Black hair is political, a cultural identifier, and has proven to be a lucrative sector in the beauty market. According to a 2019 Nielsen Report, Black consumers account for “almost 90 percent” of the ethnic hair and beauty market and this “trend shows no signs of slowing down. Black hair care, particularly salon ownership, has historically provided Black women with the ability to secure financial security and escape systemic and gendered racism in traditional careers to provide for their families.
When discussing beauty salons, beauticians and their spinning chairs are synonymous with sanctuaries. Black women trust their stylists to understand the cultural subtext involved in our kinks, curls and coils, but most importantly, the complexities of our shared experiences.
Before the corporate beauty industry realized we existed, Black hairdressers were the chemists who developed products and procedures best suited for our hair. The right stylist will not only become a trusted consigliere with whom you can share some of the most intimate details of your life; they should be the copilot joining you along your healthy hair journey.
So why, suddenly, does it seem modern-day hairstylists have forgotten they are carrying a legacy of deep-seated traditions? It’s unclear when or how the shift started, but social media is illuminating a contention between generations.
A digital divide between hairstylists
“Technology. It has driven a wedge between the two; new versus the old,” said Natasha Burrell, licensed cosmetologist and owner of Stamped Salon in Detroit.
“The newer generations have yet to understand that some things come with communing and experience. The newer generations are learning from social media. Many have failed to understand the culture and history behind it. They are mimicking versus trailblazing.”
And as evident from countless videos, many Black women customers agree with this sentiment, sharing posts detailing disheartening tales about their experiences with the new rules of engagement.
Some hairstylists demand that consumers arrive with their hair washed and blown out for braiding and others ban the use of outside hair extensions altogether:
Hefty deposits and late fees leave dents in consumers’ pockets, like upcharging for parting hair before braiding it.
Each of these videos and posts is usually shared with a lengthy caption or description in which the stylist affirms that they feel no qualms about their strict client guidelines and suggests anyone who finds them unreasonable to seek service elsewhere.
Skyrocketing hair costs and hidden fees
While hairstylists’ prices may vary based on experience, some customers feel rates are far above reasonable charges.
“I feel stylists should charge what they are worth, but I do feel there is some exploitation going on,” said Atlanta-based entrepreneur Jamesa Terrell.
“There are just all these things they add to the service that aren’t necessary. I think the pricing has gotten a little outrageous.”
Growing rates have left many Black women at a standstill with some utterly disengaging from the process.
“I don’t do them[hair salons]” said Rochester, New York resident and entrepreneur Tristina Kardashian.
“I don’t even bother because I already know it’s going to be a crazy budget, and I don’t see the purpose.”
Skepticism remains even among stylists who feel the alleged price gouging from their younger colleagues has more to do with prestige and vanity than a love for their craft.
“I noticed that many new stylists charge based on their lifestyle,” said Atlanta-based stylist Shaba Gregory. “A lot of hairstylists do it for the money, and they come to work with an attitude because they don’t love what they do,”
To make matters worse, some consumers and seasoned stylists have called into question newer stylists’ credibility, blaming younger stylists’ lack of education and training for higher prices that don’t equate to healthier hair outcomes.
“Newer generations are not as concerned about healthy hair and excellent customer service,” says former cosmetologist Melinda Herron.
“The shampoo experience is the foundation of a great hairstyle, so when the new stylist asks you to come shampooed and blow-dried, I’m completely convinced that healthy hair is not a priority. Customer service starts with a consultation, an excellent experience, and amazing results or feedback. It shouldn’t stop at the service in exchange for payment.”
From the perspective of new-aged stylists, some have shared that their policy changes are justified as they protect the health of their hands. At the same time, others explain that their talent and expertise outweigh the extra costs. But others offer semi-explanations like justifying an upcharge for parting hair by saying, “It’s a process.” Unfortunately, regardless of the reason behind the price increases, there also seems to be an increasing amount of disgruntled customers sharing their hairstylist horror stories online. It could almost be a category on YouTube.
To the contrary, newer hair stylists face their own set of challenges with a slew of horror stories, ranging from clients pretending to be dissatisfied to avoid payment to those with excessive tardiness and even full-on fights.
Additionally, meeting the demands of clients desiring styles requiring more time is also considered.
“Nowadays, people are getting knee-length and calf-length hairstyles, which can be an all-day service. If a stylist charges $1,000 for box braids, they may only do one person’s hair a day. Hairstylists charge based on the time it takes them to do the hairstyle,” Gregory said.
Ultimately, we know the current generation of young professionals has earned a reputation for setting firmer boundaries than their predecessors. But are they more in tune with their worth or have they desecrated the intimate bond between client and stylist? Are Black women who complain about new changes unwilling to evolve and acquiesce to a new paradigm?
Kardashian believes customers are not absolved from their role in the current conflict.
“For customers, you have to be willing to learn. You can’t just complain or expect these girls to starve for you. When you get a service, you are not their boss, and you can’t micromanage them,” Kardashian said.
There are legitimate concerns and opinions on both sides of the spectrum but solutions are not found on the outskirts of polarizing views. We can agree that the current state of affairs is in disarray. Nevertheless, shallow spats on social media are devoid of resolution, purpose or direction. Neither side will watch the industry go down in flames, but there must be some common ground established that leaves client and stylist feeling seen, heard and validated.
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