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.
UPDATE: Add wines to the list of things where price drives perception.