Hair salons are often places where we not only go to achieve self-expression through a cut and color but also participate in community and be our most authentic selves. But, with a history of gendered pricing and styles, salons haven’t always felt like a safe space for everyone, despite offering services that are designed to make you look and (most importantly) feel like your best self. Through allyship and inclusivity, some salons and hairstylists are working to change this narrative and transform the industry where all genders feel welcome and are given the opportunity to experience a service that affirms their identity and reflects who they are on the inside to the outside world.
What Is an Inclusive Salon?
A gender-inclusive hair salon is about creating a space where all genders feel safe and welcomed. “For me, to be gender inclusive is to not assume anything about the person coming into my chair,” says Blaire Ludwig, a hairstylist at Homecoming Salon in New York City. “I’m not making assumptions and then projecting those assumptions onto them—I’m coming to every situation with a very open mind as much as I can and also working against my internal biases I might have because of my own intersecting identities,” they add.
Albeit a necessary and important step, inclusivity in the salon isn’t just about not making assumptions and being open to every person who steps through the door, though. It’s also about being intentional about salon practices and making the necessary updates to better serve all clients, no matter their gender identities. According to Ludwig, this starts with being self-educated around gender terminology and gaining an understanding of terms such as binary, non-binary, and gender diversity in order to be culturally competent enough to hold space for clients in a way that feels safe and welcoming. “When you’re in a hairdresser’s chair, and you have wet hair, and the cape is around you, that’s a pretty intimate and vulnerable position,” Ludwig notes. “It’s already such an anxiety-provoking experience for some people, then bringing gender anxiety into that as well means that I have to provide a space where somebody can feel at ease.”
How to Know If a Hair Salon Is Gender-Inclusive
Inclusivity should also be reflected in a salon’s policies and practices, too. This includes everything from gender-neutral pricing to diverse team members and more. Here’s how to know if a hair salon is gender-inclusive.
The salon offers an inclusive scheduling platform: According to Ludwig, one way a salon can be gender-inclusive is by providing a scheduling system that allows you to input your preferred pronouns when creating a profile. If the salon doesn’t have an inclusive system in place, they can still make the steps toward being more gender-inclusive by having hairstylists introduce themselves with their pronouns, inviting you to reciprocate your pronouns back.
The salon doesn’t have gendered services and pricing: Another way a salon can show inclusivity is by offering gender-neutral services and pricing. While this is technically against the law in some states and cities, some salons located in areas where it’s still permittable might still practice gendered pricing, which was once the norm for the salon industry. The problem with this practice is not just in the obvious gendered focus but also in the pricing, as traditional “men’s cuts” tend to be priced differently compared to “women’s cuts.” Instead of outdated and uninclusive gendered services, an inclusive salon should have a service menu with gender-neutral offerings so that everyone in the community can see themselves reflected.
The salon invests in inclusivity training and self-education: It’s so important to self-educate on terminology and invest in inclusivity training for salon staff and stylists. A gender-inclusive salon should make this practice part of its policy and communicate that with clients. The Dress Code Project is an incredible organization that offers several salon-focused inclusivity trainings, and once a salon meets certain criteria, they can apply for the Dress Code Project’s salon membership. If approved, your salon can not only showcase its membership on marketing materials but will also be listed in the organization’s directory of safe and inclusive salons.
The salon has an inviting and gender-neutral salon space: A gender-inclusive salon should feel inviting to all. This means that a salon will not only showcase more diverse models in salon imagery (whether it’s hung on the walls or included in marketing materials), have a gender-neutral bathroom, and employ a diverse team that reflects the inclusive community they serve.
The Intersection Between Self-Expression and Gender Inclusivity
Self-expression is at the heart of the hair salon. After all, when we book our appointments, our goal is to not only receive a great haircut or color but also to receive a gender-affirming hairstyle that reflects who we are and identify as on the inside. “A gender-affirming hairstyle is any hairstyle that will make you feel good about yourself—you feel affirmed by your peers and your community by the vibes that you give off with this new hairstyle,” says Ludwig. “It’s about affirming somebody in the moment and helping them be their best selves and live as their most authentic self,” they add.
With that said, when we talk about gender-affirming hairstyles, we often see this form of self-expression through the lens of the LGTBQIA2S+ community and, more specifically, as hairstyles reserved for people who identify as trans. Ludwig points out that while gender-affirming hairstyles are important to the LGTBQIA2S+ community, some often forget that they aren’t just for gender-diverse individuals—they are for everybody. “When a cisgender woman sits in my chair and says I want to keep it long because it makes them feel more feminine, that’s a gender-affirming haircut, and when a cisgender man comes in and says they got a hair transplant because they were thinning, that’s a gender-affirming hairstyle,” Ludwig notes. So, while it is about creating a vision that reflects how someone feels on the inside, it’s actually less about gender and more about self-expression and the ability to engage in authenticity no matter how you identify. “[Hair] is such a simple thing, and we’ve made it so complex and somehow gendered it.”