Feb 27, 2022

What's a blowout? (No, seriously)

...in which we provide both the literal definition of a salon blowout and also attempt to figure out the gobstopping popularity of professional blowouts.

If you want the quick and dirty answer, a blowout involves washing, conditioning, and blow drying/styling hair into a pretty, shiny, voluminous style. That's it. With a bit of practice and the right tools (salon experts generally recommend a small round brush and a professional-grade hair dryer that has at least 2600 watts of power and a nozzle), you can totally do a basic yet effective version at home.

So if the process is actually that simple, why do so many people flock to salons to get their hair professionally blown out? How has the wash-dry-style formula become a cultural phenomenon that has spawned multiple salon chains that literally do nothing but blowouts?

According to salon chain DryBar (the OG blowout salon chain), it's because salon blowouts are a magical experience that transcend the hairstyling process to create a euphoric experience of bliss. Their website defines the experience as follows:


The act or instance of blow-drying hair, includes wash and style.

Happiness, confidence and relaxation for about 45 minutes.

The best and easiest gift you can give your wife, girlfriend, sister or mom.

Okay. Some pretty big promises there about the emotional pay-off of a single treatment, but they're not entirely wrong.

People are obsessed with the DryBar experience, to the extent that they're willing to pay 45 bucks (minimum) a visit for a simple wash and dry, multiple times a month. Heck, lots of people go multiple times a week, to the extent that they joke that they don't know how to wash their own hair anymore.

Are blowouts really that convenient?

So what keeps people coming back? Some people say that it saves them time. And sure, getting a professional blowout could free up an extra few hairstyling hours from your week, since depending on who you ask, a blowout lasts between three to seven days.

But let's be real -- if you can make your blowout last for a week, more power to ya, but that's probably not super likely for everyone. You could probably do one at home that might look a little less sleek than a blowout done by a professional/will also take a little longer, but you'd also save time on driving and waiting for your appointment. Seeing as there's no way that every single blowout superfan lives right by a salon, we assume that this adds in a half-hour (10 minutes of transport to get there, 10 minutes of waiting when you're there, and 10 minutes to get back home) as an absolute minimum to the appointment time. This takes us from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes and, again, that's with a generously short transport time. So all in all, we're not sure if we buy the time-saving argument as a true reason for going to the salon.

Other people say that they spring for the salon time because they just don't know how to do it as well at home. And if you truly don't know a thing about styling your hair and that really, really bothers you, but you don't actually want to invest the time into learning how to style your hair on your own, then sure. A regular blowout appointment may be just what the doctor ordered for your style routine.

But if you listen to what people say about why they get their hair blown out regularly, you'll notice a surprising (or maybe not so surprising, if you read the last two paragraphs) trend. It turns out that it's not really about the blowout after all - people get blowouts more because of the experience.

People like blowouts because they are relaxing

The real appeal of the professional blowout doesn't seem as much to be from the actual end-result of shiny, orderly hair, but the experience itself. Because, perhaps unsurprisingly, having someone pay attention to your every hair need for 45 minutes is incredibly emotionally rewarding. Getting a blowout at a salon involves an onslaught of unconditional positive regard and personal attention in a sparkling environment where everyone is kind and happy all the time and the speakers blare nonstop Adele. It feels great, like you're a member of Elle Woods' sorority in the first five minutes of Legally Blonde.

This is all by design. The customer service details in these salons are obsessed over -- at DryBar, for example, you'll never be asked if you have an appointment when you first walk through the doors. Founder Alli Webb considered such behavior to be "too aggressive", so it was nixed. You're given coffee or champaign to sip while your hair is styled, and there are cookies at the desk. The whole vibe is one of a good-times-only lady's club -- although yes, men are allowed too. They're just not particularly common.

The way that your stylist interacts with you is carefully planned. You're chatted with just enough so that you don't feel uncomfortable if you're an introvert or ignored if you're an extrovert, and you're told all the good things about your hair. The natural flaws in your hair (potential unmanageability, frizziness, lack of volume, et cetera) are never discussed unless you bring them up. And even if you do the stylist will assure you that they're really not that problematic anyway.

In a world where many of us aren't exactly rolling in cash, it's fun to feel like a fancy lady. The drybar experience feels like a window into the lives of the rich and famous. Sure, celebrities probably would probably have a private glam squad that comes to them, but the underlying experience is the same. You, as the person being pampered, are fawned over. This time is exclusively about you. For the next half hour, you are made to feel like the highest priority to the person who is styling your hair. It's the same approach that made cruise ships such a cultural phenomenon - a feeling that you can have some luxury in your life, that you deserve some luxury in your life, and that just for this brief period of time, you can actually have some luxury in your life. It won't break the bank. It's not actually the same as a private yacht or a private glam squad, but it evokes a similar experience. For those of us who see a blowout as a rare treat, the dry bar experience makes us feel wealthy, like we've taken a step above our social class. And for those of us who have the means to regularly visit the dry bar, it reaffirms our status as a person moving into the upper echelons of society (even when we can't afford the private glam squad).

When we engage with luxury, we feel safe. It gives us a sense of control, and the knowledge that while we can't afford a giant luxury (private jet, a second home in Maui, a personal glam squad), we are secure enough to have this smaller luxury. We get distance from the daily insecurities of being a human. It's more than just the social signaling of I can afford to look really nice because I go to the Dry Bar twice a week. It's the knowledge that we have flexible resources that we can use in the ways that we want to. When you go to the dry bar, you don't feel like you're a person who's scrounging to pay rent for the next month. Even if you actually are scrounging to pay rent or desperately trying to figure out how you'll pay off your mountain of student debt, the dry bar, and other luxury experiences, give you a vacation from that feeling of dread and anxiety.  

Of course, if a feeling of luxury and pampering is what you're after, you don't necessarily have to get a blowout. You can achieve this emotional payout in many different ways. You could get an extra fancy blow dryer, one that makes you feel happy and warm when you use it at home. Buy a moisturizing sunscreen that actually smells and feels good when you put it on. Get a fancy candle that smells extra nice, and light it when you're in the bathtub. If you spend a little extra on a small thing that you'll use either frequently or even just on special occasions, you'll experience that same sense of luxury, albeit in a smaller way.

So with all of this in mind, should you try to do a blowout at home or regularly shell out the big bucks at a salon? The answer depends on what you want.

If you're interested in blowouts because of the ability to save time on styling your hair several days in a row, in the long run you'll probably save just as much time by learning to do it at home. Sure, it won't look quite as good as one done by the pro's and it might be a slow process at first, but you will have a long-term skill in your arsenal that could save you a good bit of money.

If you want to get a blow out so you can have fancy hair for a special occasion, then you might want to go straight to the pros. They do blowouts all day long, so they're pretty darned experienced in making hair look good.

But if you just want to relax (and don't mind loud music), a blow out could be a pretty good choice for you, regardless of if you have a need for fancy hair or not. If your goal is to feel pampered, a blow out is just as good as a massage.

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