November 22, 2004
Why the rest of the world thinks New Yorkers are nuts
People who live in New York often enjoy traveling to other parts of the world, going into bars or local businesses, and squealing with delight over how cheap everything is. Yes, there are many parts of our nation in which it is considered normal for a beer to cost well under $6. It is possible to live in this city and be thrifty, but sometimes it feels like our hyper-inflated economy coupled with a lot of alarmingly self-indulgent people are eroding our ability to distinguish a fair price from an absurd joke.
The case that best illustrates this point is the phenomenon of the overpriced New York haircut. Few other industries offer such radically varying prices for, ultimately, the same service. Having grown up getting my hair cut by my mother as I sat on a stool in the bathtub, I can tell you that the first time I considered paying more for a haircut than I would for a nice meal was a minor trauma. I still feel a twinge of guilt about what I agree to pay every 3-4 months for a service that many people competently do for themselves at home. However, the Sunday Times tells us that some women are so thoroughly complicit with nonsensical pricing theory that they actually believe that if they pay ten times more than what most normal people would consider to be an already high price for a haircut, that they will in fact look ten times better.
Which brings us to The $800 Haircut. The hairdressers that charge this kind of price who were interviewed for the article go through some impressive rationalizations for their fees, usually by comparing their prices favorably to the price of designer shoes. Some old-fashioned types suggest that there just might be an element of the hairdressers' egos reflected in their prices, and call the over-$500 guys "pretentious." (So what do they call hairdressers who charge only $350? "Refreshingly down-to-earth"? "Folksy"? "Communist"?)
There are some people within this world of expensive barbers who see through the insanity. One relatively sensible stylist who works at Bergdorf Goodman, although he also calls his $400 price "bargain basement", recognizes that regular, non-famous people who eagerly seek out these high-priced hairdressers and wait patiently for appointments with them are probably trying to attain some celebrity contact high. They're seeking the "magic thing" of fame and wealth, he says. "And I don't think what they are looking for can be found in a pair of scissors." Wise words.
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