What’s the difference between an $80 haircut and a $20 haircut? As far as I can tell after my experience this weekend, I would say exactly $60. And that’s it.

One of the things that has bothered me most about New York since I moved here is how hard it seems to be to get high quality things at reasonable prices. Restaurants and bars are bad in this regard, but hair salons seem worse. Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve only gotten two haircuts: one very, very expensive one in Manhattan that was so terrible I cried (both for my hair and for my wallet) and one free cut from a friend of a friend who cuts hair for starving artist types. It seemed impossible to find some middle ground between a snobby place called Tangle or Strands that charged me two day’s pay (plus tips) and sitting in a kitchen chair in an alley with a stranger bending over me with office scissors.

So my hair got longer and longer – and I looked frumpier and frumpier. More than that, I started feeling bad about how it looked. I didn’t look or feel like me.

It got to a point where this weekend I bit the bullet and went into one of the super-sketchy hair places in my own Queens neighborhood. We’re talking about a place that doesn’t sell salon products, a place with stains on the walls, a place with exactly two chairs and two people working there, one of whom was definitely underage. A place where you can just walk in and sit down and they start cutting away at whatever is on your head. It wasn’t called Tangle or Strands – it was called Physique Unisex Hair. I was terrified.

But everything was more than fine. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier (knowing how to say “bangs” in Spanish would have helped) I showed the woman a picture and she cut my hair to look like the picture. It was modern, detailed, and super cute. I looked and felt like myself again, I had a good time, I didn’t have to make small talk, and it all cost me $20, tip included.

It really made me wonder about the expensive salons in the city. Why do they charge so much more? And why do you have to schedule an appointment a month in advance? Sure, when I went to the expensive place in Manhattan they offered me raspberry tea while I waited my turn and a white English-speaking woman cut my hair while asking me an endless string of shockingly personal questions, but was that the end to the differences? I mean, I don’t even like fruit flavored tea and I certainly don’t like talking to people. In fact, I didn’t even have to wait at the other place, so I didn’t even need any stupid tea.

Perhaps this is an entire industry making money over women’s fears of getting their hair cut. It’s horrible to get a bad cut, so do women think that if they go to a more expensive place that they’ll be less likely to get one? Or do they pay extra for the tea and new age music and no stains on the wall? I think I was more affected by the first part – that paying more would assure that I would get good results. But just like most things, that’s not necessarily the case – like how the best burritos in our area come from a place that I normally wouldn’t walk into without wearing a surgical mask and paper hospital footies (we get it delivered).

I’m calling out the beauty industry on this one: I don’t care how many more clever salon names or flavors of tea you come up with. I’ve discovered your ruse and I won’t be tricked again.

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