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Best Hair Salon

Illusions of Shirlington

Irma Wheeler can’t help stepping into an elevator and giving fellow passengers makeovers in her mind. Perhaps that woman would look better with bangs, she thinks. Or different eyeglass frames. Or a shorter hemline.

“I’m usually finished before I get to my floor,” she says. “I’ve been doing that my whole life.”

Born in Havana, Wheeler traveled to the U.S. on one of the last flights out of Cuba when she was 10. “Cuba was communist. My parents felt it wasn’t going to last, and said I’d come [here] for a couple weeks until things settled down,” she recalls. “I didn’t see my parents again until I was 24.”

The youngest of 12 children, Wheeler lived with her sister in Silver Spring, Md., until she was 18. But when her sister’s family moved to Florida, she didn’t want to leave the area, so she worked nights as a waitress and hostess in Georgetown and put herself through beauty school. She spent the next 11 years cutting hair and managing a salon on Columbia Pike, before opening her own shop in Shirlington in 1993.

Hair is one of the simplest ways to change your look, she says, although identifying the right cut depends not only on a person’s features and hair texture, but also lifestyle. For example, an athlete or a mom with two babies might want enough hair to pull back into a ponytail, she says.

On the other hand, women who tend to hide behind their hair are sometimes surprised to see themselves positively transformed with a short, low-maintenance pixie cut. “I’m a big believer that once you hit a certain age, gravity pulls everything down and you should pull something up,” Wheeler says.

Judy Holmes, 60, an insurance agent, has been a loyal client of Wheeler’s for more than 30 years. She goes out of her way to drive to Arlington, even though she now lives in Reston.

“I will never go anywhere else,” Holmes says. “I never have a bad hair day. Ever. It’s not that it’s amazing, magazine hair. It’s just perfect for [me as a] person. She’s an artist and she’s also a technician.”

–W.K.

4033 Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-820-4247, www.illusionsofshirlington.com


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