Yeadon-Lee, Tracey (2012) Doing Identity with Style: Service Interaction, Work Practices and the Construction of 'Expert' Status in the Contemporary Hair Salon. Sociological research online, 17 (4). ISSN 1360-7804

This paper contributes to a growing body of scholarship concerned with hairstyling as an occupation and, more broadly, to sociological discussions concerning contemporary forms of service work. As an occupation hairstyling is largely under-researched, with the majority of existing studies restricting their focus to small low-profile salons situated in the 'backstreets' of rural areas or small towns. Hairstyling in larger high-profile salons, such as those in city centres, has only recently begun to be explored and critical discussion of existing knowledge in light of these environments has yet to be fully developed. The aim of this paper is to stimulate such discussion by examining how the work practices and service interactions of hair stylists in high-profile salons within the UK impact upon their status and identities in relation to clients. Research undertaken in low-profile salon settings has found that the service-oriented and commercial features of the work position stylists as subservient to clients and undermines their 'expert' status. Drawing on empirical qualitative research this paper shows how in contemporary high-profile salon environments, which need to manage a tension between the high cost of the service being provided and a poor ‘low-skilled’ occupational reputation, stylist-client dynamics are differently configured. It highlights how service orientated norms and practices underpinning the work of stylists are informed by discourses of customer service 'excellence' which promote employee proactivity and discourage customer deference. Discussion of the data shows how stylists working in high-profile salons are empowered to be directive in their service interactions with clients and engage in range of work practices which facilitate, rather than undermine, the establishment of their expert status. The relevance of the research findings to understandings of status and identity construction in service work jobs within similar high-profile settings is also highlighted in the paper.

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