Finding a good haircut in a new city is already difficult task but on a student’s budget and with a Columbian’s schedule, it has reduced the steeliest of wills to tears (or something). But now Bwog takes the mystery and misery out of the process by sampling and reviewing the quality of the options available to Columbians—and some you may not even have considered. If you have a favorite salon or have found a great deal somewhere in the city, share it with your peers in the comments.
Scott J Aveda Salonspa 2929 Broadway, 257 Columbus Ave., 242 E. 86th … Generally all over
For the first time since coming to Columbia, my hair had grown intolerably long. Not knowing where else to go, I buzzed into the Scott J Aveda Salonspa.
“You know the haircuts are $30, don’t you?” asked the host. Yes, my sweatshirt was a bit shabby, but there was no need to be so hostile.
The service turned for the better, though, as I was led to the sinks by a girl named Belle. A hot shampoo, scalp massage and conditioning was just the cure for leftover midterm stress! And there was even a hot drink offered. This is the lap of luxury.
Belle listened to my personal grooming specifications and gave some of her own expertise. Rather than an unwelcome ordeal, the affair was relaxing and pleasant. Belle was very friendly, and the conversation oscillated between politics, studies, and the new Five Guys coming soon. She even added a bit of welcome product at the end of the cut, and my hair actually looked cool for a few hours.
I was pleased enough that I didn’t even mind being corralled into the rewards program—discounts on shampoo and the like as well as (perhaps eventually) store credit. Overall not a bad experience—a good haircut, friendly service, and best of all, no chance of being called the “long-haired college kid” this Thanksgiving.
Hoshi Coup, 2801 Broadway (Corner of 108th), 214 E. 9th, 259 W. 19th, and 193 Prince St.
A fair warning if you want to try this place out—they are not cheap, and they price according to hair length. Men’s cuts run around $40, women’s $60, and I have recently had my bangs cut for $21. But considering the fun the stylists have with funky scissors and novel hair cutting tricks, and the 15 minute-long scalp massage, it’s more than worth the gouge to your wallet. Plus they make all their own hair products and use them sparingly—it’s the worst when salons gunk up your hair with tons of nasty crap.
Hoshi is also worth a visit just for its incongruity—a Japanese salon with locations in Paris, Berlin, Kyoto, and Tokyo, it fits in its SoHo or Chelsea locations, but not quite so well in Morningside Heights. Not to say the place is pretentious—far from it, their stylists are friendly, knowledgeable, and not “trendy” in any way. And you’ll never have trouble getting an appointment; just walk in.
Despite its proximity, the stylists say they remain untapped by Columbians. Most of their clientele are locals, and surprisingly (given their focus on Asian hair and styles) non-Asian. They, like me, probably come for the minimalist atmosphere, good tunes, calming experience, and just a good haircut.
Jude and Me, 601 W. 112th
“Collarbone length,” said the hairstylist at Jude & Me as she considered the photograph I had brought with me. “Collarbone length,” I repeated. My apprehension began to lift; she understood. I placed my freshly washed longish hair in her hands and she began to cut.
I emerged from the salon with chin-length hair. It wasn’t even long enough for a ponytail. I contemplated a wig.
A few pointers to all Columbians wishing to save their hair from a bad stylist: Monitor your hair chopping if you are at all apprehensive. Speak up when something is making you nervous. Remember, wet hair will be longer than dry hair, and obviously not all stylists understand this. And don’t leave a tip if your stylist doesn’t listen to you.
And most importantly, don’t go to Jude & Me if you want a collarbone-length haircut.
The Wahl HomePro—Available at Rite-Aid
My dad gave me some advice about haircuts once. “Find one you like, and stick with it,” he told me. My hair, being curly, Jewish, and unruly, doesn’t take well to anything resembling a “stylish” or “trendy” cut (ninth-grade me learned this the hard way), so I stick with a simple number-three buzz, three or four times a year.
The nice thing about the number-three is that it’s essentially impossible to fuck up. The barber’s talents are almost entirely removed from the equation; provided he has, well, hands, I know what I’m in for.
When it came time for my first college haircut, I wandered into the first barbershop I found—which happened to be Melvin and Pat’s (998 Amsterdam Ave.). Now, Melvin and Pat are lovely guys, but their house version of the number-three buzz was a bit geometric for my taste—I don’t really need to get lined up.
So I went to Rite-Aid and bought a Wahl HomePro for twenty bucks. When it came time for my next cut, I unfolded a few sections of newspaper across the floor and went to town. It came out a bit choppy, sure, but the back of my head looks like a hedgehog because I screwed it up, not because a barber did. It’s not quite an idiot-proof haircut, but I wear my imperfections proudly.
And there’s no hangover cure quite like a bleary-eyed, self-induced buzz cut. Fresh start, or something.
Hair Mates, 13 3rd Ave and 114 E. 40th
Astor Place is a pretty weak pretense of “Japantown,” but tucked amongst the overpriced ramen restaurants is one hidden gem: Hair Mates, a Japanese hair salon fresh out of Harajuku. The place is stamped with authenticity down to its awkward Engrish-esque name.
The receptionist’s doll voice will give me pangs of nostalgia for pachinko parlor girls. My hairdresser, Mika, embodies Tokyo laidback cool—she wore what looked like Comme des Garcons. Her English was less than perfect, so hone your gestural communication skills before diving into the stylist’s chair.
I tell her to trim my split ends, give me bouncier layers, and shave the right side of my head. Mika gives me a devilish grin and gets to work.
Hair Mates lacks pretension—no Stepford Wife blowouts, snobby hairdressers, or fussy styling—and that is its biggest draw. Yet the lime green walls border on garish, the (admittedly excellent) head massage is short, and they only have water in plastic cups, no tea. Despite the steep cost (about $50 per cut), don’t expect to be pampered.
But the place has efficiency, quality, and (thanks to their young, Japan-trained staff) effortless style. They won’t flinch if you request an offbeat look, but they’ll make sure it’ll grow out looking swell. Obviously their expertise lies with Asian hair, but for their flair and skill they attract all sorts—the majority of the clientele during my visit were non-Asian.
“Let’s do a zig-zag patter too,” said Mika, cackling as she turned on the electric razor. “It’ll look like worms!”
Crops for Girls, 154 Orchard St.
In hot fuchsia font, Crops for Girls self-identifies as “New York City’s Salon For Women’s Short Haircuts”- a place that opens its doors to “only women” for “only short haircuts.” Michael, the sage behind the gender-bending cuts, has devoted himself to helping women to break free of beauty defined by Victorian locks since 1985 and offers up his services for $45 to $50 and $30 to $35 for students. What’s more, if a woman is willing to surrender her mane to crop-science, Michael will consider cutting it for free.
Despite some concerns about surrendering my traditional woman’s cut, I decided to take the dive and try the “boy-cut.” All discomfort is washed away, though, by the talent and flair of Michael and the saucy ambiance of the hot pink interior, retro music selection, and aggressive scalp scrubbing. So for girls in the mood to shake it up a bit and wishing to remain financially stable enough to buy groceries, pop down to see Michael and trust in his genius.
Do It Yourself, With a Straight Razor, In Your Dorm
One night, roundabout 4 AM, I noticed my hair getting a little too bushy and curly for my taste. I considered carving out a bit of time to go to a salon the next day, but the notion of bumbling about a new city like a bumpkin searching for a deal, of haggling over hair when I don’t even know what I want my pate to look like, and of bleeding U.S. tender for thirty minutes of stressful scissor snipping, it was all too distasteful to me. Then I saw my straight razor.
It was just a trinket from a junk sale sitting on my shelf next to two plastic Buddhas and a tin wind-up robot. The blade was half dull and damned if I knew how to use a strop. But at 4:30 AM one should never think—just do.
In the mirror I ran my fingers through my hair, then clenched them together, letting the hair stand up, caught through the space between two fingers. I eyeballed the length and made a random guess at what was appropriate. Pinching the offending length between thumb and index, I pulled the fistful of hair taut, and with my free hand slowly dragged the blade through, a sound like ripping muslin or wrenching chicken bones free of tendons and sockets echoing down my hair and into my skull. Disturbing though it may sound, it is a rather satisfying experience—symphonic and full of release as the loosed and shortened hairs fall back to the skull and blood returns to the flesh.
I repeated the process—grab, eyeball, pinch, hack, grab, eyeball, pinch, hack—several dozen times until my hair shortened and shaped. Smaller hairs and patches I trapped against a fingernail and whisked away with the blade. Using a finger (for lack of a second mirror), I approximated straight lines along the edges of my hair and dragged the razor against the back of my neck, around my ears, slowly and carefully. The results were jagged (and the first time a few unfortunate bald patches did crop up), but it felt more natural, more controlled, more satisfying than the average haircut.
This process takes about two hours. It involves several nicks and mistakes and requires a complete willingness to fuck one’s self over. But it is intricate and unique to your own vision, it is satisfying to the point of catharsis, and it is even cheaper than the Wahl HomePro. (The only comparable cost would be subjecting one’s self to the nervous shears of a student at Bumble and Bumble’s salon school.) Over two years of practicing my personal ritual, I have saved well over a hundred dollars (and commensurate regrets) on haircuts. I highly recommend it to anyone with a great deal of mistrust, a strapped pocket book, and any decent cutting instrument.
First photo via Wikimedia Commons.