This Philly stylist wants to help people on their natural hair journey

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Tori McCutcheon is a curly hair stylist and owner of Tori Did That studio in Philadelphia’s Head House neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Tori McCutcheon is a curly hair stylist and owner of Tori Did That studio in Philadelphia’s Head House neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Many Philadelphians gave up straightening their hair when salons were closed due to regulations around COVID-19 and people couldn’t access their regular treatments. But now, even after salons have opened, people with all kinds of curls, kinks, and coils are embracing their natural hair texture.

Enter the city’s newest curl whisperer: Tori McCutcheon, a Philadelphia-native, owner of the new Headhouse Square salon, Tori Did That and enthusiastic ambassador for what she sees as a collective hair movement.

“I just want everybody to feel comfortable with who they are and what they’re bringing to the table, because a lot of times we’re not taught to embrace our natural selves. So I try to enforce that here,” she said.

The 32-year-old describes her salon as a “safe space” for the region’s growing tribe of  “curlies,” as she calls those who have given up chemical straighteners and treatments in favor of their natural texture.

McCutcheon never planned to strike out on her own — she thought that managing a business would be too much on top of her work styling. But then the pandemic came along and while salons were closed, she realized that she didn’t want to go back to the place where she had been working. She also noticed while on a hunt for a hairstylist herself, that there weren’t many options. She wanted to create a space that she identified with and that her clients could as well — a place that would accept everyone, no matter who they are and where they are on their hair journey.

“That was kind of my driving force,” said McCutcheon. “I don’t feel like there’s many curly hair stylists that cater to everyone in this area.”

That’s not the case anymore.

Tori Did That took over the storefront at 401 South 2nd St., right across from the open-air structure that holds the Headhouse Farmers Market, back in June. Her salon is cozy and welcoming, with abstract shapes in warm colors scattered across an accent wall, while gold decor adds a bit of glam.

Business has been steady, she said.

It’s no wonder why. If you scroll through McCutcheon’s Instagram, you’ll find all sorts of curly hair transformations. Locks that were once dull and dry are suddenly vivacious and bouncy. Frizzy tresses morph into defined ringlets. Glowing smiles all around. All after an appointment with McCutcheon.

The business owner is proud of her work and the name of her salon reflects that. One day, a client casually said “Tori did that” to someone after a service and it stuck with the stylist. The declaration now hangs in neon over a mirror in the shop with a hashtag in front.

Many of McCutcheon’s clients have followed her from salon to salon. Some have been natural for a long time and are happy to find a stylist that specializes in curly hair, while others have recently ventured into this world.

“A lot of people actually went natural during quarantine because they didn’t have to go to the salon,” she explained. “They were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know my hair texture could do this. I didn’t know I would look good like this.’ And they experimented with being heat-free, being chemical-free,” said the stylist.

Now she’s supporting them in helping them find what works for them.

A curly way of life

McCutcheon understands what her curlies are going through, since she also has gone through her own hair transition. She first began relaxing her hair when she was in the sixth grade.

“I felt like it was something that I needed to do because everyone in my family was doing it. And that’s what made your hair ‘manageable’. That’s what made your hair look ‘better,’” she recounted.

As she got older, she realized it wasn’t the right choice for her hair and so she cut out the relaxers when she was in her senior year of high school, but kept straightening her hair. Then in her early twenties, she got her first big chop and started fresh.

Since then, she’s played around with different cuts and colors, but she’s kept heat out of her routine for the last five years.

Tori McCutcheon, in her Head House Square salon, Tori Did That. (Kim Paynter/WHYY)

For people who are looking to start their natural curl journey, she recommends starting one step at a time, like she did.

“Start small,” she emphasized. “Maybe change your shampoo, maybe do things, like start a regimen that makes you feel good, do things a little and then work your way up to the bigger things.”

It’s also important to be honest with yourself and reflect on what your lifestyle is like, according to McCutcheon. What’s your day-to-day like? What do you do for work? And most importantly, what are you willing to commit to?

When in doubt, you can always schedule a consultation with a professional to get tailored advice based on your hair and its specific needs.

McCutcheon has been working in salons for over a decade. She’s seen a lot of styles come and go, but she believes that the shift to curly hair is here to stay.

“I’m glad more people are really embracing it. I don’t think it’s a trend like some people thought it was going to be,” she said. “It’s really a way of life and we’re learning how to take care of ourselves in a more natural way.”

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