Hairy Business

I've been to places that charge $20-something for a haircut, and I've been to $5 dives. I wouldn't recommend getting a cut at those $5 places unless you're a guy who needs a buzz cut or a girl who wants a "punch bowl" cut (you know, like if someone puts a bowl over your head and cuts straight all around). A few years ago, I needed a cut and highlight job before going to a friend's wedding. I wanted to find a new place that does both well for cheap, as I was not happy with my last hairdresser's work. By happenstance, I came across a place with a huge "Grand Opening" sign while I was out with my family. We stopped the car, both my sister and I got our haircuts, and we were really satisfied. My $55 highlight job was so well done that it lasted for almost a year...things looked even better as the color darkened and through subsequent haircuts.

Some of my friends considered a $25 haircut to be a great deal; they thought that usually it costs a lot more. They were often astonished when I told them my haircut was $10, considering the cut looked so good. I wonder what makes a $100 cut (and I mean just a cut, not including extra pampering or treatments) so special? I seriously don't know because I've never gone to a high-end salon. If anyone has, please let me know what it's like.

Fast forward to today, when I got my haircut done for $15. I didn't expect the $10 introductory price to last for long, but the price remains reasonable enough such that I won't bolt. More importantly, I feel like I get much more than $15 worth of service. The hair salon is actually a bit of a drive for me, but I'm willing to bear with the travel because she does such a good job. I've also referred friends who asked me about it.

Regardless of geographic location, there are ways to get a great haircut without having to fall behind on rent:

1) Survey your friends. They can tell you about the price and quality. If your friend just got a haircut, you get to judge for yourself--your friend's idea of "great" might not mesh with yours. Sometimes mentioning that you've been referred can get you a discount, but you'll probably have to negotiate for it up front. It might be helpful to talk to friends whose hair is similar to yours to find a hair stylist who understands what looks good on you. For example, many people I know (who are Asian) agree that it's best to go to a place that understands what looks good on Asians, because not all cuts work out. However, don't take this to mean that only Asian hairstylists know how to work with Asian hair, because this is simply not true.

2) This isn't my idea, but I've heard that some people get their haircuts at an expensive salon, then go to a cheaper one to get it maintained. I've never had to do this, but it sounds like a great idea.

3) Some beauty schools or top-dollar salon have discounted days/nights when customers serve as guinea pigs. If you're a student, there might be days when you get an additional discount, so call for details.

Don't fret about having to hide under a hat for the next decade--people who are allowed to cut your hair have been well-trained and are constantly supervised by experienced stylists. Some are bright-eyed bushy-tail students, some are professionals who are there to get their continuation training. The downside is the wait. Before I found the place I go to now, I went to the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica to spruce up before my roommate's graduation. The prices were very reasonable (I believe it was $18 for a cut), and I was fairly happy with my cut. Unfortunately, the students are so well-supervised that they have to wait for approval after each step. The student who did my hair knew that I needed to go to a graduation ceremony, and she worked as quickly as she could, but I was there for 5 friggin' hours! After a harrowing bus ride, I got to the ceremony just in time to see my roommie walk. Hence, if you're in a hurry, don't choose this option.

4) If you have other friends/family members who need a haircut, get them to go with you. You're giving the salon more business, so you have the leverage to negotiate the price. Just make sure you negotiate up front; it's only fair that both parties know what they're getting into.

5) Even if you're going by yourself, negotiate. Again, negotiate before you sit down in the chair. If it's your first trip, you can try to knock the price down a little; small salons, particularly those that are just starting out, want to establish a client base and are more willing give some inducement. If you're a regular client, establish a good rapport so that you can at least get a discount upon the first price increase or with more expensive services. Sometimes hairdressers can get chatty and even nosy (at least mine is), but if you can at least sustain some small talk and exude a friendly attitude, you'll get what you want most of the time. Also, if you've mentioned that you've referred your friends (and get your referee to say the same), it'll give you more leverage.

6) If you tend to get your haircuts through national chains (like Supercuts), find the website and join the mailing list. I know that Supercuts often emails coupons.

7) If you want to dye your hair, there are tons of home kits to try. Unlike highlights, dyeing your hair is fairly easy to do. However, you might want to do some research on before you buy. Based on observations of a relative's hair, Garnier seems to work pretty well (very natural black), but another brand that I can't remember didn't do so well (more like a midnight blue). One of my aunts uses a Henna recipe that's really smelly, but it's natural, cheap, and produces a nice light brown color. It turns white hair into highlights, without the ridiculous salon prices. I don't know what her recipe is, but I'm sure you can find it through the miracle of search engines.

8) This probably isn't the best method for most people, but it works for me: I purposely get my hair cut just a little bit shorter than I'd like; it grows out to the perfect length in a couple of weeks. That way, it'll "last longer." I only go to the hairdresser once every 4-6 months because I let my hair grow out to different lengths (and hence different styles), so every time my friends see me, they think I got a different cut. Saves money, too.

9) At some places, weekday rates are less than weekend rates, presumably because the weekdays are slow.

To recap, negotiation is a powerful tool (surprise!). If you're squeamish about it and don't want to do it, that's OK. Just make sure you know exactly how much you'll have to pay before you sit down. Salons often don't have prices listed on the wall, so it's easy to get overcharged if you just go along with it. If the price they're giving you is too expensive, you can always walk. If you're embarassed about that too, pretend you got a call on your cell phone and walk out for better reception =).


Marcy said...

I've battled with where to cut my hair for years. I'm too much of a cheapskate to justify going to fancy salons, but I'm not entirely happy with the cheapy $15 Great Clips cuts, either. I think I maybe need to start asking curly-haired women I see on the street for recommendations of where to get my hair cut... I think the style is becoming a bit more important than the price to me.

Sales Rack Raider said...

I just got back from hanging out with a couple of friends. One of them just got a haircut and a dye job done. She was happy with the color but not with the cut. The consensus was that it's best to go to a place that knows what looks good for Asians (another friend said the same thing in the past); I suppose the same principle applies to people of other ethnicities or hair types (i.e. curly hair).

As for cost vs. style, I totally agree--sometimes a good style is worth the investment. I guess I'm just very, very lucky to have found the right salon that's good with both.

Eric said...

Am I the only guy out there that pays $25 a month (including tip) for a JC Penny haircut?? I don't have a complicated haircut or anything, but it's just so much more convenient. A few years ago I got fed up sitting at the barber shop, waiting a half hour for my turn and then being subjected to some awkward conversation about sports or hunting -- two of my weakest subjects. It was cheap, but stressful. So now I find a good stylist and stick with her, and I've never looked back.

Sales Rack Raider said...

I could totally feel the pain on hair salon small talk, Eric. I don't like being interrogated about what I do and where I'm from, etc. Glad you've found a good stylist.