Cutting back on haircuts

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In these hard times, many people are trimming costs wherever they can. But does cutting back mean cutting hair?

Economists and businessmen have tied fashion styles to economic trends for decades. Economist George Taylor dreamed up the “hemline index” in the 1920s, suggesting that hemlines mirror the economic climate – falling during recessions and rising during boom times.

Since the recent decline of the global economy, The Nikkei, Japan’s leading business newspaper, has proposed a corollary to Taylor’s theory. The paper, which looked at over 20 years of data from Japan’s largest manufacturer of consumer products, suggested that Japanese women get shorter haircuts during financial crises.

Holly Matos, a hairstylist at the Thayer Street Supercuts, said the economic recession has contributed to changes in the hair salon’s customers.

Though Supercuts has traditionally catered to the “urban man,” Matos said, she has noticed an increase in the amount of female customers in the past few months. Matos thinks the shift is driven in large part by the worsening state of the economy.

Customers are requesting shorter haircuts because they will last longer, Matos added.

The recession has helped Supercuts’ overall business, she said, because “people don’t want to pay 70 bucks for a haircut.”

With a basic cut starting at $15.95, Supercuts offers its services at a lower price than most of the other salons on Thayer.

Hector Ramirez ’12, who recently got his hair cut at Supercuts, agreed that Supercuts is an attractive option because of its low price.

But, Ramirez added, “In general, $40 for a haircut is pricey for whatever situation you are in. The recession didn’t really impact my decision.”

While other hairstylists on College Hill have observed that more women are getting shorter haircuts, many disagreed that the recession is the explanation.

Hairstylist Patrick Knerr of Salon Kroma on Thayer said many customers are requesting pixie cuts. But, Knerr added, they say they favor the shorter style due to its easy maintenance, not because of the recession.

Celebrities like Katie Holmes may have pioneered the trend by sporting short hairstyles, said Sergio Veneziano, a hairstylist at Squires Salon on Euclid Avenue.

While Knerr said the college students who frequent Salon Kroma tend towards lighter subjects, the economic recession is a frequent topic on other customers’ minds.

The economy is “the most common topic in the chair,” said Veneziano, whose clients include many University administrators.

Many of his customers ask, “‘I wonder if I can keep affording to do this?'” he said.

Despite customers’ financial concerns, many salons in the area have not yet felt their business contract significantly.

Many stylists said that customers are spacing their appointments farther apart. Still, the volume of business has remained steady, they said.

The apparent contradiction can be explained by an upswing in new customers, according to Luz Pray, who owns Hairspray Salon on Wickenden Street. Pray is “amazed by the increase in new clients,” she said.

According to Pray, the haircut can be a “quick fix” that allows customers an affordable way to reinvent themselves, especially after a long winter. “In times like these, people want to feel good about themselves,” he said.

Veneziano’s observations echoed Pray’s. “In tough economic times, people still spend money on themselves,” he said.

The actions that salons have taken to retain and attract customers are another explanation for their survival in the tough economic climate.

“When people are cutting back, you have to give more,” Pray explained.

At Hairspray, Pray offers a package deal to her loyal customers. If they book six appointments and pay for all six in advance, they receive 20 percent off their haircuts. Pray began offering this discount last May, she said, and credits it with helping her business continue to thrive.

Stylists from Salon Kroma, Salon Persia and Hairspray have all implemented weekly student discount days.

“Tuesdays and Wednesdays were never a draw,” Knerr said, adding that Salon Kroma now gives a student discount on those days to attract customers.

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