The recession has hit home for many Americans who find themselves out of work, struggling to make ends meet, or stuck in jobs they’d rather trade. But there’s also been one unlikely group that’s been deeply affected, Black hair salons.

Hair salons have been some of the most segregated spaces in our society. Rarely do you see a “Black” or “White” hair salon that caters to both ethnicities. Furthermore, Black hair salons have been a bastion of candid talk for Black women about everything from race to relationships. Many of us wouldn’t dare go to a “White” salon to have our hair done, but the economy could be changing that.

A recent Washington Post article highlights some of the changes taking place at hair salons across Philadelphia. It noted that the recession is causing several Black salons to close their doors, and their stylists to flock to chairs in other, more diverse, salons.

“African American salons suffered a lot during the last couple of years due to the troubled economy,” Geri Duncan Jones, executive director of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, told The Washington Post.

“There has also been decreased business due to drastic changes in hairstyle trends [as more black women opt for] virgin hair weaves, braids, natural hair and wigs.”

Many of these changes—swapping chemical processes like relaxers for weaves and lace-front wigs—means Black salons no longer corner the market on Black hair, because many of these looks can be achieved at other salons.

Although the recession has hit all of us hard, Black women still find some room in their budget for their hair. Ethnic hair-care products are expected to rake in $154 million this year, and Black women still schedule regular appointments, even though these days they tend to stretch them farther apart.

One stylist,  Seline Braswell, owned a salon in Philadelphia that catered to Black hair for nearly 12 years. However, when the recession hit, she was forced to close her doors and seek employment at Saks Fifth Avenue. And she wasn’t the first.  The infusion of Black stylists to Saks brought nearly 1,000 new clients to the salon.

While some see the influx of Black stylists to White salons as a move to improve diversity and the skills of both White and Black hair stylists, others see it as a loss of a cultural institution.

“You are erasing culture, you are erasing history and you are erasing a way African Americans have socialized with each other for decades,” said Charles Gallagher, a White professor of sociology, criminal justice and social work at La Salle University.

“These J.C. Penneys and Saks are culturally spaceless. You don’t learn about culture, gender or experience, and the lessons about the politics of the community, that’s all gone.”

No matter what side of the debate you fall on, one thing is sure, Black women are finding new, more economical options when it comes to their hair.

What do you think? Would you go to a non-Black salon or get your hair done by a White stylist? You tell us!

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  • Mrenee

    When I first moved to Manhattan, the only black salon I could find charged me $104 for a touch up and about $50 for a wash & blow-out bi-weekly. Then I discovered the Dominicans. $15 for wash & blow-out and about $35 for a touch-up. Recession or no recession, what would you pay? Since its so cheap, I go weekly to get my hair done. That’s money I put aside just as if I was paying my electric bill.
    And I might add, my hair has grown tremendously since going to the Dominicans. Love my Black brothers and sisters, but that original place was crazy, never enough hair dryers, your stylist taking people coming in the door with no appt before you, people tripping over you, etc. It was a mess.
    I would never go to a white salon, heck no.

  • Lee

    Poor management is probably why these salons are closing. Regardless of how bad the economy has gotten sisters continue to spend money on their hair. It is a necessity, not a luxury in our community. Why continue to go to Black salons with their over booking, over processing, and outrageous prices, if you have other options. My hair is natural now, but I remember sitting in salons for hours to fry my scalp only to discover how much emptier my pockets were once I finally left.

  • ash

    i will go to whoever can do my hair without taking it out for a good price..and if white people or asian people or whoever can do that for a good price thats where im at

  • Only the black salons that refused to reinvent themselves, and update their services provided to the black community, the services that were the most in demand, like natural hair, braids, hair coloring services, and weaves; experienced economic hardship during the recession. Many natural hair salons thrived through the recession by offering natural hair services, relaxed hair services, and weaves. If a salon wants to continue to stay in business, it has to constantly stay up on the times, be knowledgeable on the trends, and provide as many services as it can to cater to all clientele, not just a select small percentage.