Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The politics of hair

I wanted to get a haircut--to look more chic, to reduce hair-drying time, the usual reasons. I'd passed a place right next to the Housing Works bookstore, and decided that my next cut would be from there. It looked surprisingly chic for a salon located in the back of Ricky's, a punk-oriented drugstore chain. The prices? $35 and up for men, $50 and up for women. Why more for women? Because life is unfair. I was willing to accept the unfairness of life, but was less thrilled to learn that $50-plus meant, given the current length of my hair, $70-plus. The irony of this is that my hair only got as long as it is because I was putting off getting a haircut on account of it being so expensive.

So, question: it is, as anyone who's done either knows, far simpler to cut long hair than short. Setting aside the question of gender--not all women let their hair get as long as I have--why was my haircut (which, alas, I did not end up getting) assessed at $70? Did my best Century 21 t-shirt-Uniqlo skirt combination leave me looking especially well-to-do? (Not a chance.) Needless to say, I don't think it was personal--the combination of long hair and femaleness was enough to merit the "plus" fee of at least $20, enough to rule out any post-haircut purchases at the used bookshop next door.

Since technically nearly all barber shops are unisex and charge maybe $15 for a cut, perhaps the fault lies with me for buying into the consumerist myth that men and women require different types of haircuts. Haircuts are thus a whole lot like deodorants, yogurts, breakfast cereals, razors, socks... the more you think about it, the more we've found ways as a society to attribute gender to products for no apparent reason. But! While I'm sure countless women have long since figured out that, short of tampons, personal care products are gender-neutral, I doubt many have abandoned the salon for the barber. And I'm not sure if going to someone accustomed to cutting short hair (I'm assuming long-haired men also go to salons) wouldn't be a mistake. I want to challenge norms that demand I pay $70 for a haircut, but I'm not keen on looking mannish.

One possibility is Crops for Girls, a place I've heard good things about. It specializes in short, affordable haircuts for women. Which sounds about right, except that a) even the longest of the short cuts are shorter than what I want, and b) the prices, though reasonable, are well above what a man would pay for an equivalent haircut. Another would be to spend like wild at a salon I know gives good haircuts (I splurged once a couple years ago) and that does not differentiate between men and women. The final possibility? Deciding that long hair is so very now, and not dealing with the situation until my hair reaches the length of my commute.


Russell said...

With regard to salons somewhat mysterious pricing, I've been told differences usually are based on either the stylist (how long they've been there and how much they've proven their skills) or the length.

About length, I hear that it's because if for example, a blow dry style is thrown in, there's no way that somebody with hair down to their ass is paying the same amount as somebody with hair cut above their shoulders.

What's stopping you from simply asking them what their explanation for different prices is? I find it hard to believe that it's anything to do with the alleged relative difficulty of cutting longer or shorter hair.

Anonymous said...

I think one reason salons charge more for going from long to short is because it takes more time to get the style right. I have a good friend in the business (Anessa at Woodley & Bunny in Williamsburg), and I once waited 45 minutes past the start time of a bang trim because it took her forever to cut this guy's hair who walked in with a ponytail.

Time=money, but that's nothing new.

I've been thinking about chopping it all off lately (for most of my life I've had really short hair), but the cost of maintenance is prohibitive. Unless you get a short cut that's easy to grow out (and attractive ones are often hard to come by), you'll end up returning to the salon quite a bit anyway.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

All good points. My hope with shorter hair would be to minimize or eliminate blow-drying time, so I'm all too aware of how long it takes to style long hair. My only question would be, since the blow-drying usually comes at the end, why making long hair short costs more. But if the cut takes more time... I guess the issue really does come down to gender, as we see from Whitney's man-with-unwanted-ponytail example.

X.Trapnel said...

As a grad student with a flexible schedule, why aren't you getting free haircuts from top salon trainees off craigslist (just search 'free haircut')? In my experience, it's definitely the way to go. Ted Gibson and Cutler are particularly nice.