Paying 10 times more for a haircut

Coftea 6 Comments

Guest post by Coftea

I dread going to haircuts since young. As a guy, I consider it a monthly chore which must be done to make my hair looks similar to the one I sport last month. The problem is that I can never know how my hair will turn out this time, and more often than not, I will not like it. If paying ten times more for a haircut can ease my dreadfulness, it may be well worth a shot.

When I was young, they are called barbers. Not stylists, hairdressers or even hair artists. The ones I usually go to were run by uncles, in an utilitarian shop with a colorful rotating sign on the shopfront (called Barber’s pole). Full sized mirrors, 3 or 4 adjustable height chairs, long side bench for waiting customers and a floor full of hair were the common sight. The uncles don’t usually look approachable and with the assortment of scissors, shavers and combs they wield, sitting on the waiting bench while watching them gets scarier by the minute. The worst part was ending up looking nerdier than ever.. Yes, I'm vain.

Barber shops were common sight in neighborhoods

Hard to see a Barber's Pole around nowadays 1

Barbers actually used straight razors for shaving! 2

The best thing that came from a haircut session had little to do with hair. It was the chance to escape reality and dive into some 老夫子 (Old Master Q) comics! They gave me some peace by diverting my attention away from the horrendous sight of my brother’s hair being shaved off. Filled with black and white bite sized stories of a skinny tall old man, with his fat short buddy, experiencing moments in life that are so ridiculously amazing and stupid, the comics always drew a smile on my face. You could stop and pick it up anytime, perfect for these short-lived haircut sessions. Maybe it was my youthful ignorance and simple mindedness that made the comic so charming.

This bring back memories 3

By teenage years, I battled the monthly dread of haricuts on my own. The ones my dad used to bring me weren't good anyway. Barber shops went through some transformation and became what we call hair salons today. Auntie hairdressers started appearing in the scene, and I had to confirm that the salons are 'Unisex’ before I dare to go in. Well, another hurdle to add to my dread. Aunties are generally more pleasant and gentler to your head. However, they don’t ease my worry of looking worse. My then center parting hairstyle always got messed up after a visit to the salon. It was also interesting that since I'm still schooling, my hair will be cut in a default way (obedient schoolboy look) no matter what my request was.

The sign to look for! 4

Center parting was damn cool 5

Things do get cheaper sometimes.
As the years passed, I began to put lesser emphasis on the hairdresser’s skill to give me a nice haircut. A decent haircut was what I seek as I started to style using gel and wax. No matter my hair is cut, my magic hands could make it look good was my belief. Moreover, days of strict short hair (must be slope) rules were over. I could finally decide what hairstyle I want. Auntie salons are however disappearing and overtaken by corporate franchises that manage a team of ‘stylists’. They advertise really cheap haircuts as low as $3.80! That's halved of what I usually paid over the years. Things do get cheaper sometimes.

Of course I went for the cheap haircuts. That’s a staggering 52.5% in monthly savings. And of course my expectations weren’t high, sticking to conventional haircuts which any decent hairdresser could do. My dread was fading, but my frustrations were rising.

Spectacular $7.80 dye6

Unbelievable $1 haircut 7

It is an irony that cheap things come at a price. To offer haircuts at such prices, these corporate salons operate under a cut-throat model. Stylists are given very low basic and they earn mostly from commissions. Commission structure is fair, but when their margins are so thin, the merits of quality services turn sour quickly. With volume and high margin jobs being the key to good money, unfortunate incidents happen.
Argh.. Haircuts are done fast and you sometimes felt that they can’t wait to be done with you. Uncut fringes, uneven sideburns and unwanted hairs are too frequent.
What! One of the sales tactic to get you to buy their hair products is to use scare tactics. You hair is suddenly dry, another time oily and lest you know, you are balding! But no worries, there are advance treatments and magical hair creams that can help you with that.
Hai.. 20 minutes into waiting, customers that want their hair dyed enter, sat down and were attended to immediately. You wonder if glaring at the hairdresser will help but you could not catch their eyes so you just have to wait and stare at the cups of tea that weren't offered to you.
Hmm.. The hairdressers do not entertain trendier haircuts that require more effort. If they do, tread carefully.
Not me! A mental image of an assembly line inevitably pops up. You admire its efficiency and cost effectiveness, but just can’t imagine yourself being one of the lifeless form in the line.
To be fair, these corporate salons offer compelling rates for the public. The long queues confirmed that. If you manage to find a store with competent stylists, little staff overturn and manageable queue, good for you.
It is an irony that cheap things come at a price.
So we are back to the question. Is it worth paying 10 times more for a haircut? It depends on how much you put emphasis on your image and quality of service. For me, I'm currently paying 10 times more at $14 to a privately owned salon I chanced upon. Frustrations that I tolerated disappear and gestures that I took as bonus were more frequent. I get to see the same team of stylist monthly and pick who I'm comfortable with. They give constructive suggestions, are patient to my requests and seem to take pride in their work. Yes, they do occasionally ask if you want hairwash and treatments, but they were delivered courteously and my rejections were accepted gracefully. Most importantly, I think my hair looked better than ever.

Even short hair can be very stylish 8

There is always an intrinsic value behind a price. Although we should save whenever we can, we must not based our decisions on the price alone. The value I derived out of the $14, on both physical and emotional fronts, is so much more than the $3.80 I used to pay. Moreover, knowing how much the salons in shopping malls are charging, I guess $14 is fair.

There’s a premium to good things in life. Isn't it?

Photo Credits
Cover by Kevin McGrew
1 Barber's Pole by Aaron van Dorn
2 Straight razor by Andrew Fresh
3 Old Master Q by 琅琅比价网
4 Unisex sign by Tom Magliery
5 Aaron Kwok by
6 $7.80 dye by Monsoon
7 $1 haircut by Alan Chow
8 Stylish short hair by Wavy Girl Hairstyles


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  1. girls treat their hair as their life
    i am surprised u are able to scrimp on hair cut and treatment
    well done hehe

    1. Hi Jimmy,

      Hair is an important part of our image but we should not spend too much on it though. Anyway, this is my guest blogger's post, mine is here:

  2. There's one thing I still like the barber over saloon is that they are using the razor part which I think it very chick and cool.

    1. Yeah B. I thought using the straight razor was rudimentary when I was young. Then I realized using it requires much skill which will produces a very clean shave.

      Wonders where we can find such barbers in Singapore now...

  3. Haha I've been cutting my own hair for many years. My hair grows too fast and I got sick of going to the salon. A pair of good scissors cost maybe $10 and can last a very long time. It's actually quite easy if you stick to the same few hairstyles.

    1. Wow owq! Cutting hair yourself is really not easy, I've tried. The back of head is especially hard to cut evenly.. So end up I only use those trimming scissors (jagged edge kind) to 'thin' my hair.

      Kudos to you, the amount to money you can save is a lot! Haha. I think should also have those shavers where its easy to shave the sides too. Guys hair can't change much anyway.