Back to Basics: How Much Should A Haircut Really Cost?

What's the difference between a $50 haircut and a $500 haircut? We asked the pros.
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What's the difference between a $50 haircut and a $500 haircut? We asked the pros.

"Basic" may have adapted a negative connotation in recent years, but there's no shame in seeking advice on theoretically simple sartorial conundrums. In our latest column, "Back to Basics," we're here to guide you through life's most common (and important) fashion and beauty concerns.

The cost of a haircut can be a surprisingly controversial subject. Years after John Edwards was skewered for his $400+ haircut (you'd think world leaders would have learned their lesson), it was recently reported that French president François Hollande pays his hairstylist more than $10,000 each month. But what can a $10,000 haircut get you that a $100 one can't? And, more importantly, how much should all of us common-folk, whose grooming habits are not funded by taxpayers, shell out for a trip to the salon? We investigated.

Snip, snip. Photo: Giphy

Snip, snip. Photo: Giphy

IT'S ALL RELATIVE

"It really depends on your priorities and what you can afford," says Eva Scrivo, a hairstylist and the founder of two namesake salons in New York City, when asked how much is too much to pay for a haircut. "A better way of looking at it is what value do you get from a haircut? If you pay $50 for a bad cut that’s not shaped properly for your features and that you have to wrestle with every morning, then that cut is not worth the money you paid for it. Conversely, if you pay $500 for a haircut that you love and that you only have to get three or four times per year, you're getting better value than you would from a mediocre $150 cut that doesn't look as good on you and that you have to get eight times a year because the hair doesn't grow out as well." So, much like any other type of expenditure, it's about weighing cost versus benefit when it comes to your hair.

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WHAT GOES INTO DETERMINING THE COST OF A HAIRCUT?

"Ego!" says Matt Fugate, a hairstylist at Serge Normant at John Frieda (don't worry; he's joking). "Lots of things can warrant a high-priced haircut: Demand for a stylist, skill, press, uniqueness. It's like asking 'how are Jackson Pollack's paintings worth so much?'"  

Of course, locale also plays a major role in setting the price of a haircut (and just about everything else; come to Manhattan and enjoy our $17 cocktails!). "In high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco, hair services are, on average, significantly more expensive than in many other parts of the country," says Scrivo. "Partly, this is because the cost of doing business is so much greater, but it's also because the best and most ambitious professionals in the country tend to gravitate toward such cities, and they'd naturally want to charge more for their services."

IT SHOULDN'T BE ABOUT YOUR HAIR TYPE

Some people have fine hair. Some people have thick hair. But while styling and cutting those two different hair textures may require different appointment lengths, that shouldn't dictate the price, says Scrivo, who is all about hair equality. "We never charge different prices based on hair type. Although some haircuts take me 20 minutes and [others take] over an hour, we charge the same amount." Fugate agrees, saying it's never reasonable to expect to have to pay more for a haircut because you have 'difficult' hair. "This is a lazy stylist. Whether it's a light trim on a fine-hair pixie or a head full of waist-long curls, every client should be treated equally," says Fugate. "I don't even think it's legal in New York to charge for cuts differently based on hair type," adds Scrivo. Got that? Good.

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WHAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT FROM A GOOD HAIRCUT

"[A good cut] should enhance your bone structure, strengthen your features and make you feel sexier and prettier. It should also fall into a good shape when air-dried and last three-to-four months (unless you like to keep your hair short)," says Scrivo.

WHAT IF YOU JUST WANT A TRIM OR BANG TOUCH-UP?

Both Scrivo and Fugate are clear on this point: even a seemingly simple dusting or quick touch-up on your bangs can go very wrong, very quickly. You don't want to cut corners there, either. "I've seen clients come in crying after they saw someone for a dusting and wound up with five inches lopped off their ends," says Fugate. 

And bangs? "Don't even get me started on bangs. Bangs are the focal point of haircuts. As a bang specialist, I do bang trims for free," he says. That's another benefit of finding a stylist you love (even if it's a pricier one) and building a relationship. Scrivo agrees: "There's nothing simple about a trim, and bangs can be messed up very easily in the wrong hands. I've seen too many beautiful haircuts completely destroyed with a trim."

Audrey, why? Photo: Giphy

Audrey, why? Photo: Giphy

WHAT ABOUT THOSE REALLY, REALLY EXPENSIVE HAIRCUTS?

There are expensive haircuts that cost a couple hundred dollars, and then there are expensive haircuts that reach into four-digit territory. What gives? "In most cases, when an owner prices his or her haircuts that high, it's a marketing strategy to create buzz while getting clients into the chairs of other, more reasonably priced, stylists at their salon," says Scrivo. "Let’s face it, would you expect for a stylist charging a thousand dollars for a cut to have a full book of clients? They mostly work on celebrities (which they usually cut for free) and on shoots, and may be at their salons a few days per month, if that." 

Don't try this at home, kids. Photo: Giphy

Don't try this at home, kids. Photo: Giphy

Scrivo's not shy when it comes to opening up about her own fees, either. "I charge $400 for my haircuts while my other stylists are between $95 and $200. I could easily charge twice that and still feel very confident that the quality of the work is worth the price, but I love too much what I do to price myself out of the reach of the average successful woman." In short, those very, very expensive haircuts may be backed up by true talent; but it's also a whole lot of marketing and brand philosophy. "My brand is based on accessible quality and our services are priced accordingly, which still allows me to be booked solid four days per week. So I believe that once you get into the $300+ price range, it becomes more about the image you want to project as a stylist or a salon owner. That being said, if a woman is fortunate enough to be able to afford a $1,000 haircut and it makes her happy, then God bless her!" And you know what? Scrivo's right. In the end, a haircut is about one thing, and one thing only: feeling confident and badass and like a best possible version of yourself. So if you find a hairstylist that can get you there — whether they charge $50 or $500 — it can be money well spent. You do you. 

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