Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yes, you can get a great haircut for under $100 in NYC

One of my fears in moving to New York City was finding a great haircut salon I could afford. I've heard the tales of $400 haircuts; and while a great haircut is worth dropping some coin on that's a little above my price range. My work shares our building floor with an upscale salon. While the clientèle never fails to piss me off, the employees are quite nice and give us a generous 15% discount off their services. That makes a blowout reasonable but their haircuts are still more than I want to pay.

Truth be told I was hoping to find an Aveda salon in the city. I first found out about Aveda in college when a friend took me to Europa Spa & Salon Fort Collins' Old Town (Colorado). I've never had such a relaxing haircut. It started with a neck and scalp massage, continued with a parrafin wax hand wrap during the cut and ended with the coolest haircut I've ever had. They became my go-to stylists during college.

After college I sought out an Aveda hairstylist in Norwalk (Connecticut) and was almost as pleased with the results. I figured why mess with a good thing in NYC? There were tons of Aveda salons to choose from in the city and I wasn't sure how to make a choice. So when a coworker recommended I try the Aveda Institute on Spring Street I was in.

The Aveda Institute on Spring St. features
highly discounted student services.

The Institute is one of several around the country that educates aspiring stylists and cosmetologists. Since you're getting your hair, nails or spa services performed by a student you get a huge discount. For instance, my cut in FoCo was $50; Norwalk was $65 and at the Aveda Institute it's $20. The flip side is that you run the risk of getting a new student who gives you a less than desirable cut. But I have to say, I've been there four or five times now and every time I've loved the result.

You have to call the school to make an appointment or you can go to the school to sign up at certain times (see their site for specifics). Get ready to be on hold for awhile. I average a 15-minute hold time. And if you want a weekend cut, be prepared to get an appointment a month from your call day. (Super secret tip: during the winter you can usually walk in for their Saturday at 1 PM slots and get a cut.) Weekday cuts are available with a 2-3 day lead time on average.

When you get to the school, you check in at the front reception desk and then sit around until a student comes out to grab you. It's kind of exciting, watching the students mill around as they grab sheets and wondering which one you'll be matched up with. Then they take you back to your chair for a consultation and (optional) neck massage.

I like to take risks when I get my hair cut. When the stylist asks me what I want my usual answer is "something rock n'roll." Layers with blunt edges, choppy ends, bangs over my eyes, ets. I always bring a picture to show what I want. I'll also ask the stylist if he/she thinks it will work on me. The students always have fun ideas and they're usually friendly and chatty. I also admire their unique personal styles. I've seen some hairstyles I'd love to copy but could never emulate, personality-wise.

Lest you fear ending up with a mohawk, after your consultation the student brings one of the professors over to approve your desired cut. Then it's off to shampoo.

The shampoo stations -- love the paper lights!

I'm not really a chatty client but I'll hold a conversation during the shampoo. My hair has changed a lot in the last few years. In college I had super thick hair but lately I've been losing hair like no other (thyroid? work? stress from seeing all the hair in my tub drain???). A friend told me it could be the shampoo I was using, so I ended up switching to Aveda shampoo at my last cut. I don't love it but at least my hair stopped falling out. The cuts I could pull off fine in college aren't really options anymore.

So now my main thing is voluminous-looking and layers. It seems like everyone else is cutting their hair shorter these days but I'm growing mine out. My stylist was great about leaving as much length as possible. We stopped chatting so she could get to work. I've noticed the students really like to concentrate on their cutting technique and that's fine with me. It gives me time to look around. If there are any no-shows, the leftover students will grab a doll and practice their cuts. I watched one student practice a bob and another working on some kind of modified shag.

I ended up with another awesome Aveda cut. After the professor checked my cut, the stylist asked me whether I wanted my hair styled straight or curly. I requested curly this time to be different, and it came out so amazing I talked myself into buying some products. As a thank-you, the cashier gave me a coupon for a free cut next time. Then she took a photo for her portfolio (the students will often do this).

Since my cut would probably cost more than $100 easily in the real world (or, umm, the NYC-bizarro world), I tip the stylist $20 if she does a good job. So in total I pay $40 for a wonderful haircut. It's quite the steal.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I was searching the internet to try and find a location in NYC where I could get my hair cut for under $100 and found your article. I've lived in Germany for the past 5 years and have had one disastrous haircut after another. We're visiting NYC before heading north to see my family for Christmas so I thought I'd try and get a decent cut while we were there. The only thing that worries me about going to your recommended Aveda spot is that I might get a *total* rookie. I have a similar hair story as you...had tons of hair with great managable curl and losts tons due to Lyme disease and thyroid issues. It's unbelievable how much some hairdressers are charging for a basic cut in NYC! I also found a place called Tosler and Davies with cuts starting at about $85, but I'm tempted to try the Aveda spot. Any other tips, if I do?

Thanks for your infomative post!

Roxy said...

All of the hairstylists have to start out on mannequins before they do a human cut so it's very unlikely that you'll get a complete newbie. I have been very impressed by the skill level of the Aveda stylists every time I've gone there. Sometimes when you call in to make the appointment if you ask nicely the receptionist will tell you how far along the students are during the time period you're requesting. The closer to graduation you can get, the more advanced the students are.

The one thing I can recommend is to try to keep your cut simple if you're apprehensive. Don't ask for a cut that will take a ton of precision because frankly the students may not be there yet. Layers are fine, color is fine but the simpler the better. And definitely come with a photo of what you want. A couple of times I have ended up with a cut slightly different than the photo I brought in but I have always left happy with my cut. Be as open as you can to the experience. It's fun!