When Young Yoon, a hair stylist for 20 years, went about setting the prices at her new salon on North Patrick Street, she thought the situation was pretty straightforward.
According to Young, women, by and large, require more time and skill in cutting their hair than men do, in turn creating a more expensive service. And around Alexandrias hair salons, this appears to be the consensus more complex and time-consuming cuts carry a higher price tag.
Where Young went wrong was in her marketing of this basic premise: simply advertising mens cuts at $16 and womens cuts at $25 in the Alexandria Times is in fact a violation of the citys Human Rights Code.
On January 16, Young received a letter from the citys Office of Human Rights notifying her that her salon, TLC Hair Salon, had advertised pricing based on gender discrimination, according to the letter, instead of the accepted method based on length of hair, complexity of process or amount of time required.
The notice was grounded in Alexandrias Human Rights Code, originally established by the City Council in 1975, and part of the role that the Office of Human Rights plays in the enforcement of the code.
According to the offices website, it receives, investigates, makes findings and conciliates complaints of discrimination.
With the citys Human Rights Commission, a 14-member board appointed by the City Council that hears and resolves complaints and suits filed, the office also strives to be proactive in letting businesses know when they are in breach of the citys human rights charter, said Jean Niebauer, the offices director.
Were complaint driven, but we also try to work with the community so we make sure theyre aware of the law and that they dont run into trouble, Niebauer said.
The office has three full-time investigators who look into complaints and other potential instances of discrimination, with around 65 percent of their workload dealing with equal employment issues, Niebauer said.
In the case of TLC Hair Salon, someone brought the advertisement to the offices attention. With that information, the office then issued the notice, letting the salon know where it stood.
Prior to the letter, Young had not heard of such a code as it pertained to cutting hair, but said that she had heard of a similar issue where dry cleaning shops set prices based on mens shirts and womens shirts.
Thats something weve done periodically over the years, and weve actually sent letters to every salon in Alexandria in the past, Niebauer said. The letter that went to the salon is just a reminder for the business to take a look at the code, understand what the provisions are, and ask for voluntary compliance.
Sugar House Day Spa and Salon, located on North Alfred Street, was one of those salons reminded several years ago about the human rights code.
According to Sugar House manager Nandor Szuprics, the salon had originally set a more flat, gender-based pricing scale, but after the Office of Human Rights notified them of the code, they went about changing their prices. Rather than providing prices for men and women, the rate card now reads Haircuts&Style: $40-$75.
Now, the pricing is based on the time spent cutting and styling, be it 30 minutes or 60 minutes, Szuprics said. Its like if you go and fix your car, the hours they work on it determines the cost.
Szuprics also acknowledged the fact that the women who come in generally require a more complex and time-consuming service than most men.
Ladies definitely spend more time in here. The majority of ladies have long hair, so you cant compare [someone with a buzzcut] with someone that requires a flat iron, which is difficult work, Szuprics said. And even shampooing longer hair, you have to put more product in it.
Yet, saying that most men have short hair and most women have long hair and pricing as such can leave salons at a disadvantage. When TLC had flat pricing for men and women, Young said she would not have been able to charge a man with long hair the premium that comes with the more time-consuming cut that many women get.
The change to the gender-neutral, time-based pricing scale actually makes it easier for Young to earn the appropriate fee for her services.
At JonRic International Salon and Spa on Potomac Greens Drive, executive director John Hall said that they have pricing scales for men and women that vary by complexity, but should the service be above or below the scale, the cost changes accordingly.
What youre paying for is the time that youre in the styling chair, the time that the stylist spends with you, Hall said. He added that the stylist lets the customer know what the service will cost before starting.
We do have men that come in with long, long hair and they will be charged for a womens haircut, Hall said. When we advertise, though, we say, Haircuts starting at $45.
In spite of his own shops advertising practices, Hall is unsure of whether or not it is in the citys best interest to put its resources into regulating salons along these lines.
Personally, I dont know if that is something they should be spending their time on, said Hall, who opened JonRic three years ago. Ive been in barber shops and hair salons for a long time and Ive never heard of it.