learn it myself.”
A native of Ohio, Dow came to Spokane in 1948 while serving in the Air Force. He met his wife, the late Betty Jean Archambault, during a dance at Gonzaga University. The couple were married at St. Joseph’s Church and moved back to Ohio, where Dow studied barbering at Riggs-LaMar Institute in Akron.
When the Dows returned to Spokane in the mid-’50s, Glen realized that barbering wasn’t going to be enough to support his young family. So he expanded his skills by enrolling at the Morris School of Beauty on the G.I. Bill and graduated in 1956.
Dow never imagined he would make a living in the beauty industry, but he figured it was a practical move for someone like him who had the skills and business acumen.
“A man doesn’t have a lot of years to waste,” he explained. “Barbering wasn’t making it for me but I saw a possibility in cosmetology – permanent waving and hair coloring were definitely more lucrative.”
After graduation, Dow worked at the Bon Marche and later at the Crescent. Then he opened his own business, Glen’s Salon, near downtown Spokane and soon established a second salon on the North Side.
As a salon owner in the ’60s, he quickly came to the conclusion that the people he was hiring at the time weren’t up to snuff.
“They didn’t have any people skills to begin with – it just wasn’t taught,” he said. “People skills are 60 to 75 percent of why a customer comes back to you. When you sit in the chair, if that person is blah and doesn’t pay attention to you, then you’ll find someone else.”
Those entering the cosmetology field also didn’t have good mechanic skills either, he said, nor did they pay much attention to artistic design. So Dow decided to improve his own training by attending classes at a Portland beauty school as well as at hair shows throughout the country.
In 1968, he was chosen to represent the state of Washington at the national hairstyling contest in Miami.
“I was very inept and unqualified to do what I wanted to do, but I was determined to make the industry better,” he said.
In 1969, a downtown beauty school went up for sale, so Dow took a chance and bought it. He changed the name and redefined the way hair design and cosmetology were being taught.
He developed and wrote his own lesson plans by hand and then typed them out. Over time, he established high standards and ways to meet those goals through specific instruction.
Dow also stuck to some of his “stubborn principles.” He demanded that all students arrive for class on time and treat each other with respect.
He also insisted that they “look the part,” by requiring students to adhere to certain codes of appearance. “They have to look like they will go into the world of beauty,” he explained.
In addition to his school and salons, Dow also owned the city’s first retail wig store – a fashion boutique that specialized in wigs and toupees. Betty Jean Dow cared for their four children while doing all the bookkeeping work.
In 1984, the Dows bought the current building on Riverside Avenue from the Sons of Norway and remodeled it to fit the needs of the academy. It was also during this time that their son, Martin, became one of the school’s instructors.
Like his dad, Martin Dow, now 51, never thought he would become a cosmetologist. As a kid, he worked for his father mopping floors, cleaning and doing other odd jobs.
By the time he was 15 and attending Gonzaga Prep, Martin knew how to fix hair dryers and styling chairs as well as mix shampoos and other basics. He also delivered supplies to his father’s salons and the wig studio.
But he resisted going into the family business. He attended Gonzaga University and then Eastern Washington University before landing a construction job. A severe winter in 1978, however, forced him to change his mind.
While suffering from the cold on a work site in Mead, Martin Dow experienced an “epiphany,” he recalled. He decided to move back in with his folks and go to beauty school at the academy.
He earned his license and started working for Zotos’ creative design team, which gave him the opportunity to travel all over the world to do platform shows and teach.
“It was better to be in a climate-controlled place with a roof over my head and where I could be around women all day long,” Martin Dow said with a laugh.
At the same time, he acknowledged that cosmetology had always been a significant part of his life. His father, after all, was the only person who had cut and styled his hair until he turned 18. He also knew the ins and outs of the salon and the beauty industry at a very young age.
After working closely with his father for many years, Martin Dow bought the school two years ago and is now the academy’s president and general manager.
“I’m very fortunate that my son wanted to carry on the tradition,” said Glen Dow, who now has Martin cut and style his hair.
These days, all three floors at the academy – which add up to about 20,000 square feet – are abuzz with activity as students sit in classrooms, practice cutting and styling hair on mannequin heads, or perfect their technique by working with actual clients.
“I always receive great service,” said Lorraine Rock of Spokane, who started coming to Glen Dow about 10 years ago for haircuts, facials, manicures, pedicures and other services.
“I just recommend the school to everyone who wants to go into cosmetology – they have very high standards for their students.”
Rock also praised the academy’s community involvement. When her daughter, Rochelle, was crowned Miss Spokane several years ago, Glen Dow Academy became one of her sponsors. Students at the school styled Rochelle’s hair, did her make-up and helped her look her best during the Miss Washington pageant in Seattle.
The academy continues to be one of the gold sponsors of the Miss Spokane pageant as well as other events. This year, the school established a community contribution program, which enables area nonprofits that recommend Glen Dow Academy to their clients for salon services to receive 10 percent of the service sales.
Glen Dow Academy has an enrollment of about 120 students. They come from all over the Pacific Northwest as well as Montana, California, Hawaii and Alaska. Applicants need to be at least 17 years old and must have a high school diploma or GED.
While the state of Washington requires only 1,600 training hours to become a licensed cosmetologist, students at Glen Dow must finish 1,970 hours in order to graduate.
The staff of 17 includes faculty members such as Pam Burwell Craig, who has been an instructor at Glen Dow for the last 27 years. Together, they teach students everything from general cosmetology and aesthetics to retail product knowledge, people skills and business management.
About 90 percent of the students say they started thinking about going to beauty school when they were in their early teens, Martin Dow said.
“Helping people fulfill their dream is why I do what I do,” he said. “I still get an adrenaline rush when I come to work. I like teaching the students and watching them reach the next level.”
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