What I Wish I Knew in Beauty School: Kelly Bileddo

Bileddo at back in beauty school when she was a 20-year-old, single mom (left) and her now (right).

Kelly Bileddo, Sexy Hair International Master Artist and owner of Salon Antebellum (@salonantebellum) in St. Louis, MO, was a 20-year-old single mom when she entered cosmetology school. Now, she looks back fondly on those years, and pens a letter to herself, filled with invaluable advice.

Dear “Beauty School Kelly,”

Cosmetology school is the “make or break” point at the beginning of your career. Having a positive attitude, staying professional and being determined to succeed will carry you through for many years to come. 


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I know that working two jobs—just trying to make ends meet for you and the baby—feels impossible right now. But push through. You’re not going to be a waitress working the late shift forever. Yes, it would feel good to throw fries at that customer who keeps sending back his meal, but take a deep breath. This job is just a means to an end. 

Cut yourself some slack. Being a mom and going to beauty school is tough. You might be a little sleepy during some of your classes, but try to create a schedule that lets you get to school on time. Remember that those “good habits” your teachers and mentors are drilling into you—no matter how trivial they might seem now—have a real purpose. They’ll help you gain a loyal clientele in the future. 

Also realize that you—like most hairdressers—are a visual learner. It’s okay to get engulfed in what you’re seeing, and to creatively make it your own, but don’t forget to listen and ask questions. This is a special time in your life that’s all about learning. At school, when something goes wrong, it’s not a “mistake.” It’s a “discovery.” You want to make those “discoveries” now, not on a client later.

As soon as you leave beauty school, remember these two things: Dress for the clients you want. And, understand that your energy attracts like-minded people. If you’re positive, the people around you will be positive too. 

And lastly, take things slow after beauty school. Sure, you might have a great personality—captivating clients and making everyone happy—but the technical skills are the key. You’ve got to know certain angles of a haircut, theory of color and how to fully utilize a product. 

You’re going to learn this lesson the hard way, two weeks into your first apprenticeship. A stylist is going to quit, and because of that charming personality of yours, the owners are going to give you her job. An 11-year-old girl is going to sit in your chair, requesting a fun, sassy haircut to start off the school year. Even though you’re not a pro with the razor at this point, you’re going to think that you’re Sam Villa, expertly slicing and dicing at a hair show. Sadly, you’re going to end up with a preteen in tears, with her hair all over the floor. Comfort her, dust off that bruised ego, and keep going. You’ll figure out that you took on too much, too soon. And, you’ll appreciate that this haircut changes your life. From that moment on, you’re going to be hungry for education. You’ll turn into a lifelong learner.

“Beauty school Kelly” know that I’m proud of you. The road isn’t going to easy, but you’re going to make it. Going to beauty school will be one of the best decisions of your life.


“Future Kelly”

Have some invaluable advice that you wish you knew in beauty school? Share it with others in a “What I wish I knew in beauty school” online letter. To be considered, please email your “Dear Beauty School self” letter to our Executive Editor, Andrea Dawn Clark, at: [email protected]. And, send a “vintage” and current photo of yourself via Wetransfer, Dropbox or Google Drive. Use “What I wish I knew in beauty school” as your email subject. Students, and even seasoned pros, will appreciate your perspective and salon experiences.