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Key Hair Stylist

Expert Sources: Kerry Mendenhall 
Date: July 26, 2019
Reads: 6,308

Career Overview

Key Hair Stylists cut and style the hair and wigs of Actors, Background Artists and Stunt Performers on television series, feature films, commercials or short projects.

Alternate Titles

Key Hairdresser, Key Stylist, Key Hair Designer

Avg. Salary


Career Description

Kerry Mendenhall, Emmy Award-winning Key Hair Stylist on Animal Kingdom, Nashville and Jonah Hex first explains the hierarchy in the Hair Department: “Key is in third position. We have the Department Head, the Assistant Department Head and then there’s the Key Stylist.”

She goes on to lay out the infinite variety of work behind the chair: “So often we’re working on series and films set in different eras so we do a lot of ‘period’ hairstyling. If you’re styling for the ‘30s or the ‘50s, say, you have to study those periods as needed. We rarely color, but you need to learn the cuts and styles.”

Mendenhall also explains that Hair Stylists in the entertainment industry are constantly learning about all sorts of hair products: “We have to know how they function over a full day of work. How do they perform in humidity, in the rain, on hot summer days?”

Mendenhall describes some other important responsibilities of the Key Hair Stylist: “If the Department Head is busy, the Key helps with making phone calls to hire the day help, called ‘Day Checkers.’ We also keep track of the continuity photographs. This entails the Key Stylist photographing all four sides of the Actor — this way, we can maintain the style or be able to go back to that scene in the future and keep the same look.

“The Makeup Department tends to photograph only the face, but in the Hair Department, we document all angles so we can reference it any time.” Mendenhall says the Key Stylists have to keep track of those photos and keep the continuity book in order: “When the Department Head needs something quickly, they can open the book and get it. Now we’re transitioning more to digital archiving, but I still like to keep old-fashioned printed photos.”

If the Department Head has to go back to the trailer to do someone’s hair, the Key Stylist will watch the set and ensure the Actors’ hair is maintained. “The Department Head and Key often rotate functions so it all depends on the particular working relationship.”

Mendenhall explains that the Key Stylist works a lot with Stunt Doubles: “If you have a Stunt Double, you might have the Key Stylist pull out a wig for them, or even go out and buy one. The Key might also be charged with matching the hair color of the principal Actor to the double so we can get the closest fit.

“I have to make sure that it’s as close looking as possible so when they’re on camera, you can’t tell. (Hopefully!) We also try to be as cost-effective as possible; there are times