From Academy Awards to beauty influencers, it’s tempting to dream of a glamorous career as a hairstylist. It can be a lucrative career for some, but how much do hairstylists make on average? Learn what you need to know before starting down the career path.
How Much Do Hairstylists Make?
If you aspire to a career as a hairstylist, knowing how much you can make is probably at the forefront of your mind. The good news is that you don’t have to win an award for special achievements in hair and makeup on a movie to make a living as a stylist.
The Short Answer
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for Hairdressers, Hair Stylists, and Cosmetologists is $17.30 and the average salary is $35,990.
However, many of these stylists are part-time. Several factors can impact your earnings potential, and even lead you to a six-figure salary, including:
- Education and training
- Hairstylist levels and pay grade
- Location, availability, and demand
- Develop interpersonal skills
- Network, network, network
- Specialize within the industry
Before you start the journey to become a hairstylist, it is a good idea to create a plan that helps you maximize your potential earnings.
Factors Affecting a Hair Stylist’s Income
Being a hairdresser can be a rewarding career, but making good money doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, commitment, and planning to build a viable career and make the money you desire.
Education and Training
Hairstylists must complete several requirements before they can even touch a person’s hair. The specific requirements vary by state, but most require stylists to complete a cosmetology program and obtain a license before working.
Most cosmetology schools require students to have a high school diploma or GED (Graduate Equivalency Diploma). You can choose between a certificate program or an associate’s degree in Cosmetology.
The average program takes a year to eighteen months to complete and includes a range of classes. Expect to pay between $5,000 and $20,000 for cosmetology school. The best programs cost more but might land you a higher starting salary.
After completing your education, you must fulfill the cosmetology licensing requirements for the state where you want to work. Licensing exams usually involve a written test followed by a skills demonstration.
Hair Stylist Levels and Pay Grade
Experience matters in any profession. Many salons list hairstylists at varying pay grades based on their level. Each institution can adopt its own hierarchy, but the levels usually correlate to a combination of experience and education.
Entry-level stylists who completed school and licensing start at the lowest level. They usually offer fewer services and the cheapest prices.
Second-level hairdressers typically have at least a year of experience. They cost a little more than level ones and offer additional services. Level twos might work with more advanced stylists to learn and improve additional skills and specialties.
By the time you reach level three, most places consider you a seasoned professional. This level typically requires at least three or four years of experience and demonstrated mastery of several skills.
Aside from commanding more money, you can expect to mentor new stylists. Level four and higher represents master or senior stylists. At this point, stylists have several years of experience and multiple continuing education courses.
Location, Availability, and Demand
Location is one of the most important factors impacting earnings potential for any career. Not only do some states pay more on average, but some places have a greater need for hairstylists making it easier to find regular clients.
According to the BLS, the top-paying location for hairstylists is the District of Columbia where the average annual pay is over $72,000 per year.
However, the District of Columbia averages around 550 jobs in the industry, making it difficult to find work in the high-paying sector. Massachusetts boasts the second-highest average pay at more than $44,000 per year with 10% of the industry making over $74,000 annually.
However, the state is in the top five for the concentration of jobs, offering you a better chance of landing a job and making money. Like any career, balancing pay rates with availability is an important consideration.
Major cities, like New York City, Chicago, and Boston offer far more opportunities to work and amass a client base. However, there’s also more competition that might not be as easy for beginners.
Developing Strong Interpersonal Skills
While being a hairstylist relies heavily on your skills with hair, interpersonal skills factor heavily into your success. Have you ever met a hairstylist with no personality? Better yet, would you return to somebody who is harsh or ignores you during the session?
Developing your communication skills might be the second-best thing you do for your career. It’s not just about establishing rapport with clients, either. You need to communicate with your peers and managers to advance your career.
Consider practicing these skills:
- Active listening helps you understand other people better. It’s the practice of rephrasing a person’s request as a question to ensure you fully understand what you need to do.
- Ask open-ended questions to keep the other person talking so that you get the big picture.
- Be positive with your words and body language. It’s not always easy, but a smile and a kind word can go a long way in turning somebody into a repeat customer.
Personable hairstylists tend to receive better tips and thank you gifts. They also do more business and have repeat customers, making them assets to any salon.
Network, Network, Network
Expanding on the importance of interpersonal skills and communication, networking is one of the top ways to make more money as a hairstylist. Building a steady stream of clients doesn’t happen overnight, and your coworkers won’t thank you for poaching theirs.
There are several ways to make new contacts and connect with your community. It’s not about being pushy as much as meeting people and making an impression.
- Ask your current clients to spread the word if they like what you do because word of mouth is one of the top ways to build a customer base.
- Consider reaching out to local businesses and dropping off your business card.
- Volunteer or donate your services for good causes.
- Attend local events like happy hours with businesses and community members to rub elbows and meet people.
Before you head out to network, make sure you look the part for each event and have plenty of business cards to hand out.
Specialize Within the Industry
Specializing in one or more techniques can translate to more money for any hairdresser. It can be especially lucrative if you are one of a few specialists in your area.
You might want to consider your area and what hairstylists currently offer so that you can fill in the gaps. Some of the top specialties for hairdressers include:
- Colorists who do unique styles, like special patterns.
- Updos and special occasion designs that make a statement can fare well during prom and wedding seasons.
- Men’s barbers who specialize in male hair, mustaches, and beards can corner a specific market.
- Age-related specialists, like kids and seniors, can establish a following quickly.
- Curly hair is a unique challenge, but if you master the wave and ringlet ‘dos, you can woo some discerning, underserved clients.
Finally, there’s an entire faction of hairstylists who work in theater and film. Some of the highest-paid hairstylists are those who work on movie sets, but there are also theater productions begging for hair support.
Tips for Earning More Money as a Hairstylist
Becoming a successful stylist takes a lot of work and commitment to the craft. Here are some additional tips to help you work smarter and maximize your profits.
Continuing education is a key factor in increasing your pay because it helps you expand your skillset and learn the newest trends. Watch for opportunities at trade shows, product supply stores, and professional organizations.
Be Your Own Boss
Owning a salon or spa is an excellent way to increase your bottom line. First, you don’t have to pay for space in somebody else’s salon. You can also make money by hiring other stylists and leasing space in your salon.
Be Savvy About Location
While it’s tempting to head for a major metropolitan area in a high-paying state, it’s not the only way to make a stable income. Finding a job as one of the only stylists in a smaller city or suburb means you can corner a portion of the market and keep plenty busy.
Learn to Leverage Social Media
Networking used to be about face-to-face interactions, but today’s creatives can gain a lot through social media. Hairstylists can use platforms like Instagram to showcase their skills and attract new customers.
Set Yourself Apart
It seems like simple advice, but setting yourself apart from other stylists is harder than it sounds. Some people might focus on a gimmick, but finding a specialty or unique process could be the best way to attract new clients and establish a reputation as the person to see.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have questions about making money as a hairstylist? Here are some commonly asked questions and answers that might clarify a few things for you:
Do Hairdressers Make a Lot of Money?
While the average take home for hairstylists is just under $36,000 per year, some make a lot of money. It takes hard work, training, and networking to surpass the average. Location is also a significant factor.
Is a Hair Stylist a Good Career?
Being a hairstylist is a good career for many people who like working with people and being creative. There’s plenty of room to specialize, make good money, and build a dependable career.
How Can a Hairstylist Make Six Figures?
Hairstylists can take several steps to increase their earnings to a six-figure salary. Approach the work with a business mindset, set your price according to your experience and skill, devote time to networking and building a client list, and work hard.
Is Becoming a Hairdresser Hard?
Becoming a hairstylist can be hard. It requires extensive education and practice before you can even begin working on people. Plus, you need to learn anatomical and chemical properties to work with different types of hair and products.
What State Do Hairstylists Make the Most?
Hairstylists typically make the most in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Hawaii, and Washington. Other high-paying states include Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Virginia.
So, How Much Do Hairstylists Make?
Hairstylists make around $36,000 per year on average, but education, training, specialization, and location can help you make significantly more.
Turning hairdressing into a lucrative career takes dedication, creativity, and excellent interpersonal skills. If you play your chips right, you could easily become a six-figure hairstylist.