The new Beyoncé Cosmetology Center at Phoenix House—offering recovering addicts seven months of cosmetology training—sounds like so much fun it’s almost worth faking a Sudafed addiction to get in, especially since beautifying is a “lucrative” field, according to Beep Marty Markowitz. Really? How lucrative? We spoke with some borough stylists to find out.
It all starts with a NY State cosmetology license, which requires 1,000 hours of class time and $10,000 to $15,000 in tuition, on average, though government financial aid is available. Here’s what Brooklyn hair-care pros can expect to earn after that:
Salon assistant: washes hair, sweeps salon, holds foils, makes coffee, sets appointments
Training: cosmetology license
Pay: barely minimum-wage to $120 a day, mostly from tips
Junior stylist: similar to full-on stylist, but much less busy
Training: 1 to 3 years as a salon assistant
Pay: usually barely more than an assistant (dependent on clientele)
Hair stylist: cuts, colors, styles, does make-up
Training: a lifetime of branding and building a clientele
Pay: $800/week at Supercuts to $1,500-2,000 ($4,000 for the upper two percent)
Once a beauty school grad gets the required training, she must decide if she want to fight her way through a big, corporate salon or enter the gentler, much-less-profitable small-salon world. A teacher at a Brooklyn cosmetology school tells it like this:
“The hardest decision a lot of us are making when we graduate is whether to go to a large salon and be stuck as an assistant for a sure-fire 2+ years (making *no* money, but maybe make great money in the future), versus going to a smaller salon and getting a chair in a few months but not ever being able to charge those ‘big bucks’… A lot of people enter this industry thinking that you get out of school and roll into some $80K/a year gig wearing your Chuck Taylors to work every day and it’s just not the case. It’s been a big wake-up call.”
Outside the salon, stylists can double their income working for celebrities, film and photo shoots, weddings and even on cruise ships. Specialty jobs like this require much longer hours (and often travel), so it’s a viable option only for the young, single or adventurous.
Colorists see more commission from higher-priced color treatments, but the treatments also take longer, so that means fewer in a day or week. And, as one stylist t at a luxurious spa salon in southern Brooklyn tells us, borough stylists can’t rely on a specialty (like coloring) the way their high-clientele Manhattan counterparts can. “In Brooklyn, you need to do everything in order to survive.”
Veteran stylists say the generalist renaissance-stylist has been in a recent decline, as more schools emphasize a single skill-set. No matter what one’s specialty—a killer shag or a one-stop shop, a beautician’s survival requires hustle. “Your ability to retire depends on your ability to market yourself,” says one of our stylists. Here’s a resource for beauty schools in the area.