Maneland Hair is the only place I’ve ever had my hair cut in Halifax.
Now maybe your first thought was, "okay... bias?" But this is actually a huge compliment. You see, I’ve been cutting my own hair — almost exclusively — since high school. It started as an anxiety thing after a few particularly awful experiences in my adolescence that ended like this:
After a reluctant glance in the mirror, I’d tell the stylist: “Thank you so much, I love it!” Then, I’d hand over the $25 my mom gave me, rush home, put a literal bag over my head and cry in my bedroom.
Take this to mean that I care about who touches my hair. I swear, I only trust the best, so I’ll only go to the best.
Located on Queen Street, Maneland Hair makes a home just across the road from the new Pan e Circo, right next to The Neighbourhood Witch; you know you’re in good company as soon as you turn off Spring Garden.
I called up owner and stylist Steph McNair (they/them) to hear the salon’s origin story. Our hour-long interview breezed by like I’d booked a “20-minute-tune-up” session, one of a few appointment options, created to capture barbershop efficiency and accessibility.
Before training as a stylist, Steph’s background was in the arts. They found employment in galleries and trades like carpentry before enrolling in beauty school, with ventures into drag theatre and performance art dotting their resume.
Steph’s journey from the art gallery into the beauty salon was a natural progression: “I realized how [beauty] does link to art and craft, so that’s how I came into it,” they said, pausing for a moment before adding, “Going to salons was not a comfortable experience, for me and in general. I wanted to be able to have somebody in the industry to do hair for folks like me.”
Steph’s words struck a chord. I remember sitting in the barber’s chair at ten or eleven, palms sweating while clippers buzzed behind my ears. Haircuts are inherently intimate; you’re trusting a stranger to sculpt an aspect of your identity.
Maneland understands that getting the right cut requires a personal connection. After my first appointment, I waited almost a year — long enough for my kitchen scissors to lose their charm — before I returned. Still, Steph remembered which clippers I liked and the university I attended.
When asked what makes a space welcoming, accessibility was at the top of Steph’s list: “It sounds so simple, but literally just coming in the door and being welcomed and seen. For people who are maybe less gender conforming, people who are gender non-conforming, I think having a space that's built for the community specifically is really important.”
In their words, the salon is “an invitation to those folks who don't feel comfortable or simply for people looking for a place that’s part of their community. A lot of people are often talked out of doing whatever it is that they want on their hair, you know?”
“Yeah!” I related, “I remember in middle school I had blue hair, and it was the coolest thing ever to me. But I'd go to salons with a photo of some guy like ‘can you do this?’ and they'd always be like, “Are you... are you sure? You're 12.’”
“I mean it's okay, to confirm that,” Steph laughed, “but not in a way that it feels like, ‘Are you sure?’ where it's like ‘that's weird.’
The practice of supporting clients is sacred to Steph — even if it’s a pubescent boy sporting head-to-toe Hot Topic and asking for blue hair like yours truly (once-upon-a-time, in the long-gone past).
I purposely said, "this is nonbinary beauty, and this is a queer space"
For some of us, hair is more than a vanity project: it’s a way to assert identity and experiment with self-expression.
Steph touched on this, “[if a client is] asking for something that's more ‘masculine’ and it's going well and then at the end the stylist feminizes it, it’s like being told, ‘well, no, you have to have something more pretty,’ you know? Like, ‘you can have it short, but it has to be feminine.’”
This points to a larger issue: conventional beauty is gendered.
It’s still common for salons to charge higher fees for women than men under the assumption that men's cuts are a quick trim, while women require a full shampoo service. This raises questions — if a man wants a blowout, is he charged the woman’s fee? A haircut becomes an unsolicited imposition of gender, another awkward conversation for gender non-conforming people amidst a transphobic landscape.
Maneland is decidedly different: “I purposely said, ‘this is nonbinary beauty, and this is a queer space,’” Steph explained. With a queer team of stylists and gender-neutral bookings, the salon lives up to its tagline.
Conceiving Maneland, Steph drew on their experience in the heavily gendered beauty industry, “I would want to walk into a space and know that I wasn’t going to be the only [queer person].” Steph added that the salon is more than a place to get your hair done, “I like going to the bar, but I don't think it should be the only [queer] space to go. I wanted [Maneland] to be a social space too.”
Steph’s devotion to community-building includes accessible business practices. The website boasts 9 separate booking types, including a “pay what you can” option. “I need to be accessible to anyone,” Steph explained, "Anytime that I would meet with like, financial people or whatever, they were like, ‘you can do this eventually, but you can't really do this now because you need to make money.’ But I never took it offline. I just didn't tell.”
Details like these take Maneland from a queer-friendly business to a fixture of the queer community. With skyrocketing inflation and the rise of ‘blended’ queer and straight bars, queer spaces have begun to fold. I mentioned this to Steph, “You notice when you go to a lot of bars, they'll have like a pride flag up and it's like, not uncommon, but you're not going to a gay bar.”
They nodded, responding, “That's a bittersweet thing because I think that is a way of saying, ‘hey, we're okay, we're cool, you know?’ But it’s also like, what does that mean now? Is it queer run? Is it actually safe? Are there queer people that work here?”
Maneland is a proudly queer owned business. In January, stylists Jo and Violet joined the ranks. “They’re awesome” Steph tells me with a smile, adding, “And they’re both they-them folks.”
Alongside the three stylists is apprentice Natash “Tasha” Dawn. In the process of getting her full salon license, she currently offers braiding for all textured hair from 1A to 4C.
Before letting Steph off the call, I had to ask a couple of industry questions.
For at-home tips, they recommend going natural, “Just being in a rainy, very wet kind of city, the natural texture is the best start; salty air is the best product. People move here with no idea that they have curly hair, but as soon as the moisture hits they’re like, ‘oh, I have curls!”
In terms of salon products, Maneland features two brand-new lines. First, colouring: Steph loves Color Space — a line designed by hairdressers, for hairdressers, and for styling, their favourite is “BOB” (Back of Bottle), which boasts sulfate-free shampoos filled with naturally derived ingredients and aromas.
For a full list of services, check out the Maneland website.