Think about the long term. If you want to work in a nice place years down the road, you have to play the game their way. If you work at a mall or a walk-in place there is practically no chance that you will build a clientelle that will follow you. Clients who go to those places will pretty much always go to them. You already know that.
They like the convenience and the price, and that is why they go there. Even if you are amazing as a stylist and people love you, only a handfull will follow you to a different salon. And that's if you are lucky! I know this for sure because I have been there.
I was in your exact situation at one time, only worse! I had put in two years of assisting for somebody who didn't have the clients to build me, but was very busy herself. She taught me so much! I do not regret working there. But I left in frustration only to find that nobody would hire me as a stylist even though I knew a lot because I had never been officialy "on the floor".
I did not want to assist agian under any circumstances, so I went and worked at Great Cuts, and then a mall chain and then a little shop with three chairs. I bounced around like this for almost three years. It was a huge waste of time!
If I had just bit the bullet and taken another assisting job I would have flew right through the assisting program and been on the floor in a place I really wanted to work in no time. I might have shampooed and swept and attended classes for six months to a year. Max. Maybe less if I had given myself an opportunity to get in there and prove myself.
It would have been much better than trying so hard to make it work at places that had no promise for the vision I had for my career! Instead of spending an additonal year doing a job that might not have been my favorite thing to do but working someplace cool, I spent three years torturing myself in shops that I never really wanted to work in. Just so I could have the job title I wanted right away.
The only way to get a job in this business is to get dressed nicely, in a way that shows individuality, and go out with your resume to do some hand shaking.
They have to meet you to keep you in mind.
Head out at the times that salons are usually slower, like a Tuesday or Wednesday morning between 9 and 11. It's more likely that you will meet with them then. Walk in to the salons that you want to work for and ask to speak with the manager or owner directly. Introduce yourself to them and tell them how much you would love an opportunity to work for them if something opens up. If they like you enough they might even make a position for you!
Be friendly and casual in your approach. Don't expect an interview on the spot, but be prepared for it. Just let them meet you and make a good impression. If they give you the time for conversation flatter them and schmooze a little if youre good at it. :)
I hate to say it, but most high end salon owners are ego maniacs! Flattery about their success goes a long way.
Simply leaving your resume at the desk will probably not result in much. Salon owners are busy people and it's likely that they won't even read it. I have even seen jealous types of stylists and assistants throw away resumes left at the desk before the owner even gets to see them!
The face to face meeting is the hook in getting a job. I have worked for people who are desperate for help and never post a classified. You probably won't find a job in the paper or even on the internet. I don't know why, but this buisiness seems to be stuck in the 1940's when it comes to recruitment!
Good luck with your search.