Whether for a night out, an important meeting or a general pick-me-up, sometimes a girl just needs hair that shines and bounces. Right? But blow-drying one's own hair into a state of glossy perfection is darn near impossible -- one really needs a stylist brandishing tools and sprays.
That's where "blow-dry bars" come in.
Blow-dry-only salons, one of the latest trends in the beauty business, are popping up around the Bay Area, catering to women of all ethnicities who want salon-perfect hair between haircut appointments without having to spend a whole afternoon to get it.
For about $35, blow-dry bars will shampoo and coif customers in 45 minutes or so and, in the process, deliver -- the faithful say -- that hit of self-confidence that comes from looking polished.
"You go in feeling kind of blah, and you come out feeling really snazzy and ready to go do your thing," says Ellen Mazzoni, 57, a Burlingame resident who treks to Palo Alto once a week for a blow-out at Halo, a blow-dry bar that opened last fall at the Town & Country Village shopping center. Halo plans to open stores in Walnut Creek, Danville, Menlo Park, Burlingame and Marin County in coming months.
Just don't ask for a cut or color at a blow-dry bar, because that's not what these chic spots do. But they dish up more luxury than women got back in the day of the weekly shampoo-and-set appointment: Some blow-dry bars pamper customers with champagne, or offer party packages so friends can make blow-drying a "girls' night out" activity. Many will do makeup and bridal-party hairdos.
Mazzoni gets her shoulder-length blond hair cut and colored about every six weeks by her regular stylist, but after making her first visit to Halo, she says, "I loved my hair."
She's hooked on the blow-dry-only routine now. On a recent visit to Los Angeles, she sought out Drybar in Hollywood for a blow-out while on vacation.
Drybar, which launched in L.A. in February 2010, opened a San Francisco store on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights in June. The chain now has a total of nine salons in California, Texas and Arizona, with plans for expansion.
There are no data on how many of the nation's nearly 603,000 beauty salons and spas are blow-dry-only establishments, says Brad Masterson of the Professional Beauty Association. But the trend has certainly erupted over the past two or three years, he says.
"While most professional salons have always offered blow-outs, the popularity of blow-out-only salons is built around specializing ... and providing an efficient and cost-effective way for women to look their best," he says.
There's plenty of demand for blow-dry-only salons, says Halo owner Rosemary Camposano, whose background is in high-tech marketing. Her 450-square-foot salon in Palo Alto could double its business if the space were bigger, she says, adding that Halo's future locations will be much larger.
"It's been a runaway-crazy hit," she says.
She thinks of her customer base as "all these women I know that live in the suburbs and would hate to be called 'suburban women,' " she says -- women who juggle busy lives but want to look pulled together, whether they are heading to work or schlepping kids to and from school.
"I am my clients," Camposano says. "I always spent a lot of money on highlights, and taking care of my hair, and then back in a ponytail it went."
Karen Marcum, owner of Blowoutbar Salon in downtown Livermore, says that although her salon actually offers a full range of cut-and-color services, she chose the salon's name partly because she knew how popular blow-dry services were becoming from her time spent as a stylist at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
"We did blowouts all the time on Saturdays and Sundays" at the hotel salon, at $75 a pop, she says. Her own salon offers a six-pack of blow-dry certificates for $210, which works out to $35 per blow-dry session.
The premise of blow-dry bars is that by getting a blow-out that looks good for three or four days, women who want to -- and can afford the service -- can spend more time looking and feeling salon-fabulous and less time sporting the last-resort ponytail look.
"A blowout these days is an affordable luxury similar to a manicure or pedicure," says Melanie Groom of Blo, a Toronto-based chain with a San Francisco location and plans for expansion in the Bay Area. "We feel really, really good when our hair is done. There's a certain way you walk. That's the No. 1 thing we try to have them leave with ... more confidence."
Confidence-seeking male customers are welcome at blow-dry bars, but most managers say they get very few. Clients typically are women from their 20s to their 60s. Some women bring in their daughters, too, so school-age clients are not unheard of. At Drybar, where the blow-dry styles on the menu are all named after mixed drinks, there's even one called the Shirley Temple for the youngest customers (ringlets not required).
Salon chain stores like Supercuts and Fantastic Sam's offer blow-outs starting at about $25, but customers are unlikely to find the perks like iPod docks, chick-flicks on TV or complimentary beverages that many blow-dry bars offer. Most traditional, full-service salons offer blow-outs, but they typically charge at least $50, and sometimes much more.
"This is not their service," says Groom of Blo. "They don't make money on a blow-dry; they make money on cut and color." Most blow-dry bars will make referrals to nearby traditional salons' cut-and-color stylists, and vice versa, managers say.
San Francisco resident Amy DeMartini started going to Blo in her Marina neighborhood about a year ago, and now goes about once a week to get her light brown hair blown out. It's convenient, fast, and the $35 cost is affordable for her, she says.
"It's absolutely a fair price for one hour of pampering, and it's maybe half the cost you'd pay at any other fancy salon in the city," says DeMartini, 30, who works in sales in the food and wine business. And, she adds, "As a working woman, it's important to look polished and professional, and getting your hair blow-dried is a part of that."
Contact Sue McAllister at 408-920-5833.