How To Get What You Really Want From Your Hairstylist

If you've ever hated your haircut, it may be because you weren't as clear, direct and honest as you could have been.
Publish date:
September 30, 2013
hair color, How-To, haircuts, hairstylists

So often as a stylist and a friend, I have heard horror stories of jacked-up hairdos. I listen with objectivity, always, trying to gauge who is really at fault.

To be frank, it is a 50/50 chance of two outcomes, in my experience: miscommunication of the desired end result on part of the client and/or poor execution of the service on part of the stylist. This means that if you ever hated your ‘do, you could be responsible for not being as clear, direct, and honest as you could have been. It could also just mean you got a bad egg for a stylist, which I know for sure there are plenty of them as well.

A service failure can occur for a multitude of reasons, but for the purpose of this article, I would like to steer away from things like decor, amenities, product lines, prices, attitudes of other employees, and anything else that is generally beyond the control of the person you are trusting with your hair. Yes, we have all had a crappy experience at a restaurant, but if the food was good or great, you are usually willing to look past certain "blemishes" and enjoy the purpose of your visit. Many stylists are great at their jobs, love their careers, coworkers, salons and product arsenal, but don't forget that, like you, this might not always be the case. From time to time, people become stuck in positions or companies that they hate, and salons are no different. What is important is that they treat you with respect, listen to what you want, and give you what you want to the best of their ability.

I met with my dear friend and one of the most direct people I know, Steph Caldwell. We go back like all black, cuz that’s what we wore in beauty school.

Well, when we met I was new, and newbies wore white shirts their first three months. But meeting Steph at the tender young age of 20 taught me many important life lessons, chiefly among them, honesty. Whether with friends, family, doctors, or even foes, honesty cuts to the chase and gets what you really want out there. Later, as coworkers, these lessons were put into practice with our clients.

We gathered at Fox & Boy salon in Soho, where Steph currently works. Bacon Little, Steph’s Frenchie, was on hand to model and to eat all of the treats. After exchanging the most recent gossip about our respective old salons, we got to talking about how to get more from your hair service.

One of my favorite things about Steph is her solidarity. For example, she will straight-up refuse to do a service if it is not in her charge’s best interest. You will be hard-pressed to find someone to turn down the cash for anything these days, but doing what is right is worth more.

Let's start with why you are even walking in the door. Are you bored? Sad? Have a special occasion? Sticking to a routine? This is important information, as big changes in appearance tend to coincide with personal milestones, disasters, and other big life events.

The tone of the visit can be an important indicator of how you will react to what we have done. If you are going through something personal, have budget changes or health changes, your stylist needs to know to an extent. This is where all the chattiness takes root; after all, it is digging around, picking the client’s brain, trying to figure out how to make them happy.

Some people get very anxious about their hair, and if you do, it is very important to communicate that with your stylist so that they know not to overwhelm you with your new style.

Now that we have that out in the open, the clarity of your idea is where the ball is in your court. To walk in and say "Do whatever you want" is an open ended disaster waiting to happen. At worst, the stylist will do very little of what they want, keeping the look too similar to stay away from drama. LET'S BE REAL: hating your hair = drama. We all have seen someone crying in a chair.

Believe me when I say, only the most narcissistic prick will do that to you on purpose. The last thing a stylist wants to do is mess up. After all, you pay them!

Steph recommends not only bringing in photos to illustrate your idea, but to clearly identify what it is you like about each photo. With color, using descriptive language can be helpful to describe the tone, as "beachy blonde" can mean something totally different to everyone on both sides of the comb.

Other pertinent information regards your budget constraints and your beauty routine. Discuss your last service, especially if you are new to a stylist or salon; be very specific in what you liked and did not like about the outcome as well as the current state of your hair. How often do you get your hair done, and how much do you spend at these visits? What products do you use and how often do you wash? If you do desire a big change, why is that?

Steph and I have had many ladies sit down, say they want to be platinum blonde, and had to explain the strict maintenance required and cost generated by this change, if you have dark or previously colored hair, especially. The longer you wait in between services, the longer you wait in the chair for your hair to lighten. Double processes generally cost $100 and up just to see a junior stylist, so imagine the cost of doing this every four weeks, which is the ideal touch-up interval.

All in all, the main point of our conversation was the importance of managing expectations. If you are 100% transparent in your illustration of what you want, and at least 50% flexible on what you can achieve, you won’t often be disappointed--not only by that day’s service, but the long term outcome of your hair.

“Split ends and damage must be removed,” says Steph of timid ladies afraid to chop off some splintered length. “They split further up the strand; no product, conditioner, or tool can fix this other than the shears.”

So in short, if a professional tells you it’s time to shed four inches, take their advice before it turns into six. Having your hair look and feel healthy is just important as having it look a certain way.

Don’t be shy when it comes to your hair, and don’t worry if a stylist is trying to "talk you out" of a style--it could be for your own good!