Beauty bubble brings vintage style to the high desert

There are vintage advertisements, framed magazine covers, and unopened hairnets from the 20s and 30s with names like Bon Ton, Jac-O-Net, and Pretty Miss. Extravagant wigs rest on the heads of mannequins with eyes of apple. In addition to the portraits of Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton painted on black velvet, aging mechanical devices resemble instruments of torture. On a decorative dresser there is a matching set of pink mirrors, paintbrushes and jars with a note that reads, “1940s Marion dresser set, found in mom’s attic.” Offered by his daughter.

“Most of the time that I collect, people have donated these random beauty items… like scrolls, clips and barrettes,” he says. “Someone threw a bag of rolls in the front door and said, ‘Here are Grandma’s rolls! We didn’t want to throw them away! ‘”

Beauty Bubble is covered with vintage ephemera from floor to ceiling. (Pierre Gilstrap)

To paraphrase Will Rogers, Hafler is a man who never saw a beauty item he didn’t like.

“This is part of the problem. It’s part of the disease, isn’t it? I can’t say no! He said.

But that’s what makes the place unique. Your cuts, colors and curls today come with an all-encompassing sensory boost, taking you on a journey into a bygone era of beauty care.

A pink hair care box with gold fabric and a mirror is open.
Beauty Bubble owner Jeff Hafler says he can’t say no when people donate items to his massive collection. (Pierre Gilstrap)

“One of the most common comments is that it reminds people of their mother or grandmother,” says Hafler. “I hear that several times a week. And I like it because I was close to my grandmother. I’m very close to my mother and, you know, it’s true. I love old ladies’ trinkets.

A woman with what appears to be a new haircut sits in a blue dress, smiling, with a vintage hairdryer behind her.
Heather Morgan, Beauty Bubble sponsor since 2017. (Pierre Gilstrap)

Heather Morgan sits in a living room chair with a big smile and a platinum blonde pixie cut designed by Hafler. She’s been a regular at Beauty Bubble since moving from Los Angeles in 2017.

“There are a lot of people in the desert who go out and rock their LA style,” she says. “So I didn’t have to change my hairstyle or my style. I thought I should, like, stop going platinum or become an old desert rag. But Jeff is here to lead the way in style.

Hafler grew up in Pickerington, Ohio, just outside of Columbus, where he attended beauty school. At the time, he fell in love with a hair dryer from the 1940s – it’s still on display. This hair dryer sparked interest in the vintage tools of his new craft.

“During that first year, I collected and decorated my bathroom with it,” he says. “And I thought, it’s a fascinating story. And it is beautiful and interesting. So I was 20 and I was like, ‘I’m going to do a roadside attraction, a beauty salon museum.’ And so here I am, 29 years later, I’m 49 now. And I am living this dream.

Two mannequin heads are seated with a ragged red wig and a pink wig with curly hair.
Colorful wigs are everywhere. (Pierre Gilstrap)

In 2004, Hafler and her husband, jewelry designer Mikal Winn, purchased a home in Wonder Valley, a point on the desert map 30 miles east of Joshua Tree.

It is unincorporated land with rugged dirt roads and endless horizons. And it’s such a rural part of San Bernardino County that home salons were and still are legal.

Hafler says, “I had ‘high desert society’, that’s what I call them. Business owners, retired artists, Hollywood actresses. And we live next to a pretty big Navy base here and I would get the general’s wives and the officers’ wives. I mean, name it!

These first customers have remained loyal. But here in Joshua Tree – where Hafler moved his salon in 2015 – a constant stream of tourists and locals are walking around to admire the exhibit.

But these days, Jeff Hafler isn’t styling new faces. He focuses on selling his vintage items and curating his ever-expanding museum.

“Since I turned my lobby into a gift shop, it works so well that I don’t have to cut my hair anymore,” he says. “And I was ready to quit. I will keep a handful of dear clients that I have done for 17 years. But I have three amazing stylists who rent out the chairs, so we’ll always have Beauty Bubble hairstyles four days a week.

And Hafler takes his trinkets on the road.

He recently had an exhibit at the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport with vintage beauty items and the sculptures he creates from discarded hair care instants. And there’s an upcoming beauty bubble documentary. If that wasn’t enough, Hafler has plans even beyond.

“I dream of building a geodesic dome and making it look like a giant hair dryer, like that blue hair dryer in the corner. Thus, the museum of beauty would be installed in the largest hairdryer in the world. It just has to happen.

Like the miles of hair that brought him here, Hafler’s dream in the desert keeps growing.

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