How to Ask Your Stylist for a Non-Basic Haircut and Actually Get What You Want

If someone gives you consistently great hair, you should be able to trust them with a unique vision, too, provided you know how to describe it.
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Publish date:
February 4, 2016
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hairstylists, hairstyles, terminology

With the tools hairstylists are given, they can translate your hand motions and vague terms into an actual 3D map of your haircut. You may be toying with the idea of getting a far-from-basic haircut, but don’t know how to describe what you want confidently. By using my new chop as a guinea pig, I'll show you the mechanics of a haircut, and so you can decide whether or not you want an edgy cut and understand a bit more of the lingo.

I met up with my OG Gabrielle at Takamichi Hair in NYC to get my cuts on. Gabby and I were in the assistant trenches together at my first salon gig long ago, and had it not been for sexism, we’d probably both still be at our old salon chopping and foiling away the day for the big bucks, unable to quit without giving up the fabulous lifestyle one gets accustomed to as a big fish in a little pond.

Despite operational drama, we learned how to do perfect. fucking. hair. at this place. Our mentors were nothing short of phenomenal talents, and we soaked that shit up like eager sponges, trying not to spill any of it as we were physically wrung dry by our boss’s absurd demands.

I trust gabby with my hair because I know where she came from. I know that her grasp of haircutting is founded in her artistic talents; her sketches and drawings translate into scissors and hair, and she knows what the hell she is doing. I know she’s going to respect my wishes, but also do a brilliant job.

This should be true of most properly trained stylists, and if someone gives you consistently great hair, you should be able to trust them with a unique vision, too, provided you know how to describe it.

Basic haircutting terminology is more general than you may think.

  • "One length" implies just that: all hairs are cut to the same length, in a horizontal line.
  • "Graduation" means hair is cut at an angle to build weight on the way up.
  • "Layered" hair is cut vertically to fall at different lengths throughout the cut.

Those terms are misused often, but they are very rigid in their definition to a stylist. Get to know them, and ask for a visual demonstration — they can do that without cutting a thing.

Other useful terms can describe where on your head you’re looking to describe.

  • "Fringe" or "perimeter" is a great way to describe all of the hair around your face without using the term "bangs," which should be avoided unless you actually want some of that hair to be cut above your chin.
  • "Crown" refers to the whole top of the head, and most people (even me) grow tons of hair there, so this is often where people want to ask for more texture and less hard edges in their cut, as it grows in gracefully.
  • "Nape" is an obvious term, but what’s less obvious is to avoid asking for any texture or weight removal in that area — the opposite of the guidelines for the crown area.

The last breakdown is shape.

  • "Round" haircuts are shorter in the front and longer in the back.
  • "Square" cuts are the same length, which appears shorter in the front.
  • "Triangular" cuts are longer in the front and shorter in the back.

My cut is an evolution of the asymmetrical type of style I’ve been rocking since about 2007 (with a few brief symmetrical months). The first time I went in this direction in 2009, Gabby was the one to cut it. Initially, I had a round, layered haircut that was oriented at the left ear, dropping of to a disconnected length on the left. We ended up hating it and, two days later, added on some blunt bangs, a shaved underside, and blunt bob on the right.

It was a badass haircut, but bangs are just not for me. They get in the way of my small forehead, so I just let it grow, only trimming myself for the past, oh, seven years. Hashtag too long.

It grew just five inches in seven years. That’s crap, y’all. Not to mention my lapse in Spironolactone has triggered some gnarly shedding, so from the occipital bone down, my hair is 40 different lengths, and curlier than usual. All with a long crown that grew 10 inches. So again, I concede the ruined lengths to the scissors, hoping that having a style cut in will assuage the ants in my pants to try something new.

Again, I failed at growing long, even hair. With all of this to deal with and my extreme hair baggage, Gabby (who grew literally 24 inches of hair in the past seven years) and I designed a cut that would tick all my boxes.

The idea is a disconnected "underbob" where all the unhealthy monilethrix hair gets cut to one length, round from front right to back, but leaving this one piece that grew freakishly long in the perimeter as a "fang." Both the fang and the entire left side of my head are disconnected (which means it doesn’t blend) from the bob portion, cut with a teeny graduation to push it off to the left.

Still with me? OK. The crown was also cut in round layers, but symmetrically, so it not only blends with my extensions on the left side, but when I part my hair in the center, I still have my old lewk. Instead of also cutting the fringe area on the round, which would make it shorter than the back, the longest piece of the top determined the length for some triangular bangs, leaving what I grew intact, and making for a really unique look when swept over to the side.

It sounds (and looks on paper) like hair pig latin, but Gabby and talented stylists like her are able to take your weird visions and make them come to life if you take a few minutes to understand their terms. In my cut, nearly all of the above terms were put to use, and I got a haircut that I absolutely adore. It looks the same when I wear my such-fashion hats, but looks voluminous and princess-y when I don’t. I didn’t go home and re-style or re-wash this haircut like I always used to do. In fact, as I write this, I’ve waited my usual five days to wash and it’s been looking great every day.

It falls like the feathers of a bird’s wing — exactly what I wanted.