So. You may have noticed that I was a big slacker last week, and failed to Pretty Price Check you on Friday. Instead, I went gallivanting off to the city, drank copious amounts of Prosecco with the lovely Siobhan (who nevertheless got all her blog posts written, hmmph!), did some other things that were much more strictly work-related, sweartogod, and… got a hair cut!
And since it was my first time setting foot in a strange salon as a customer after ten months on the inside, I decided the whole thing was blog-worthy. In fact, I’ve decided that it will be the kick-off post of a brand new Beauty Schooled series (drum roll time) called Spa Stories, where we will report on various close encounters of the beauty salon kind. If you have such a story to share, email me on beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com. If you have already shared such a story and I have yet to post it, apologies… it will be coming soon!
Back to my hair.
As loyal Beauty Schooled readers know, I am pretty darn obsessed with my hair. I spent years chasing the perfect blowout, but in recent years have been big into embracing my natural texture (wavy with a side of curly confusion), which means no blowouts, no brushes, and lots of strong opinions about shampoo and the like. All of which can be a bit paralyzing when it comes to actually getting the darn thing cut — because most (not all, but lots!) of hair stylists aren’t so into the au naturel approach, or they aren’t so down with curly hair, or the combination is too much to bear. So, long story short, it had been at least six months since anything involving scissors had happened to my head, and we’d officially crossed over from “long” to “could be an extra in a Woodstock movie.”
Now, I have found a very talented and also very expensive stylist in the city, who I try to scrape my pennies together to see a few times a year. But last Friday was not a $120 haircut kind of Friday. So instead, I decided to take drastic action, throw my request for a reasonably priced and decent midtown salon open to my Twitter friends, and go wherever the universe wanted to take me.
It actually worked out super well. Maybe I’m lucky and the kind of Tweeps who follow a beauty school blog are a self-selecting bunch when it comes to having good taste in hair salons. Maybe there was just some kind of karmic magic at work. Anyway, I walked in to said Madison Avenue Salon, asked for their first available stylist, and walked out 90 minutes later with a great haircut that cost less than half what I usually pay.
Which is all just proof that sometimes? We (or at least I) overthink this beauty business. Just a tad. It is only hair.
Was the salon remotely green? Absolutely not — though I was pleased to see they weren’t offering the Brazilian Blowout, at least at the moment, which gives me some hope for their workers’ health. But my head was definitely slathered in chemicals (ohh, sweet-smelling, frizz-banning chemicals!). And things got a little awkward when I unclipped my mop to show the stylist just what she was dealing with… and her first words were, “Did you put vinegar on your hair?”
Why yes, yes I did. Much to their great mystification. (And will continue to do so — because dude, rinsing in apple cider vinegar makes your hair amazingly soft and shiny. But Siobhan and I agreed that natural beauty geniuses like her need to get on figuring out how to keep the salad smell at bay.)
Is is the best haircut I’ve ever had? Not quite. Some of the layers are a little short, so my usual air dry-and-go technique results in some crazed corkscrewing. But I can work with that. And my stylist did give me an awesome blowout (happy sigh!) and was unafraid to cut a good four inches off, which I badly needed. And I respect a hair stylist who doesn’t flinch about giving you what you need in that department.
But probably the most fun part was comparing the real live salon experience to my Beauty U learnin’. Super smile-y receptionist (because she’s the “face of your business”): Check. Complimentary glass of wine (or water, but whatever to that): Check.
Relentless Upsell: Delightfully, uncheck — though the salon owner did accost me with a free hand scrub (probably in the hopes I’d want to buy said scrub at check-out) and my stylist made sure to mention that she thought their waxer was the best in the city and give me plenty of business cards to pass along to friends as I was leaving. But it was all done in a friendly, not pushy, manner which left me dead impressed, because I know now how fricking hard it is to do that kind of thing and not come off schmuck-y.
So really, the only moment that gave me pause came at the very end, when my stylist was flipping my sassy new do around, showing me the layers in the back with a mirror, and gushing about how stunningly fabulous I had become. “Look at that!” she exclaimed, fluffing wildly. “Did you ever think you could look this good?”
Because, you know — I thought I looked pretty good when I walked in the salon, even if in a four-more-inches-of-hair-way. I’ve thought I’ve looked pretty good with any number of haircuts, actually. So it was suddenly hard to summon up nearly enough enthusiasm for her work, now that we were putting it on the level of a serious appearance epiphany. I mean, it was a good cut. But I can’t say it was revolutionizing my life the way say, getting my braces removed and switching to contact lenses all in the same month did for me in the 9th grade. That was big. This was… an overdue hair cut.
To be clear: It’s not this stylist’s fault. We were trained to use the same exact language with clients at Beauty U, and I’m sure this happens in beauty salons the world over. Everyone loves an ugly duckling transformation moment. And it makes you, the client, super indebted to us, the beauty professional, if we can be the heroines who rescued you from split ends, a lifeless complexion, or some other, even crueler fate.
But I also realized: It’s definitely at least one big reason why we tend to obsess and overthink this beauty business so much. We’re buying into this Miracle Cure sales rhetoric to the point where we need every trim to produce staggering, life enhancing results.
And sometimes, a hair cut is just a (perfectly nice) hair cut.
PS. If you want to read something that pairs rather well with both this post, and Thursday’s take on nail salons, check out the completely wonderful “Going Korean” that New York Times’ Opinionator blogger Mary H. K. Choi wrote about being Korean and going to New York City’s (mostly Korean-owned and run) nail salons.