Tight Budgets Lead to 'Recession Hair'

More people cutting and dying their hair at home is a sign of the times.

September 11, 2009, 7:07 PM

Oct. 4, 2009— -- Much has been written about uncommon economic indicators, such as economist George Taylor's hemline index, which predicts that women's skirts get shorter in bullish times and longer in bear markets.

Now, many hair salons around the country are noticing a new trend: Call it recession hair.

It's usually longer, possibly greyer and, generally, less well-coiffed.

"Yes, we're seeing 'recession hair,'" said Janine McIntyre, owner of Hair Attractions, a family salon in Monroe, Conn. "Our clients are just giving up coloring, they have gone natural and are coming in with their roots. They are really letting their hair grow long and just trimming the edges."

Recession hair is also, increasingly, do-it-yourself, especially when it comes to hair color.

Andrea McPadden, a working mother in her mid-30s, wore a chic precision-cut blonde bob for four years. She said it was pricey to fight against Mother Nature -- she's really a dark brunette.

"I was going into the salon every three weeks, which is what my hair required, paying probably $60 to get my roots touched up," said McPadden.

Since the recession hit, McPadden has gone back to her natural color and dyes her grey roots with a home-coloring kit. She is also wearing her hair in a longer style, so she hasn't had to get a professional hair cut for several months. She maintains her shiny brown mane by trimming her split ends at home.

Do-It-Yourself Hair Care on the Rise

Apparently, McPadden isn't alone. Sales of home-coloring kits have been on the rise since 2008.

"Women care so much about their hair," said Emily Dougherty, beauty director at Elle magazine. "So for them to cut corners there, it does show that they are very aware of what they are spending, and instead of spending some crazy amount on a designer haircut, they can get the same for less."

Dougherty said that technology has vastly improved the quality of at-home coloring kits so men and women no longer have to worry about turning their locks an unsightly color. She doesn't, however, advocate DIY hair-cutting for women, beyond their bangs. She speaks from experience.

"I have to admit that I tried cutting it once myself and my friends noticed," she said. "Never, ever, try to cut the back of your hair."

McIntyre said she's seen her share of haircuts gone bad in recent months. Unfortunately, the fix-it jobs aren't enough to make up for the 22 percent drop in sales she's experienced since the beginning of the recession.

"It's been very bad, very difficult," she said.

"We've been doing everything in our power to try to bring in business," she added. "I don't have the advertising [budget] because I don't have the income."

In a recent poll of 600 mid- to high-range salons conducted by the National Cosmetology Association, more than 70 percent of salons reported seeing a drop-off in customer spending.

"Generally, we are hearing that many clients are stretching appointments, and some are moving down in salon category. For example, [from] luxury to moderate price, or from moderate to value," wrote Gordon Miller, executive director of the association. "Some who are more open to risk are moving to 'do it yourself' services."

Savings Worth Occasional Accidents

And there is a risk factor, as 5-year-old Ray McPadden discovered. His father, also named Ray, started giving him home buzz cuts a few years ago.

"He wasn't staying perfectly still," recalled the senior McPadden. "When I was moving upward, he moved downward and 'zip'! There was a big opening. I continued to cut the rest until he had a Mohawk."

The McPaddens still laugh at the cutting crisis, but the amount of money they save annually by Ray cutting his own and his son's hair is no joke.

"[At] $12 a pop, plus you give a tip, so around $15 every 10 days, in a year's time that could be a car payment," said Ray.

Recession hair isn't all bad, though. Mohawks happen to be on trend for kids right now, and Dougherty said overly-coiffed hair looks dated.

Dougherty colors her own long brunette locks, which cascade down her back au naturel. She said during the 1950s and the 1990s, hair salons experienced a boom, but that the days of overly expensive hair may be numbered.

"I am sure there is somewhere in the world where there is a $600 haircut, but I don't know anyone who is talking about it anymore," she said. "It's incredibly tacky."

Andrea McPadden seems to have seen the light of at-home hair color. It isn't just about the money, but the principle.

"Even though I have a job and I could afford [the salon], it was just too much, at $120 a month," she said. "I can do so much with that money with my daughter and my husband."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events