Styling Black Hair: Destinee Steele Leading The Way

Destinee Steele used the COVID-19 theatre shutdown to launch her own business. As an expert on styling Black hair, she started The Beauty Menagerie, LLC. The Beauty Menagerie creates handmade wigs and offers other beauty accessories like mink eyelashes. And Destinee has created a business model that’s a step above your average wig provider’s. She’s wisely working with insurance providers for her customers who want or need a wig because of hair loss connected to medical treatments or illness. Of course, the company also accommodates customers who simply want to try different hair styles using wigs.

With her new company up and running for more than a year now, Destinee still works as a designer on theatre shows and as CEO and a hair artist at The Beauty Menagerie. Plus, she’s also a workshop instructor! The International Thespian Festival 2021 is offering a workshop with Destinee called Makeup for Darker Skin Tones.

WHAT ARE THE TOP 3 THINGS MAKEUP AND HAIR DESIGNERS MUST KNOW ABOUT DARK SKIN TONES AND BLACK HAIR?

  1. Black hair and makeup should not be a specialty. Let’s normalize the fact that some talent has darker skin tones and more textured hair and get educated to cater to them. I’ve seen permanent damage done to Black hair by hair artists improperly trained (or not-at-all trained to work on Black hair).
  2. Trust must be rebuilt between Black talent and hair-and-makeup artists. There’re decades of trauma caused by hair-and-makeup artists who lacked the skills required to efficiently do Black hair and makeup. For example, an artist hired to work with Black talent isn’t always specifically trained to work with Black hair and makeup. Too many stories exist where the Black talent had to arrive with hair already done. Or the talent teaches the hair artist how to do their textured hair. Or the makeup artist doesn’t have foundations dark enough to match deeper skin tones. Or the talent brings their own wig options, etc. The theatre industry must do a better job ensuring the hair-and-makeup artists are skilled and equipped to cater to anyone that sits in their chair. Especially Black talent right now because theatre casts are becoming more diverse.
  3. Remember that art imitates real life! With more diverse ethnicities being cast, the textures of hair you have in your show are also more diverse.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR  EXPERIENCE STYLING BLACK HAIR.

I know this topic well as a person who wears makeup and has a deeper skin tone. I have firsthand knowledge! Plus, I’ve been a licensed cosmetologist for 10 years. I’ve also earned a Master’s in Wig and Makeup Design.
However, cosmetology school and college aren’t where I learned the most about Black hair and makeup. Instead, I learned the most by participating in a mentorship under a master stylist. It was a kind of boot camp for natural hair and makeup for people with darker skin.

TELL US HOW YOU BALANCE YOUR PASSION FOR DOING THEATRE WORK WITH RUNNING A NEW BUSINESS?

The balance has come easy so far. COVID-19 abruptly shut down the theatre industry. Including the national tour of Waitress that I was working on. I had the time and energy to hyper focus on starting my wig business! Now that theatre is making its comeback, I have a business that can cater to building wigs for cast members in theatre shows as well. WIN/WIN!

TELL US WHERE YOU WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL AND WHAT THESPIAN TROUPE YOU WERE IN? WHAT’S YOUR BEST MEMORY OF THOSE DAYS?

I attended A. Crawford Mosley High School in Florida, which is encompassed by District 1. The school still boasts Thespian Troupe 4280! I was president of the troupe the final year I was there, and I remember going to the state festival with my large-group members. I had a strong sense of belonging. There was so much talent and acceptance among all these strangers, but we had one thing in common: The love of the show!

WHAT ADVICE OR ENCOURAGEMENT DO YOU HAVE FOR CURRENT TROUPE MEMBERS IN ITS?

Dear high school performer, you are seen and I know where you are. My personal go-to brand of makeup for darker skin tones is made by Ben Nye. They understand the different undertones  of darker skin and this brand won’t let you down. 

Also, if you’re looking for training videos, most practices of Black makeup artists on YouTube are really close to where you need to be for a theatrical makeup application (minus the shimmer and highlighter). YouTube is a great start. And rest assured that there are makeup artists fighting to make this industry more accommodating for you (whether you are a performer or a hair and makeup artist). 

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL READERS THAT WE HAVEN’T ASKED YOU?

I’m a founding board member of a nonprofit called Black Hair and Makeup United (BHMU). BHMU is dedicated to the advancement of hair and makeup artists who work on Black skin and Black hair. The organization serves to ensure safety for clients who sit in styling chairs by providing a robust database of hair and makeup stylists across the nation. Stylists’ specialties are vetted and highlighted along with their location.

The nonprofit also intends to provide educational resources to all who want to learn more about Black skin and Black hair.

Qualified artists of all races are encouraged to apply for the registry. More info can be found on our Facebook and Instagram @blackhmuunited or by emailing [email protected]

Written By Patty Graft for Dramatics.org