This short essay is a reflection on the relationship between the economy and women’s hair. I suggest that examining women’s spending on hair care products during uncertain financial conditions provides insight into the gendered aspects of the economy. As the economy has declined, sales of home hair-care products targeted toward white women have increased. Major news outlets report on salon customers trying to stretch out the time between their regular $250 hair salon treatments. Certain women turn to home hair dyes to maintain conforming appearances. In popular culture, to have white skin and gray hair is to be old (unemployable and unattractive) or menopausal (unproductive and unsexual). An attempt to retain their hair color (natural or chosen) is, for certain women, an attempt to retain a currency of employability, utility and desirability.
The hair-care spending of African-American women (of all socio-economic classes), in contrast, appears to be less susceptible to economic cycles.
The next two sentences of the abstract shift the nature of the paper considerably:
African-American legal scholars have given voice to the complex role that hair can play in the personal, professional, social and legal lives of black women. I argue that only in a down economy do some white women grapple with their hair’s complex signaling function, including its link to race and privilege.