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Since I write for a fashion blog, people often make the mistake of assuming I'm a hair expert. But the truth is that I usually get my hair cut at Supercuts. Why? Because a) I only ever need a trim, b) a haircut is $14, and c) at Supercuts, they keep the shit talk to a minimum.
"I'm only going to charge you $130 for these highlights because I feel so bad for you."
But I'm not at Supercuts right now. I'm at the kind of high-end salon that deals in expensive products, fruit-infused water, and an endless string of insults about how terrible your hair looks. The first comment I deserved. Maybe even the second, and the third. After that, they were low blows.
"I'm only going to charge you $130 for these highlights because I feel so bad for you," the stylist says. "It's horrible."
"I know, I know," I mumble. After all, I had brought this on myself.
"No, like...it's horrible," he continues.
"I know! Haha, never again!" I grit my teeth.
"Like, it's just so bad."
"Yep, I got it."
This goes on for a solid three hours, long after the salon closes. When I leave, the owner hands me back my headscarf with a business card and a look of pure pity. I consider leaving a Yelp review to warn other innocent victims, but I can't bring myself to relive the humiliation.
For many women, hair shaming has become a part of the experience of getting a haircut. It usually starts off gently ("When was your last haircut?") but often escalates ("You really need a trim. Like, bad.") In the worst experiences, it continues throughout the entire wash, cut, and blow dry. And what makes it so frustrating is that the current state of your hair is why you're there in the first place—to cut off those dead ends and freshen up your dull color.
This concept doesn't seem to exist in any other service industry, save for old-school Italian joints where the wait staff is rude to you on purpose. That's the schtick, and you know it going in. You've accepted that your spaghetti with red sauce is going to come with a side of sass. But at restaurants, you're not vulnerable the way you are at a hair salon. You're not asking anyone to fix you.
Hair shaming is often prefaced with a faux-sympathetic "Honey," and it tends to come from older male hairdressers, the kind who have been in the business for decades and take great pride in their art. But anyone, even the college girl who's in charge of the shampoo and conditioner, can get into the action. ("Your hair is so knotty! Do you brush it?!")
Elizabeth Musmanno, president of the Fragrance Foundation, says she once dealt with hair shaming for two decades. Two decades! "My hairdresser for 20 years used to come out in the waiting room to see what my hair looked like every time. Of course it needed a cut, and was grown out, and it was never up to his standards. He would literally make a face and ask 'What is going on with you hair?' And I would feel like crap every time. The really weird part is that I kept going for 20 years! I dreaded it each time, and that's why I eventually stopped going."
Hair shaming is largely a byproduct of stuffier, more old-fashioned salons. At younger, hipper places—the kind run by thirtysomethings with tattoos—the abuse isn't as common because it's their goal to relate to you. It's not so much a teacher-to-student relationship as it is, "Sit down, have a drink, and let's chat. Oh, and I'll give you a haircut while you're here."
Amy Schiappa, the owner of cool-girl salon Fringe in downtown New York, says, "I think making people feel bad about something as a marketing tool pretty much sucks." She adds, "When someone comes in for a correction, we can agree and say, 'Okay, what happened?' And you work from there. You have to be honest about it, but at the same time you don't have to insult someone for making a mistake."
Fringe also tries to pre-empt bad self-inflicted haircuts with a note on their website. In trendy lower-case font, it reads:
fringe clients are so creative they have been known, on occasion, to cut their own hair. to protect you from your own demise, we give free bang trims in between regular hair cut appointments. please, put down the scissors and book your appointment.
What's nice about that is that it acknowledges that nobody wants bad hair—not the stylist, and not the client. I'm always baffled when a stylist snootily informs me that the two inches of hair I'd like to cut off...need to be cut off. Well, yes, that's very specifically why I'm here. That's why I walked through the door, and why I am prepared to pay, with a tip on top. Stylists shouldn't need to justify their jobs to the people sitting in their chairs.
Each time, it makes me wonder: Is it me? Or is it the person who cut my hair before that's really getting dissed? Tommy Lovell, the owner of Whiteroom salon in Brooklyn, weighs in via email: "There's an amount of artistry that goes into doing hair. That can breed arrogance when you're in competition with other people, and hairdressers can act a little bit like it's a war to get and keep clients."
As it stands right now, I need to make another color appointment. My hair is an accidental ombre that went out of style the minute Jared Leto dyed his hair platinum blonde. But I'm not prepared to take that gamble at Supercuts. Anyone know a nice, polite hair dresser?