In October 2019, aka a lifetime ago, the internet collectively realized that men had no idea how expensive women’s haircuts were when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.N.Y.) headlined a story about her paying almost $300 for a trip to the salon ― a price many other women routinely are charged. (If anything, the cost in Ocasio-Cortez’s case was relatively affordable for a haircut and highlights.)
Unfortunately, it’s long been taken for granted that women’s haircuts are more expensive than men’s, and that’s just the way it is. After all, women’s hair is longer. Women color and curl and straighten their hair. They spend more time in the salon, and that time equals money.
In reality, lots of women have short hair, and lots of men have intricately cut styles or long hair. A woman heading in for a trim is different than a man heading in for a new style. And yet even with these and other reasons to price haircuts that aren’t dependent on gender, many salons price their haircuts in terms of men and women — and the women’s cuts always start higher.
At Salon Vaso in Miami Beach, women’s haircuts start at $120 while men’s start at $90. In New York City at Shampoo Avenue B, women’s cuts range from $70 to $110, while men’s range from $70 to $80. And at Last Tangle, the Washington hair salon where Ocasio-Cortez paid a so-called extravagant price, women’s hair cuts start at $80 and men’s at $50. According to a 2016 report from Square, on average, women are paying $11 more than men nationally — $45 compared with $35.
Depending on which state you look at, the discrepancy can be even wider. (By the way, that same report found that women pay the highest price in Washington, an average of $78 a haircut, where men pay an average of $60. Go figure.)
But at Bee Sweet in Denver, prices aren’t automatically set by gender — all haircuts start at $45. And it’s been that way since the shop opened in 2017. “It has never made any sense to me that femmes and women have to pay more than men ― sometimes more than double,” said Dani Bee, stylist and co-owner of Bee Sweet.
Eliminating gender-based pricing isn’t just about giving those who identify as a man or woman equal footing. Some people, whether they are nonbinary or trans, may not be comfortable putting themselves in a category, turning a self care day into an upsetting, uncomfortable experience when it comes time to choose their gender. That’s a motivating reason for Bee’s pricing structure.
“Perhaps most critically, I’m specifically focused on providing a hair space that’s a safe and celebratory space for the queer community, and that includes a lot of trans and nonbinary clients,” Bee said. “Hair is such a huge part of self-expression and gender expression specifically, and it would be totally against our values to charge different prices for different people.”
Bee added, “Haircuts are priced-based on the value of my time.”
At another Denver salon, Goldie x Bob, the prices are set by the hour, not the gender. Each stylist has an hourly rate, ranging from $70 to $115, depending on experience. A $100-per-hour stylist will only charge $75 if the haircut takes 45 minutes, no matter who that haircut is performed on.
“It gives the client flexibility in how to budget for their haircuts and it shows that we care about being just,” said Liz Burns, creative director and lead stylist at the salon. “Clients like to be treated as individuals and feel that they can trust their stylist. If the experience is custom, they are more likely to stay committed to that stylist. A gender-neutral service menu shows that we’re flexible and current.”
Despite the positives for gender-neutral pricing, not all hair salons are following suit.
“Other salons are still using men and women’s pricing because it’s easier to remain the same, rather than take on the challenge of making a change,” Burns said. “Uprooting and shifting could cause a ripple effect of additional pricing changes within a brand, and I think that can seem scary for people.”
She’s found that at her salon, the change has actually improved the business and helped to streamline services: “I believe more and more salons will move to gender-neutral pricing eventually as awareness increases.”
Hailey Grien, a Houston-based stylist, works out of a salon where prices are based on gender. She said she doesn’t necessarily see a reason for charging otherwise, especially because she finds that women’s haircuts take longer. For her, timing is the biggest factor in how services are priced. “I can cut a men’s haircut in 15 minutes flat. Whereas a woman, I could take 45 minutes to an hour tops,” she said.
Grien works at a commission-based salon, and calculates that she needs to make $110 an hour to cover all costs. “So for a men’s cut it takes me 15-20 minutes, therefore it’s $44 for their haircut. For a woman, it takes 45 minutes to an hour, [so] it costs $80.”
For Grein, “It’s about how long they are in your chair and how long it takes you to perform the service.”
Burns said, “Historically, the beauty industry has been marketed more toward women having this luxurious experience, from start to finish — having the hair washed, conditioned, head massage, cut, blow out and heat-styled with an assortment of products. Men have been led toward barber shops for quick cuts at a better price.”
Her clients, she said, all get the same experience.
Ultimately, those who identify as women may have longer, more complicated hair. It may take longer to cut and style, and it may cost more in the end. But automatically pricing by gender only perpetuates gender-based price discrimination like the pink tax (women are already being paid less, after all). It also leaves out a whole group of people who don’t describe themselves as a male or female, or those who are transitioning.
The assumption that being a woman means you’ll pay more hurts the stylist, too. Bee said, “I wish other salons would start providing gender-free pricing, too ― I think it respects and celebrates our clients, but it also respects and celebrates ourselves as workers to charge based on our labor rather than who we provide our labor for.”
She added, “Stylists should know that their labor is worth fair pay, regardless of what client sits in their chair at any given time.” Bee said.