Comparing High-Price and Low-Cost Haircuts

Two friends in Los Angeles tried two different hair salons.

August 29, 2016, 8:41 AM

— -- A report in a French newspaper last month that French President Francois Hollande's personal hairdresser is paid $10,000 per month left us scratching our heads and wondering how much most people spend on their trims. We also wondered, what do you really get with a haircut that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars?

To find out, "Good Morning America" enlisted the help of best friends Mara and Marissa, college sophomores from Long Beach, California, who both wanted to shorten and shape their long, brunette tresses.

We arranged for the friends to have their hair cut at two salons with wildly different price points: Supercuts, a national chain, and The Benjamin Salon, a Los Angeles salon. We ask the friends to pick one photo that embodies the cut they want. They choose a photo of model Chrissy Teigen with beachy curls and layers. The girls then took the photo to their respective stylists.

The Hair Experiment

We started on the budget side. Mara visited a Supercuts in Los Angeles, a one-room salon that’s spacious and clean.

Friendly staff shuttle kids, women, and men through their trims quickly for the straightforward hair maintenance we expect from the chain. The total cost for Mara's cut at Supercuts was $55, which included a $20 haircut, $5 shampoo and $35 blowout.

After about 50 minutes, including talking with the stylist and showing her the photo of Teigen, Mara was styled, blown dry and looking cute with her new 'do! Her reaction was, “I love it!”

Marissa got her hair cut at The Benjamin Salon, where cuts start at $135 but an introductory cut with the salon's owner, Benjamin Mohapi, costs $500.

As Marissa began her journey through the “experience,” and it was an experience, I started to understand why. The salon smelled like freshly mowed grass. The decor at Benjamin was luxurious and very, very hip. Marissa described having her hair shampooed as "The best massage of my life" and was then escorted back to Benjamin's cutting area.

Mohapi was funny and easygoing and clearly intent on hearing what Marissa wanted so he could give her the exact look she desired. They spoke for a while, then Benjamin and his assistant begin a set of choreographed maneuvers that resembled those of a doctor and his surgical nurse. The wet cut took about 35 minutes, then Benjamin stepped away and the assistant dried Marissa’s hair.

Soon after, a lunch cart rolled through offering vegan sandwiches and gluten-free salads gratis.

Once Marissa’s hair was dried, Benjamin finished cutting, applied a few mystery products to her hair and then commenced styling. After about two hours of pampering, Marissa looks adorable and has the same reaction as her friend, saying, "I love it."

We took Marissa and Mara to The Grove, a shopping area in Los Angeles, where shoppers willingly inspected the haircuts.

In the end, about 60 percent of those asked in our very unscientific poll correctly guessed that Marissa has the more expensive haircut.

Observations and Tips

Having witnessed both experiences and seen the results of both cuts, I have a few observations.

1. When you pay a lot for a cut, you’re paying for the known reputation and taste of an established stylist. Benjamin said that he spends a multitude of time cultivating his aesthetic for new haircuts and styles. The Supercuts stylist also goes in for continued training and she is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about her work.

2. You’re also paying for popularity. In Los Angeles, it’s about which stars go to a certain salon or stylist. After the two haircuts, we figured out that one of Benjamin’s stylists actually cuts Chrissy Teigen’s hair.

3. You are paying for a luxury experience. Can an expensive and a budget stylist both get you a great haircut? Yes. But in a salon like Benjamin’s, it is the difference between flying first class and coach; the overall experience was very different.

We asked Benjamin for his tips on avoiding a haircut that isn’t great, regardless of the cost.

1. If it looks good in the salon but you can't make it look right two days later on your own, that’s a red flag.

2. If it looks like it needs to be cut again four weeks later, it’s not a good cut.

3. If the stylist didn't help you choose the right style for your face shape, lifestyle and aesthetic, it’s probably not the right fit.

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