Borough barber shop passes on family legacy

Daniel DiLeo, right, teaches Mike Santos a lesson on hair styling Tuesday afternoon at DiLeo's School of Hair Design in Naugatuck. DiLeo and his family own and operate the barber shop and school. - LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — A third generation of local hair stylists are training eager minds in the art of the coiffure. DiLeo’s School of Hair Design is gearing up for a new semester of classes with a focus on student input and hands-on experience.

Daniel DiLeo’s grandfather opened a barber shop in Waterbury before moving DiLeo’s Hair Studio to Naugatuck in 1973.

DiLeo and his brother turned the salon into a cosmetology school.

The school operated in Waterbury for about five years before the brothers combined it with the salon in Naugatuck three years ago.

“There’s tremendous benefits as far as having them connected,” DiLeo said.

He said having the school in a functioning salon gives students real-world experience. Working in the small salon, the school only has openings for five students at a time.

“We really depend and we support small classes and small student-teacher ratios,” DiLeo said.

The barber/hairdressing school opened this semester with a new style of teaching and a new curriculum that is more personalized towards student preferences, according to DiLeo.

“We’re just trying to mix it up as far as curriculum goes,” DiLeo said.

To become a licensed cosmetologist in Connecticut, students must complete 1,500 hours of class work before taking a test in Hartford.

Besides the basics needed to pass the test, DiLeo brings his knowledge of competitive hairstyling to the classroom.

“We just bring that sort of intensity to our teaching. I think it’s important for students to have a really strong base knowledge,” DiLeo said.

DiLeo’s father was one of three Americans who represented the United States in the Organisation Mondiale Coiffure world hairdressing championship throughout the 1980s and 1990s and continued training the USA teams from 2004 to 2008.

Hairstylists from over 50 countries compete every other year in two categories; fashion and classic.

DiLeo and his father specialized in men’s cuts. The classic cut, which resembles Elvis Presley’s famous hair-do, has stayed the same for 50 years. Judges rank competitors on the sculpted perfection of the cut. Fashion cuts change from year-to-year, but often feature whimsical styling and flame-inspired coloring.

DiLeo said Italy, France, and Japan usually finish in the top three, but his father won the championship for the classic men’s cut in 1986. DiLeo’s team once finished fifth out of 50 countries and he individually came in seventh of out 300 competitors.

The next semester of classes begins Feb. 28 and DiLeo will hold a lecture at Naugatuck High School in April. On April 10 at 6 p.m., DiLeo will host an open house question and answer session for those considering going in to a hairdressing career. For more information, visit