A fairly perfect marketplace — haircuts *UPDATED*

I got my hair done today.  This is always a costly thing.  I have, to put it mildly, difficult hair, since it boasts four different textures, arranged like a patchwork over my head.  Over the years, depending on the wealth I’ve possessed, I’ve gone to hairdressers ranging from “cheaper than Supercuts” to hairdressers whose fees pretty much equaled a monthly home mortgage payment.

What’s interesting is how closely the price matches the quality.  This isn’t always the case in the marketplace.  For example, I can often find clothes at Target that are as fashionable and well made as clothes at Macy’s or Nordstrom, only they’re cheaper.  The difference is the cachet, not the quality.  This goes double true for the marketing aimed at young people, who will bankrupt themselves buying an $80.00 cotton t-shirt, merely because it has the word “Juicy” emblazoned across the chest.

Go to the grocery store and you’ll see the same thing:  people buy name brands because they believe that, somehow, they’re getting better quality for more money.  In fact, it’s often the case that the generic product (which can be up to 50% cheaper) was made in the same factory as the name brand product.  I’m a sucker for Safeway canned tomato products (diced, crushed, sauced, whatever), which I’ve found consistently more appealing and affordable than the fancy labels.

There is, of course, a stratospheric level of merchandise that doesn’t yield to my simplistic conclusions:  rare truffles simply aren’t going to have a cheap market, and if you really insist on having original designer clothes, you’re going to pay the price. There are also individual preferences that matter.  Japanese cars are more expensive than comparable American cars but, since I’m short, I’ll pay the extra to sit in a car that better accommodates my vertical deficit.  I also like the suspension in Japanese cars, which is firmer than American cars, but softer than European.  These are purely subjective things for which I’m willing to pay.

Hair, however, has the most direct correlation I’ve ever seen between price and quality.  I think that’s because there is no label attached.  How one looks is the only measure.  People cannot come up to me and ask, regarding my hair, “Oooh, is that a Juicy?”  The best they can do is say, “Your hair looks fabulous.”  And if I believe them, I’ll go back to the hairdresser who gave me fabulous, no matter the price.

Which gets me to my point:  Without exception, the fabulous hair has come from the expensive hairdressers.  The cheap hairdressers elicit only a “Oh, you got a haircut” or, worse, “What have you done to your hair?”

Perhaps the same doesn’t hold true for people with less challenging hair than mine.  I know that my son can get a buzz cut anywhere, and he’d be a fool to spend $100 to have a designer clip it.  But for people whose hair is longer than an inch and, especially, for people whose hair doesn’t follow known pathways, a good cut is expensive and worth the price.  Conversely, with cheap cuts, you tend to get what you pay for — and that ain’t good.

UPDATEAdd wines to the list of things where price drives perception.

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    Q. What’s the difference between a good hair cut and a bad hair cut?
    A. About 3 weeks.
    It is mostly true for men. For women, it’s 3 months and a very bad 3 months.
    The long and short of it Sadie Story:
    Once upon a time, I decided that I wanted a ‘trade’ that could travel. It had to have limited tools and could travel.  All I needed to learn in any additional languages was “not to short”. Obvious choice for me – a licensed barber.  I still giggle as I remember, cutting the hair of an Argentine soccer club. No one spoke English and as each fella sat down in the chair, to the man, looked up with pleading eyes and said: ‘poco, poco’.

  • Spartacus

    Hmmm.  Sounds more like the short and short of it, Sadie.
    OK, so there I was, driving from coast to coast back in ’95, when my car battery decided to get sick and die in the Knoxville area.  In the garage that I happened upon was a tall and quiet mechanic who explained that they had two types of batteries available, a $50 one and an $85 one.  “What’s the difference between the $50 one and the $85 one?” I asked.  “Well…” said the mechanic slowly and thoughtfully, his face then breaking out into an enormous grin, “about $35.”
    I saved $35 that day, in exchange for the minor price of feeling like a complete idiot.

  • 94Corvette

    I have to agree about good haircuts being more expensive (within reason – who can forget when Bill C got his $1200 haircut while in Air Force One waiting on the tarmac but that’s another story).  Both my wife & I go to a stylist who is an immigrant from Colombia.  He arrived here literally with the shirt on his back and has built his business through the years to the point where he own one of the more successful shops in a very nice part of town and routinely goes to work in the Miss USA and Miss Universe pagent.  The thing I love about my haircuts now is that they look good from the time that he cuts it until I get another.  My wife’s hair also looks good for weeks at a time.   It is a small indulgence I give myself but it is worth it.

    Reminds me of a piece of advice I got while going through college – if you are getting your hair cut in a strange place, pick the barber with the worst haircut as they usually cut each other’s hair and you know at least he is not the worst one in the place.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I mostly cut my own hair.