The teachers on the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary may attend the same school and take their breaks in the same teachers’ lounge, but each of them has a distinctive look that helps inform the character’s personality.
One of the people responsible for those looks is the show’s Hair Department Head, Moira Frazier, who also serves as the personal hair stylist to series star, Sheryl Lee Ralph, as well Nicole Byer.
Below the Line recently spoke with Frazier to get a sense of what element of hairstyling takes her the most time and why it is that she needs to have 100 wigs ready to go at any moment. She also talked about running with changes in the script and having to prepare something unexpected in a limited amount of time.
Frazier also discussed her commitment to keeping hair healthy and making sure she’s doing right by her actors, and she even shared some simple advice for those who aren’t in the hands of trained professionals about how to protect their own hair.
Below the Line: How did you first become involved with this show?
Moira Frazier: I first came on as the Key Hair Stylist of Abbott Elementary, and then I got promoted to Department Head. [It’s a] great story, [a] great show, and I was just happy to be asked to be involved.
BTL: How has your role changed with that promotion?
Frazier: For the best. I love to be able to have the freedom to create and to show the world how teachers look. This show was already set in stone for that, but it’s just good to be able to have the freedom to create on a show such as this. It just feels great.
BTL: What does that look like when it comes to styling teachers?
Frazier: Ah! I used to own a salon in Ohio, and, it might sound strange, but a lot of the people who came in to get their hair done were teachers. A lot of these hairstyles that you see onscreen for Abbott Elementary are hairstyles that I’m already used to doing. Like Barbara’s short cut with the little side-bang… I have two teachers back in Ohio that literally get their hair like that — one’s a teacher [and] one’s a principal.
Even Janine’s character… a lot of women are natural now, and they’re embracing their natural curls. They’re embracing their natural curl pattern. I do a lot of those as well and promote healthy hair. Even Ava’s character, her classic middle-side part — whatever part she feels like wearing today, whether she wants to be straight and black tomorrow, or even wavy curls or blond highlights to match her skin tone. It gives teachers [a sense of] freedom and empowerment that I know, as a hairstylist, we give on a day-to-day basis. We’re empowering them to go out and do their jobs. That’s what I mean by having that freedom to bring that little salon world onscreen so they can relate to the masses.
BTL: Do you appreciate the opportunity for those field trip episodes where we get to see the teachers out in the wild in their own lives?
Frazier: Absolutely. I actually love those field trips because it’s a field trip for me! I absolutely love those.
BTL: You apparently have 100 wigs at the ready. Is that something that’s normal for shows like this?
Frazier: Listen, you have to have wigs and hair extensions because you have to be prepared for anything. When I say anything — I don’t know if you’re going to ask me this, but I’ll tell you anyway — one of the challenges that I had was that we had an episode for Janine’s sister, where she came in and her hair needed to be kind of similar to Janine’s. But Janine’s curl pattern was custom-made by me, so at the time, I didn’t necessarily have that in a wig. Her call time was that morning, and I was like, oh my god, what am I going to do? So while Ayo, the actress that plays her sister, was in makeup, I literally rummaged through my inventory, pulled out some kinky curly bundles, and pulled out my sewing machine, because you always need to have a sewing machine on hand because you don’t know what to expect. I sewed her a wig in one hour. I colored it, set it, and once Quinta looked at it, she said, ‘This is perfect.’
You just have to be prepared for anything. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. That’s what it means to have over one hundred wigs plus extensions because you just never know. Even [in] the teachers’ conference episode, we had one particular teacher that got into a little tiff with the Schemmenti sisters. This girl had to have this Beetlejuice-type wig. It was crazy. I was like, ‘Beetlejuice wig?’ So I rummaged once again through my big box, and we found an old gray wig. I’m like, ‘Quinta, does this look like the Beetlejuice wig?’ We ended up making it work, and it fit the whole character. It fit the narrative. I just love when we get those types of challenges. You have to think fast, and think on your feet, and make sure that it works. It usually does.
BTL: Do you find that you use wigs more than hair extensions?
Frazier: We do it all. More than likely, it’s easier to use wigs versus hair extensions. To really get that versatility, sometimes, the character doesn’t need to have a wig. Amber’s character — Greg’s love interest in the very beginning — we didn’t use any wigs on her. We used her natural hair and extensions, so we got to see the half-up, half-down, the curly Philly way. The baby hairs and all the things, and then just a simple top knot bun or a simple long braid. Wigs are not necessarily the focal point for every character, but you want to make sure you’re versatile and all so that, once again, you can stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
BTL: You also have a commitment to keeping your actors’ natural hair healthy. What steps do you take to do that?
Frazier: Well, a few things. Usually, before I do a breakdown, I have a scalp massager that I use. That helps massage their scalp and get those blood vessels circulating so that their hair can be stimulated to grow. My main thing is to keep healthy hair. If you’re in the acting world, you already know wigs come on, wigs come off. But what are you doing to keep your hair healthy when you leave us?
My job is [to] do that extra step and keep it healthy and moisturized. The products that we use on the show also keep their hair moisturized and promote healthy hair growth as well. I actually formulated this hair cream specifically for the actors of our show, to help promote healthy hair growth for them. We don’t use glue on our wigs, so the lace melting spray protects their hair. The only thing we use to remove the wigs is water. That’s it.
BTL: For those of us who aren’t actors and don’t wear wigs or extensions, do you have any simple tips to recommend to keep our own hair healthy?
Frazier: Moisture! If you ever notice that your hair is so dry, whether it’s dandruffy or flaky, what’s the first thing you see when your hair is dry? Shedding. It’s because your hair is lacking moisture. Of course, you don’t want to over-moisturize, because then you’ll have clogs and all the things. A simple way to do it is to make sure you have a good regimen to keep your hair healthy and hydrated. And then you’ll be good to go. And drink water! Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
BTL: You’re also Sheryl Lee Ralph’s personal hair stylist. What is your relationship like with her?
Frazier: I love working with Sheryl. She’s absolutely amazing. She lets me create, and be creative. It’s a joy working with her. It’s like working with your [friend], it’s great. I love being able to create amazing, iconic looks for the queen that she is. I’m just happy to be a part of the journey.
BTL: We’ve talked mainly about women. What kind of time and effort do you spend on the men on this show?
Frazier: Our other hair stylist, Dustin Osborne, he’s the Key Hair Stylist and Colorist for the show. He’s the one who handles Lisa Ann Walter, and also Chris Perfetti and the products that he uses. He uses Color WOW from Dream Coat and also Amika and the Joico products to keep their curls healthy. We love to take care of Mr. Johnson, as you all know, even though he doesn’t have hair. We do take care of him as well. We like to keep him nice and shaved, so sometimes we’ll do massages and things of that nature to make sure he’s feeling pampered as well. The same with Tyler James Williams‘ character. We like to keep him brushed down and make sure that he has everything that he needs, from durags to different creams that he may request. We just basically take care of them as much as we do with the women.
BTL: Are there other invisible touches that audiences might not be aware of that you use frequently?
Frazier: I think I’m most impressed by the fact that we’re able to quickly pull looks together at the last minute. Sometimes, you’re at the mercy of the script, and if there’s a change in it where they’re actually talking about the hair, it’s being able to stay ready and dig into your little bag of tracks to be able to meet the need of the character and of the script. A lot of times, you’re not seeing us run around like, “Oh my god, oh my god.” But it always works out in the end.
BTL: You also work closely with Nicole Byer. What is your working relationship like?
Frazier: Working with Nicole is always fun. It’s such a fun vibe. I can’t even express how fun it is. She [also] lets me be creative [and] flex my creative skills on her, on the carpet, and even when we do shows like Nailed It! I’m able to flex on those. Especially, and I think we are submitting this for Emmy consideration, Season 7, the Halloween season. If you haven’t streamed already, there are some awesome, amazing looks that I did on that show as well. I built all the wigs.
BTL: Do you find that your work is substantially different when it comes to reality competitions and scripted series?
Frazier: Yes. It is. It depends on the show. If it’s a Halloween episode, then you get to have a little bit more fun. But you still have fun doing scripted. It’s just paying closer attention to detail and making sure that every curl you do is with intention so that you can tell the story through hair. That’s what’s most important. To be honest, I actually find fun in doing them both. To the average person, they may look at a hairstyle and be like, “oh, it’s just straight,” but it’s not straight. It’s straight with a story. It’s not just curly hair on the side and pinned. It’s with a story. Every curl, every comb, every stroke of a brush is done with a story in mind, to maintain the integrity of the character.
Season 2 of Abbott Elementary aired on ABC and episodes are now streaming on Hulu, while Season 1 is currently streaming on HBO Max.