Toronto dermatologist Paul Cohen discovered how entrenched the recession had become a few weeks ago, the day that two of his regular Botox clients showed up in succession sporting new forehead-covering bangs. “They both told me, ‘I don’t need you to do between my eyebrows, just do my crow’s feet,’ ” he recalls. Cohen began seeing the first signs of tactical Botox last October when regulars who’d never questioned the cost arrived with a budget: “They’d say, ‘I have $500, do what you can.’ ” Or they’d designate which parts of their faces required more immobility. “Some would say, ‘I can stand more movement in my forehead but get rid of my frown’ or ‘I can put up with crow’s feet for a couple of months and save $400,’ ” he says. Nobody gave it up entirely, but those who’d come religiously every four months would come every six. Some clients now show up only for a “top up” before a big social event.
Tactical Botox is one indicator of economy-induced strategic grooming occurring up and down the income chain. One Toronto woman worried about job security describes it as “beauty triage”: “You decide what’s most important for you personally.” For her, it’s $24 eyebrow threading every three weeks to tame her naturally bushy brows. “I’d stop eating before I stopped doing it,” she says.
Money spent on grooming is an important economic bellwether, says Lisa Tant, the editor of Flare. “It’s one of the last things to go,” she says. “You can wear last year’s dress as long as you feel good, and believe you’re presenting a good image.”
Edward Anwiah, co-owner of Toronto’s Solo Bace hair salon, observes that spending on hair care remains a priority, even in a bad economy. “Women will give up facials, manicures and pedicures first because they can do that at home,” he says. “But they can’t cut their own hair.” That said, price-driven defections do happen: one of his clients has opted for a less expensive stylist at the salon. The trade-offs can be obvious, as women forgo $45 blowouts to keep their colourist. Or they’ll alternate salon visits with at-home colouring. “Of course this drives hairdressers crazy,” says Tant, “because they usually botch up the job.”
Stretching out times between visits is increasingly common across the industry, says Rita Kaptur, a Toronto aesthetician. “Clients who used to have monthly $90 facials now come every two months,” she says. One woman alternates full $40 pedicures with $10 polish changes to keep her feet groomed. Professional waxing too has become selective, as women prioritize body parts. “There are some things you can shave, like your legs,” says one woman. “Some things you can’t.” Kaptur reports women are loath to give up bikini waxing, even in Canadian winter. The bare-all Brazilian is another DIY no-no, says Jonice Padilha, one of the founders of New York City’s famed J Sisters Salon, which makes it an all-or-nothing proposition. “Nobody does a Brazilian by themselves, even me,” she says. “What? I’m going to be looking upside down?”
Downgrading to less expensive brands and ingenious remedies to underwrite necessities is another tactic that has become chic, Tant says. “It’s now fashionable for women to take a Maybelline mascara out of last year’s Louis Vuitton bag.” This month’s Vogue, once crammed with ads for exotic $300-a-jar emollients, enthuses that US$4.95-a-tube A+D Ointment, originally formulated for diaper rash, works wonders on chapped skin. Writer Marina Rust reports that soaking in Epsom salts has replaced her weekly massages. It’s a corner she’ll cut to continue financing her US$70 Clé de Peau concealer habit.
The recession forced an even more profound rethink of grooming priorities for Toronto designer Carmen Dunjko, who decided to stop colouring her hair, a habit that required a salon visit every three weeks. “After I missed two appointments, I found myself looking in the mirror asking, ‘Why am I spending more per visit to colour my hair than I do on my monthly condo fee?’ ” she says. “I realized I had a big investment in my vanity. I said, ‘Let’s rethink this.’ ” In November, she had her hair cropped short, keeping its natural silver colour. “I was elated,” she says. She has been besieged with compliments. “There’s a desire to do this,” Dunjko believes. Perhaps. Meanwhile, until there are armies of grey-haired women sporting bangs, unibrows, and crow’s feet, we’ll know the economy hasn’t hit rock bottom quite yet.