Free haircuts that won’t leave you in tears

Cheap haircuts have come a long way since the Flowbee

Is it possible to get free hair services outside of a beauty school or a friend with a pair of kitchen scissors and a “vision?” Most definitely. Although some salons (cough*Bumble and Bumble*cough) make it seem like they are the only ones giving away hairstyles, many salons in the city need models. And we’re not talking beauty school students either: these are licensed, experienced stylists and apprentices (who have completed beauty school) who are looking to up their game in their profession by practicing new techniques or services on real people. How does one get all these free fabulous services? It’s really not that hard if you know where to look.

This doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to a “concept” haircut with 17 colors in order to be a hair model: Part of the training process for apprentice stylists is to hone their listening skills and to suggest looks that complement clients’ features and lifestyle. So you could walk out with a perfectly manageable cut or those golden blonde highlights rather than looking like an extra for a Flock of Seagulls video. Also, this isn’t just limited to the ladies! Men’s haircuts and color can present their own unique challenges and are a harder niche to fill for training purposes.

If you have any friends who are hairstylists, start there. Ask if their salon needs hair models that have a look that you’re going for (It also helps to preface this with the fact that your wallet is as flat and scraggly as your strands at the moment.) There could be opportunities for not only cut or coloring but also blowouts, updos or even extensions if you’re really lucky.

If there are specific salons that you’re interested in trying out, check out their website or call their salon coordinators to ask about availability for free model services. Most salons have some sort of model services, it takes only a second to call and ask. Some salons have specific schedules, others will have you come in and apply or send a headshot so that you can be put on file for stylists to choose from. But the key is to be patient: sometimes you’ll get in immediately and other times it could take months for you to be chosen.

If time is of the essence for fresh hair for you, you can also check out sites such as or the ever popular Craigslist. If you’re not sold on a particular salon that you want to get into, it might be worth it to cast a wide net and see what you can get that works with your schedule. On a sample query on both sites, there were more than 100 listings for cut and color services on any given day of the week

SalonApprentice had both free and low-fee cost services listed, but just a few minutes of looking yielded examples like these: free blowouts at Carsten Aveda, Devachan, Arte and ARROJO; free cuts at Sam Brocato, Ted Gibson, Christiano Cora and Minardi; free color at ARROJO (a rare exception, there’s usually a fee). Every ad was prefaced with the headline that all the services were to be performed by a stylist who had completed beauty school and some (such as Arte) also mentioned how many years the stylist had been with the salon or, like the Aveda Institute, highlighted that they were experienced stylist trying new techniques. This lowered the anxiety over a potentially botched look down a few notches.

Before writing off Craigslist as potentially scam-riddled, it never hurts to shoot an email reply to ads and ask a few questions about the salon and exactly what services they’re looking to perform on you. Not every salon or stylist wants to publicly advertise themselves or the salon on sites like Craigslist for various reasons. When in doubt, your schedule can always suddenly “get busy”.

Again, these aren’t beauty school students: they’re professionals in training. It’s essential to be on time and to come expecting your services to take a little bit longer than a regular appointment. The consultation part of your hair service may be longer than a regular appointment, so come prepared with ideas for your hair and a willingness to take suggestions from your stylist (within reason). Although your services are gratis, it’s usually expected that your stylist will be tipped. (This rule also applies to people who shampoo you as well.) With that in mind, you might just be able to score yourself a regular standing appointment with a salon you like!

So before you subject yourself to your friend’s Fiskars, do some searching and asking. Getting a fresh look for the spring is easier than you may think!

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