The Fifteen Dollar Haircut

Paul once wrote about his troubles with the $10 haircut, and I have to say, his article struck a nerve. I, too, have had my share of communication difficulties in the stylist's chair. Despite my own efforts to make my haircut desires be clearly known, I find that hairstylists of the $10 vein (or $15, if you're lucky enough to live in DC or Washington) have ingrained preferences for haircutting that nothing so silly as a your desires and wishes will alter. All of this might explain why, after a month or so of looking like a girl with a normal haircut, I now look freakishly like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago (but not in the sexy, voluptuous burlesque way. In the "my hair is freakishly too small for my face way"). And I have an AdjectivesCuts franchise to blame.

But here's what isn't fair about my communication problems. When I moved to France for 6 months, I got my hair cut three times, and I got it highlighted twice. For all of these services, I went to the same salon, part of a chain of salons that have offices across France, let's call them "Jean-Francois'" (although in reality they were called Jean-Claude's). At all of these places I would plop myself in a chair, take off my glasses, and get comfortable before making the requests that would give me away as a dumb foreigner. In my halting French, I would direct my stylist thusly: "I would like that the hairs be lightened. Also cutted, if you please. Thank you well, Madame." Every time, the hair stylist would look at my hair, look like she was about to ask me a question, and then think the better of it and just start cutting/applying scary white bleach powder. Sometimes, if she were feeling particularly ambitious, she would hold up a part of my hair and say something unintelligible while gesturing with scissors. She may have been asking how much I wanted cut off, she may have been asking if I wanted layers, she may have been threatening to cut off my ears if I kept moving my head - who knows? I would smile beatifically, shrug and continue reading "Allô!" magazine. When the cutting and the blowdrying sounds would stop, I would put on my glasses back on and look at the mirror at my shining, glossy mane of attractively, stylishly, and flatteringly cut hair, arranged in a becoming way. The stylist would nod and say, "It goes much better" and I would affirm with a joyful "Oui!" I genuinely looked forward to these trips to the salon - getting your haircut was like a one month pass to the world of Audrey Hepburn glamour and sophistication.

I have found, however, that here in the U.S. my situation is somewhat different. Armed with an assertive personality and detailed knowledge of hair cutting techniques, as well as an extensive vocabulary to describe them, I find I am unequal to the task of getting the haircut I want at a chain establishment. Typically I walk in and say, "Hello! Today I would like a trim. I would like half an inch taken off the bottom so as to rid myself of split ends. I do not want to cut bangs. I do not want to have my hair texturized, feathered, layered or given "body" by any means. I want a classic, below the chin, all-one-length haircut. Thank you ever so much." What happens is one of two things. Occasionally I will get the prankster who makes scissor noises behind my head for 25 minutes, sweeps vigorously, dusts my neck and then pronounces the haircut finished. Since I don't wear my glasses during the haircut, I have no proof that hairs have actually been cut, but getting back in the car and running my hands through my hair, I know. Nothing has been done.

More usually, though, I get the women who see it their mission in life to give me a flapper haircut. I don't quite understand, but for some reason my round face and glasses and widow's peak all harmonize together and hairstylists, on looking at it, have only one thought: Bob that hair. Off come the inches, out goes my self-esteem. The second I feel a lock of hair hit my smock, I know: I am getting a blunt bob, cut above the chin. They might try to give me bangs, they might try to make me wear an ostrich-feather headband, but but one thing is for sure: I will not leave the chair until I have been made to look as much like Edna St. Vincent Millay as possible.

At the end of the cut I reluctantly return my glasses to my eyes and agree that yes, it does feel better having all of that silly hair off my neck. I pay and leave a tip for my stylist (think of what they would do to your hair if you didn't tip!) and saunter out the door, a jazz-age favorite like "My heart belongs to Daddy" on my lips. I do not feel like Audrey Hepburn. I do not feel chic. I feel vaguely bald and thoroughly conspicuous. I know that it will be weeks before I get comfortable with the new hair, and months before it grows out. But I keep coming back. Why? I'm a sucker for a good deal, I guess, and a $15 haircut lets me both eliminate split ends and eat, so I guess on that level I have no grounds for complaint.

But I swear, the next time someone stops me and asks if I'm Sutton Foster, heads are gonna roll.

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