Related Articles: Beauty, All

Hair Do's & Dont's

Cheap yet stylish haircuts

Having curly hair is a blessing wrapped in a bane. To the 40 percent of our population that constitutes the corkscrew-tressed, I'm sure I needn't explain. Years ago, I decided that hair-cuts at provincial suburban salons just wouldn't cut it for me. I had utterly exhausted my options with second-rate stylists who failed to differentiate between layering (necessary for the revitalization of weighed-down curls) and feathering (i.e., the Kajagoogoo-era style nightmare). This is not to say that I automatically trust the adage that style is money, but I've always fantasized about having my hair hacked and fashioned at Bumble and Bumble, New York's premier salon. Certainly, I've visited some of the more talked-about spots in San Francisco in search of the perfect 'do, but I've always been gun-shy at the thought of shelling out $75 to ensure that my ends are tapered just so. However, for all the style-conscious masses trundling a load of responsibilities that rule out vain excursions, most high-end salons offer free or tremendously reduced cuts if you'll be their guinea pig. Apprentice stylists, who are practically already beautification experts, will work your locks to perfection.

Cinta Salon, which has chic Union Square digs and a full body salon to boot, allows customers to have their hair cut by a stable of soon-to-be superstar stylists for a paltry $10-$20. Almost every stylist on the crew speaks a foreign language, so Cinta is a huge think tank for international trends and cuts. People of all hair types and persuasions are welcome- my boyfriend sported a tasteful mop only a week after setting up an appointment over Cinta's model line, and he's no hair aficionado. The aestheticians at Cinta are also top-notch; I'm sure they'd get lots of calls if they had a similar apprentice/model program, with Brazilian bikini waxes rather than shags and bobs. Takers?

Next on the list is Cowboys and Angels, launched by British style gurus Louise Baranowski and Tracey McAlister. Taking their cue from London's swanky Sloane Street precinct, their urban-mod salon/gallery lures beautiful people from all over the world. Known for their vibrant and daring coloring options, the salon has garnered nods of approval from both Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. This is one place where a tailored look offset by funk and flair is the norm. They're also enthusiastic endorsers of Bumble and Bumble products (which tend to be curl-friendly), a big plus in my book.

For a multi-sensory experience provided by some of the hottest style cognoscenti, visit the tranquil Grasshopper. This SoMa haunt, dressed to the max in Southeast Asian decor and bamboo plants, boasts stylists who are constantly prepped with seminars on the minutiae of hair care, and they have a knack for transforming manes from unruly to outrageous. Their coloring options are undefeatable and include retouches, semi-permanents, partial highlights, full highlights, and color tweaks.

Remember the phrase "If you don't look good, we don't look good"? It might sound a bit dated, but Vidal Sassoon is serious about hair, and they've been setting the trends in hair style and care for the last half-century. Hair for Vidal stylists is like paint in the hands of a master artist, a fundamental mode of expression. The San Francisco salon boasts a rigorous 13-month training program, and apprentices will deftly whip up hot bangs or a hip coiffure that would put Hollywood starlets to shame.

The only real drawbacks to being a hair model are that a) it sometimes takes an ungodly amount of time to get off the wait list and onto a barber chair, and b) at certain salons the type of cuts being done are specific and change from season to season, so you might not always fit an apprentice program's criteria. Despite the occasional rat's nest, I'm fortunate to have curly hair, which is rarely dependent on the whimsy of hair fads. But a good hair-cut, no matter how basic, is often hard to fake, and now everyone can afford to add some occasional oomph to their natural sass every now and then.