Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: A hair salon is pilates for your self esteem.

It's easy to forget that self esteem is as much a muscle to exercise as a commodity to spend or accrue. So, what do you get when you buy a haircut? Do you just get a haircut, or do you get a workout for your self esteem?

I suspect many nerds fall prey to the former. I myself went to a HairCutFactory for many years. And you're not totally wrong. A haircut is a haircut. If you don't like it, give it a month and it will grow back. But by the same reasoning, the HairCutFactory is the Chevy Metro of haircuts. Sure, it'll get you there. Maybe the stereo sounds fine. But why merely accept adequacy when you can spend a little more and get something much better. Here's my recommendation. Once a month or so, spend 1-3 hours of your pay on a haircut. Go to a fancy salon. Get a hairdresser for whom self esteem engineering is a career. Pay him or her for their expertise. Trust their judgment. The HairCutFactory is the entry-level job in the salon industry. Pass on the intern. You deserve and can afford a pro.

I was lucky. During my nerd renaissance, my friend Kate (@katewallftw) was working at a place called Salon du Monde in scenic Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. She brought me in and introduced me to Judy, who has been cutting my hair ever since. Let me walk you through the way your haircut experience should go. It's not a may-step process, but it's very different from what you're used to at a discount HairCutFactory.

Step 1: Shampoo: Now, you may or may not need your hair washed, but at a fancy salon, it's going to be included, and it's an important part of the process, because often the person conducting your shampoo will be a massage therapist.You probably have no idea how much stress and awfulness the little bit of meat on your skull can contain, but your shampoo technician does and will spend a few minutes doing their best to fix it. It may just be the best ten minutes of your week. By the time this is finished, you will already be a repeat customer before any hair makes it to the floor.

Step 2: Haircut: Sure, you've gotten your haircut before, but like I said earlier the HairCutFactory is for beginners. Depending on your jurisdiction, the staff there may have licenses from beauty school, but this is the job they have while they dream of something else or look for a real job in the self esteem industry. They may talk to you about this week's reality TV or procedural crime drama... And their HairCutFactory probably has the local dance music or adult contemporary station playing. But you don't want that. My salon generally has 80s music playing. My hairdresser knows me, talks to me about stuff I like, and remembers what we talked about last time, even if I forget to go for two months. Your self esteem engineer should treat you like your favorite bartender. They will get to know you, and remember pertinent details about you. Think about this when they're cutting your hair. They know you. A trusted friend is working on your appearance, and not some stranger with really outrageous beauty-school-graduate nails.

Step 3: Product: For most nerds, this will be the hardest sell. But it's definitely worth it. This is something they have at HairCutFactory, but not something they really push. And that's to their credit. If you're spending $10 on your haircut, you probably shouldn't bother spending $30 on goop to put in your hair. But when you're spending considerably more, you should really go all the way and add some junk into your daily prep regime. Remember, we're exercising your self esteem muscles. Looking good is good for your self esteem. Spiffy hair can help you look good. This is why male lions have manes, people. Why roosters have those red things. Why awesome Discovery channel lizards have those frills. This said, I recommend against gel. Unless you have a really specific color of hair and style of haircut, gel is probably going to make you look like a guido, and nobody wants that. Go with something along the lines of a styling wax/paste. I use stuff called "sumotech" by Bumble and Bumble. I put a tiny bit into dry hair, which it makes it stand up and look goofy without looking like I have a ton of gunk in it. It's usually even completely dry to the touch and not tacky at all. This is important too. You don't want touching your hair to be gross, in case you or someone else winds up touching it.

The best thing about this advice is that you can give it a shot, and if you don't like the results, next month you can go back to the old way. But definitely give it a shot. Spiffy hair is fun to have, and requires only a relatively tiny investment of your monthly budget and daily effort. Nerds can and should look awesome. Join me!

@nerdsherpa, your personal Discovery channel lizard.


  1. Jim, I <3 the shout out for me and my friends at Du Monde, however, it is nearly exclusively at Du Monde that the shampoo technician is a massage therapist. I hate to correct, but if your nerdciples are looking for a good scalp massage, I wouldn't want them to be disappointed with an imitation. To those wondering mens haircuts at Du Monde range from 25-40 dollars for all the wonderment mentioned by Jim, and ladies can be accommodated for a price ranging between 40 and 70 dollars, including a consultation and a blow dry. I've fallen prey to the 10 dollar haircut on occasions myself, but I assure, there's nothing like the real deal.

  2. Are you listening salons! Rub people's heads while you wash them. They will LOVE IT.

  3. Every time my hair is shampooed not by Gina, it just doesn't seem right. Like, even when I do it, myself.

  4. Someone not Gina shampooed me this week, and I didn't catch her name, but she massaged too, and it was equally pleasant.