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The Quest for a Cheap Haircut

When your locks need love for a whole lot less, try one of these tactics for scoring a haircut on the cheap:

Brave up and become a hair model. Such well-respected San Francisco salons as Cowboys and Angels and diPietro Todd hold regular calls for hair models, who offer up their locks to stylists-in-training for discounted – and sometimes free – cuts and color. Ideal for people with flexible schedules and the willingness to try new styles, hair model gigs are perfect if you’re looking for a significant change (long hair to short, for example) and don’t mind relinquishing control to the stylist. In most cases, you won’t get to choose the cut or color, nor will you be getting services your stylist has tried dozens of times before. If you can handle the risk factor, you could walk out of a top salon with a fresh new cut and color for $35 or less. In addition to the two salons mentioned above, another place to look for hair model opportunities is craigslist.

Head to beauty school. If a basic bob, simple highlights or shape-up trim is what you’re looking for, try trusting your locks to student stylists at a local cosmetology school. Best for straight-forward cuts and color jobs, this strategy means a new ‘do of your choice for a budget-friendly price. At Zenzi’s, a cut with shampoo and styling will cost you $23, while Cinta Aveda Institute offers haircuts starting at $14 and partial foil highlights for $42-$48. A basic cut and style from students at the San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology will run you $15, while a cut and style at Miss Marty’s will set you back $20. One downside: because the students are still learning the ropes, cuts and color services often take longer than they would at a salon.

Find a junior stylist. It’s standard practice for salons to charge more for services from their most experienced stylists. A junior stylist may be able to render a solid cut at a reduced rate. At Atelier Emmanuel in Union Square, for example, a cut with a junior stylist starts at $25, compared to the $75 and up you’ll pay otherwise. Similarly, single process color at Fringe Salon starts at $50 with a junior stylist, while the same treatment from a senior member of the team starts at $70. In most cases, you’ll pay more for an appointment with a junior stylist than you would as a hair model or with a student stylist, but you’ll be able to request the look you want and get the salon experience during your visit.

Ask about special rates for new clients. Stylists new to an established salon often try to bolster their clientele by offering one-time discounts to first-time clients. One of our favorite places to check for first-time client discounts and deals is Yelp, where we found such offers from Cow Hollow’s Berenice Salon, Russian Hill’s Oh La La Salon and West Portal’s Elenie for Hair.