Remember Trump's Hair Deduction? Joel Stein Wonders: "Can I Do That?"(Guest Column)

Donald Trump Photo Illustration
Photo Illustration: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

When the writer learned about the President’s bizarre tax break, he asked Hollywood stylists how he could have possibly spent $70,000 on hairstyling and asked his accountant if he could expense his own cut.

Back sometime in the past, about 18 news cycles ago, before Donald Trump got COVID, lost in my mind amidst Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes and Melania Trump cursing Christmas decorations, I vaguely remember hearing something about Donald Trump's taxes. What I recall thinking after The New York Times got copies of Trump’s tax returns and revealed that he deducted $70,000 for hairstyling was "Can I do that?"

After four exhausting years, I assumed it was impossible to have a new reaction to a revelation of impropriety by Donald Trump. But when The New York Times got copies of Trump’s tax returns and revealed that he deducted $70,000 for hairstyling, I immediately thought, "Can I do that?"

The first challenge in getting away with expensing $70,000 in hair care was figuring out how to spend $70,000 on one’s hair. I called Ted Gibson, who brags that he charges more for a cut than anyone in the country: $2,400. Before coloring. Which is another $400 for every 30 minutes. His West Hollywood salon, Starring by Ted Gibson, allows clients to shine five different shades of light in their pods so they can see what their hair will look like in different situations. Like when it’s on a person who is $2,800 poorer.

Gibson told me he could probably run up a $70,000 tab for me. “I have a woman who spends $30,000 to $40,000 year. She comes every six weeks,” he said.

Before I committed to Gibson as my $70,000 stylist, I wanted to get a feel for his work. I asked him what he would do for Trump for $70,000 if he came to him after he recovered from COVID. “It would be the best $70,000 he ever spent,” he said. Color-wise, he’d fix Trump’s “reverse ombre,” which unnaturally has roots lighter than ends. He’d round out the boxy-ness. Then Gibson reconsidered.

“I would not be able to make a difference. He has a way he likes his hair,” he said. “In President Obama you saw the changes. You saw the changes in President Clinton and in President George W Bush. With Trump his hair is the same. How does that happen? That’s because someone that is a control freak. I believe he’s styling his own hair. I would bet that he colors it himself.” There was no way I was going to pay Trump $70,000 to style my hair, as much as the New York Times story implied he might need the money.

In addition to Gibson, I auditioned Giuseppe Franco, whose Beverly Hills salon has serviced celebrity hair for 39 years, including his business partner, Mickey Rourke, as well as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brad Pitt. Franco didn’t think he could take $70,000 from me. And definitely not from someone as famous as Trump. “With celebrities I don’t charge. Having movie stars in the salon brings in more people. A 20-minute haircut isn’t going to break me.”

For Trump, Franco said he’d only bill him the legal minimum. “I would charge him $2.13 [CK] just for the sake of cutting that fucking hair off and making him look decent. Who the fuck wears bangs anymore? I’d go completely short. Off the face. Harrison Ford-y,” Giuseppe said. “I got an Uncle Tony who jumps in the pool and when he gets out he has one strand that hangs down to his nipple and then wraps it around his head. Trump is not far from that.”

He imagined the $70,000 hairdresser was a yes-man who Trump could summon any time, anywhere. Someone with loyalty that he had rapport with – a Mike Pence of the tonsorial arts.

But then I learned that the $70,000 was for 11 years of The Apprentice. This seemed weird. Every set I’d ever been on had a hair stylist. Unions required them. Trump, an executive producer and star, would get to pick the stylist. Could he have possibly not really spent the money? Could Trump have possibly lied?

After asking around, a source, told The Hollywood Reporter, “The only notes we ever got in post were appearance things. We didn't get them direct from him, but from the hair and makeup person: There's a flyaway hair or a pimple on his chin, can you paint that out? The hair and makeup person was paid for by production and not by him.”

If Trump got away with it, could I try expensing my haircuts too?

“It depends and it’s nuanced,” said my business manager and accountant, Jordan Neiman, who says, “it depends and it’s nuanced” about everything I ask him. Neiman warned me that it would be harder to get away with expensing my haircuts now on my personal tax returns, compared to when Trump filed his taxes. “Under his tax plan, Trump did away with the ability for most employees to deduct their business expenses. So actors and entertainers can no longer itemize their deductions.”

He also thought $70,000 might be too much for me to try to deduct for taxes, because it’s so close to my total income and so far away from what I paid in haircuts. For Trump, Neiman thought it was not completely unfathomable that his loan-out corporation could average $6,363.63 a year for 11 years of hairstyling for awards shows where stylists aren’t usually provided.

In the end, Neiman advised me against it, because anything used in your regular personal life isn’t a business expense. So I’m not going to expense my hair. But I am going to wait until I get booked on a show to get another haircut. I’m sick of being a sucker and a loser like the rest of the American taxpayers. Besides, at the speed things are moving, I’m sure the IRS will have other scandals to worry about besides my hair.

Joel Stein is the author of In Defense of Elitism. He's the host of Show Your Shelf, where he interviews authors about their bookshelves. 

This story appears in the Oct. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.