When it came time to do a final cosmetology group project, no one raised eyebrows when Christly Guedry, Maria Johnson, and Andrea Morales picked each other as teammates.
The three students had teamed from the moment they started the San Jacinto College Cosmetology Operator Program at the South Campus last fall.
"We're always together, always asking each other questions," Morales said. "We depend on each other, and we have a really good chemistry."
Wrapping up their program this spring, the three students went from restyling classroom manikins to transferring their skills to a real makeover client together. But the lessons didn't end there.
All exit-level cosmetology students must do a full makeover on a relative, friend, or salon client, including color, haircut, style, and makeup. The project not only builds students' portfolio for job interviews but also builds their confidence.
"They have learned all of these skills in pieces on a manikin," Diana Perez, cosmetology instructor, said. "This is their chance to put it all together and see it."
Guedry laughs that her mom had been bugging her for a while to cover her grays and trim her hair, so she asked her teammates if this could be their group project.
Several consultations followed. Guedry talked to her mom first, and then the whole group chatted online.
"She wanted to go for her natural rich brunette color," Guedry said. "She wanted the grays covered and everything blended naturally."
On makeover day, Geudry's mom sat in a tall chair in the middle of her kitchen, draped in a haircutting cape. Around her — hair products, clips, scissors, and blow dryer on hand — hovered the three students.
They applied color first, using a toner to darken her hair from a faded auburn with gray roots to a rich chocolate. After rinsing her hair at the sink, they trimmed it into soft, face-framing layers.
A coloring and cutting newbie, Guedry picked up tricks from Johnson and Morales. Then she whipped out her airbrush kit and gave them a mini master class thanks to her wedding makeup background.
"We started with a mother of the bride look — natural glam," she said. "Then I showed them tips to make it more glam for a younger person or a bride."
Guedry applied makeup on half her mother's face, while Johnson and Morales matched the look on the other side.
Since students took on individual projects too, Johnson has transformed her own mom, who is going platinum to match her roots.
"Christly's mom is in love with her hair, and my mom is in love with hers as well," Johnson said. "She enjoys not being a brunette anymore. Blondes really do have more fun."
Since COVID-19 began, this is the first time students have returned to full makeover projects. In fall 2020, students resorted to manikin makeovers since it was hard to find real models.
Pre-pandemic, Perez remembers one special makeover in the campus salon: A longtime client, recently widowed, agreed to be a student's model. After getting the deluxe treatment, she posed for photos.
"She was a new woman!" Perez said. "I know it didn't change the fact that she was grieving, but for a few hours that day, she was blissfully happy. That's what we do as stylists. We are mood changers."
The South Campus Cosmetology Program has mastered restyling others — and itself. In the last two years, it merged with the Central Campus program and moved to a new building. Then COVID-19 broke out, and instructors moved training online.
Now the program has returned to about 50% face-to-face instruction.
"Cosmetology is always changing and evolving," Perez said. "I think that's why we have been able to roll with the punches. As long as someone is willing to learn, we are here to teach and change lives one haircut, color, manicure, or facial at a time."
Guedry, Johnson, and Morales have taken more from the makeover than hands-on application of classroom lessons. They all get a fresh start in their own way.
Guedry will begin teaching makeup artistry in her bridal job. The makeover gave her the chance to flex her instruction muscles.
"It was cool to see them learn something from me," she said. "Then I would feel more confident in what I learned from them."
Johnson can finally pursue that beauty career after dropping out of beauty academy two decades ago because of finances. She's no longer the teen whose dad shakes his head at blush, telling her just to pinch her cheeks. Thanks to Guedry's help, she has developed a touch for makeup.
"I'm still using natural colors, but I'm blending better," Johnson said. "My personal [makeup] collection has grown."
Besides learning styling techniques from her older teammates, Morales says their confidence in her has rubbed off. Now a salon receptionist, she looks forward to transitioning to cuts, styles, and other beauty services.
"You need those type of people who will push you to be better," Morales said. "I met them at the right time."
Photos courtesy of Maria Johnson