The parlor scene, be it barbershops or hair salons, has long been a gathering space for gendered bonding in the public’s imagination. These public spaces occupy a hint of the private — folks can let their hair down, so to speak. (Think the shooting-the-breeze camaraderie found in Barbershop or the cathartic gossip in Legally Blonde’s iconic bend-and-snap scene to name a few.) But along these very lines of gender division, there is a stark discrepancy between price.
Men’s haircuts have historically been cheaper based on the assumption that there’s less to do and are generally more frequent — though let’s not forget the Pink Tax. Maybe the complexity of the cut or an underlying willingness to splurge on beauty could be deciding factors, but in an age where shaved heads, blunter cuts, and shorter bobs are increasingly favored by many regardless of gender, should those same guidelines still remain?
A growing number of hairstylists have taken issue with this, among whom include Masami Hosono, the creative director of Vacancy Project (an extension of Assort). As of April, Hosono did away with gendered pricing and the requirement for clients to “choose” their gender when booking appointments online. All clients now have the same flat-rate option: a haircut by Hosono.
The idea came about when she realized that most of her female clients were coming in just as frequently — if not more —
than her male clients because they were all opting for shorter styles. “I always wondered why we separate our hairstyles based on gender, like who decided that long hair is necessarily a women’s haircut, while a short haircut is men’s?” says Hosono. “It’s really diverse in the larger spectrum of preference! I have both long hair male clients and short hair female clients — and many of my clients also identify gender neutral or transgender.”
Her clientele tends to lean towards unconventional cuts, made all the better with easy, low-maintenance styling, but she saw that many of those very clients were desperate for something drastic post-election. “After the election, so many female clients came in to chop off their hair. I think people needed a change — they were like, fuck it. They wanted to do something defiant to feel stronger,” says Hosono. And they weren’t the only ones: She noticed her transgender clients felt emboldened as well. “My transgender clients wanted new hairstyles to identify with their gender more confidently, too.”
This propelled her to finally make the decision on her price model: “I’ve been thinking about what I can do as a hairstylist, a creator, and a queer woman. Trump has said so many negative things to transgender people and women, I want to be like, ‘You are not helpless.’ I can make a change with the price of a haircut.”
Not only does Hosono strive to help her clients feel comfortable in their own hair, she makes a point to cultivate a creative community and safe space for all sexual identities. With her own agenda of progressive sexual politics, simply renegotiating the differences between what defines a male versus a female haircut isn’t enough. For Hosono, breaking boundaries extends beyond hairstyles and gets literal with the space she works in. As a space that’s “anything by and for creators,” Vacancy has housed all kinds of projects, whether it’s a pop-up shop, a book fair showcasing local artists, and readings, not to mention a “Ladies Night” outpost.
Vacancy is part of a larger shift across the U.S., echoing other salons that have independently cut out gender in pricing as well. Local salons have taken it upon themselves to create a haven for individuals by placing the client’s comfort as the main priority, no matter their orientation. In Chicago, Logan Parlor and Barbara & Barbara have advocated for gender-free rates earlier this year. Both partake in Chicago’s Safe in My Chair, a program that educates stylists to better accommodate transgender and LGBTQIA+ clients. Even earlier, Hair to the Throne in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also announced their decision to cut out price differentials, noting it as the “logical next step.” Around the same time, Sisu Hairdressing in Lincoln, Nebraska, decided to forego charging by gender and instead focus on styles.
Efforts to create gender neutrality in public spaces are also being made overseas. In London, salons like Not Another Salon and Barberette, along with Melbourne’s Little Rebel Collective have also been eager to rid their price lists of any gender preference. In Denmark, haircut price differences were actually deemed illegal, effectively forcing all hairdressers to follow suit as early as 2013. Though not explicitly encouraging the safety of queer clients, it suggests a willingness to open up the conversation based on gender equality.
Despite the evened-out-yet-higher rates, these businesses continue to thrive. Hosono anticipated some dissenters, but her decision to solely focus on hairstyles instead of gender resonated strongly with her clientele. “Everybody was very supportive which is so surprising to me. I received a lot of comments and messages when I posted it on Instagram.”
The growing support for gender-neutral prices has paved the way for salons to offer up viable safe spaces in their own neighborhoods. Local salons are notably at the forefront, queering public sites and tackling age-old conventional gender binaries. And by offering up judgment-free consultations, it can become an even more inclusive locale for chitchat and relaxation. As Hosono said, “You can inspire people, even with small things. I was a bit nervous, but it’s better than to ignore what’s happening in the U.S. right now. This is not just my project. If more people support this idea, it will be power.”
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