$400 Haircuts, Plaza Suites and Other New York Stories


My sister is a hairstylist. She has cut my hair since I was a baby. Overall, she's done a fantastic job (Hi Sandra!), but there have been a few unfortunate incidents, the most cringe worthy being the 'bad poodle perm of 1983'. In all fairness, it didn't help that I panicked and washed my hair too soon (way before the recommended 24 hour mark) either. That being said, the entire experience turned out to be incredibly traumatizing. As a result, I've been vehemently anti-perm ever since. So when I had the chance to go to a fancy salon in NYC to get a fancy $400 haircut, I was thrilled and terrified all at the same time.

My dilemma was fairly straightforward.

This haircut could be transformative, the most flattering one of my life thus far or it could essentially be 1983 all over again. If it turned out to be a disaster, I knew my sister would fix it. That wasn't the real issue. The problem was what if it turned out to be the best haircut of my life, would my sister then hate my soon-to-be-30-year-old guts? I mean I couldn't keep traveling to NYC every 3 months for $400 haircuts. Alienating your sister/regular hairstylist is never smart.

Yes, it was my 30th birthday and not only was I booked for that $400 haircut, but I was also booked in an incredible suite at The Plaza. (This was before they went condo and all of that brouhaha.) And no, I had no idea who Eloise was and wasn't even vaguely familiar with her story before my birthday stay. The only connection I had with the fabled Plaza prior to that had probably been watching Dudley Moore's Arthur - the original and still the best version, if you ask me - pick up a hooker in his Rolls and take her there for dinner.

My ignorance of Eloise aside, I will say that the Plaza did not disappoint - It was definitely somewhere that lived up to the buildup and its status as a legendary luxury hotel. As my mom has always said 'WHO says money doesn't matter?' Whoever said that had probably not ever had the chance to stay at The Plaza. That's for sure.

And speaking of my mom, I wasn't staying alone at The Plaza. Not by a long shot. I was joined by her and 2 other key people from the Jeffrey fam, my brother/god father Rich and his wife, all of whom found the idea of a $400 haircut laughable by the way. Utterly preposterous. But they loved staying at The Plaza. Hands down. No flies on them.

Not long after we had checked in and were settling in, my brother Rich reminded me that a few years earlier, Daniel Baldwin had been arrested there after notoriously going on a crack binge in his room. It had been big news, especially in my favorite guilty pleasure newspaper (and possibly yours too), The New York Post. How could I have forgotten about that?

That reminder from Rich was all I needed. As soon as the bellman brought our suitcases up, I was off and began interrogating him about the DB incident. (Pun intended.) The bellman shook his head. He had nothing good to say about Daniel. We all felt a little bit better about ourselves though when he informed us that we were staying in better accommodations than the ones Daniel had been busted in. There's nothing like finding out you as a 'nobody' are staying in more luxe accommodations than someone who had been a well known working actor 'somebody' to boost one's sense of self.

The next morning, we set off, as a group (The Jeffrey's are notorious for traveling in large, usually loud groups.), to the $400 haircut appointment. My hands were ice cold and I was in full panic mode. Once we arrived at our destination, I realized that my panic was in fact justified.

This salon was like nothing I had ever seen. Not in RI at that time anyway.

There was a formal check-in area. Inside, people who weren't having their hair cut and dried pin straight were sitting nearby drinking coffee or tea from actual ceramic cups and saucers. No styrofoam cups here. I suddenly felt very underdressed in my blue jeans, blue shirt and crummy motorcycle boots.

Everyone in my 'Jeffrey entourage' was offered a beverage while I was whisked off to yet another private section of the salon to get my hair washed and my scalp massaged. I could neither relax nor enjoy the massage. Frankly, I had no patience for any of it and could not wait to get myself out of there. I felt completely uneasy and out of place.

I knew my stylist had worked previously for one of the most recognizable names in the industry at that time, someone who ended up building a multi-million dollar business selling $28 bottles of shampoo to his rich and famous clients as well as those who aspired to be his clients. And she was nice enough - don't get me wrong - but after the pleasantries, the rest was a blur of scissor snips and falling hair.

After paying and tipping her (If you factor in the tip for the shampoo girl, we're talking about well over $400 at this point.), I was escorted back out to the waiting Jeffrey's who greeted me with lukewarm approval. Once we had made our way out and back on to the street below, I felt a huge sense of relief. It was then, however, that my mom dropped the haircut hammer:

"All those girls were getting the same haircut. She gave you the same haircut that everyone in that salon was getting. I don't see anything special about it. Is it really worth $400? I don't think so!"

And she wasn't wrong. What I had paid beaucoup bucks for was basically a modified 'Rachel' cut, the short layered almost bob style by Chris McMillan that had set off a huge hair trend during the 90's. If you didn't have that cut, I'll bet you knew at least one person who did. I knew she was (in her way) supporting my sister, but she was (again) also spot on. The haircut was really just OK. I definitely wouldn't be coming back for another. Ever. I consoled myself by heading over to Barney's beauty department and buying some Vincent Longo foundation and a Nars lip pencil in Amazon (An extremely flattering brown based red still available at Sephora)

Years later (2009 to be exact), I saw an article in the Times about how Orlando Pita, an uber famous NYC Hairstylist with clients like Noami Campbell and Jennifer Connelly, was then charging over $800 for a cut. And a competitor's of Orlando's who was charging $400 actually referred to HIS own less expensive rate as 'bargain basement'.

And poof, just like that - my bragging rights had expired.

Yesterday's $400 fancy haircut is today's bargain basement.

More great moments in over-priced haircut history.


Photo Courtesy: Plaza Hotel photo, Pinterest