What the Hell is Two Inches? Real Talk Tips on Salon Trips From a Hairdresser

Sometimes I may tell clients things they're not dying to hear, but it's never because I'm getting a kick out of it. My life would be a lot easier if I just "yes"-d everyone to death, but everyone would look a lot crappier.
Publish date:
June 20, 2013
hair, haircuts, hair salon

As many of you no doubt know, working in an industry where there's a lot of interaction with an assortment of people on a day-to-day basis can be...interesting. Totally awesome, but interesting. Oh, the stories I could tell about near-tears at half inches, highlight-related trauma and sudden belly button ring exposures.

But I won't. I can't betray my Hippocratic oath as a hair doctor, at least until you get a couple drinks in me. However, I can share some things that I think can benefit you as a client and make the entire salon experience as successful as possible so you come out bouncing around like a babe.

For a little context, I work in a fairly high-end salon so these may or may not apply where you go -- though I suspect they will.

1. Be On Time

This may seem like no-brainer life advice, but I think it applies double in the salon. Stylists’ schedules tend to work in blocks of 15 minutes, and many of us customize the time we schedule in our book for different services based on the length we know it takes us.

Haircuts are often 45 minutes or an hour, so let's say you have your haircut booked and you come in 15 minutes late -- to you 15 minutes might not sound like much, but to us a third of your appointment time has passed. Because it's a domino effect, depending on the stylist they may still take you and be late for their clients for the rest of the day, or they may ask you to reschedule in fairness to the day's clients.

Neither situation is ideal, so please be mindful! It's always advisable to come a little early but especially if it's your first visit, as any hairdresser worth their salt will have a good consultation with you. It's courteous, yes, but mutually beneficial.

Another quick note on time -- if you know that your hair tends to take extra time because of thickness or you're curly and you know you'd like to get blown out super straight, let the receptionist know so that they can book accordingly.

On the flipside, if you're unsure of how long your total appointment is going to take because you're concerned about your own schedule that day, ask when you book it -- not much is worse than when someone sits down in my chair for color and says "So I'll be able to meet my husband for dinner in 25 minutes, right?" Gulp.

2. Bring a Picture

I think people sometimes worry that this is dorky, but honestly it's a huge help. Some people don't have the words to get across what they're looking for easily, plus there tends to be so much magazine talk that confuses people -- "Ask your stylist for side swept, inverted feather-touch bangs", etc. -- that pictures really help us get on the same page.

Don't worry if it's a celebrity that you don't like, I'm barely looking at their face anyway! Also if there's even just as aspect of a certain cut or color that you like, that's okay too -- every little bit helps.

3. Don't Get Too Hung Up On Specifics

When I say this I don't mean that you shouldn't have a good idea of what you want -- although if you don't that's okay too, we'll hash it out in the consultation. I only mean that sometimes people will get something in their head that's subjective and really want to stick to it, which isn't always productive.

For example, your idea of 2 inches could be very different from my idea of 2 inches, so I always ask people to show me on themselves where they would like to see their length fall rather than asking how much they'd like off. That might end up being more or less than 2 inches, and that's OK! No one ever compliments anyone on their hair being 2 inches shorter, they just compliment them on their haircut.

Similarly, sometimes someone will be married to the idea of say, "chestnut" colored hair...but what does that mean? Be open to talking about ideas and figuring out what will look best on you and what you'll love, even if it turns out to be, I don't know, "walnut.”

4. Don't Feel Pressured To Talk

I'm lucky in that while I enjoy being a Chatty Cathy and learning about my client, I'm also totally cool with silences and making them comfortable, not awkward. Clients who prefer their Me Time on the quiet side have intimated to me that they're grateful when I don't press conversation and just let them chill, which makes me think this might be a common problem.

It's totally understandable -- a lot of people feel silence weighing on them as awkwardness and try to be polite by filling the gap. Some cues that cause me to play it cool and just get Zen in the act of putting in foils are when clients grab a few magazines on the way to my station and start reading, have a book with them, or just don't really go into lengthy answers when I dip my toe into small talk.

It's truly, truly fine -- don't worry about it being rude. Your time at the salon is your time and if you don't feel like talking, you don't have to. On the flipside of course if you do want to talk, let's do this thing, I wanna hear about the weird documentary you just watched on Netflix.

Another little cue that we pick up on is at the shampoo bowl -- at least in my salon, a nice scalp massage is the default because the majority of people seem to enjoy them. But if you're the type who just wants to get on with it, keep your eyes open or start chatting a little bit -- I'll assume you're just not into it and git r dun. Conversely, if you do want your mind melted, close your eyes and try to keep the talking to a minimum so I can tell what mode you're in.

5. Know What You Don't Want

I think this is the single most important thing I learn in any consultation. If someone comes in and I ask them what they're looking for and they say they don't know, asking this next is an automatic for me. You know how Michelangelo said that David was already in that block of marble, he just chipped away to reveal him? Doing hair is like that, chipping away at little facts until I get to the core of what's going to make you look great. I am EXACTLY like Michelangelo.

6. Trust Us

Sometimes you may head into the salon with a clear idea of what you want, which is fantastic, but your stylist may want to steer you in another direction. From time to time I feel the things people want might not suit them for whatever reason, but I always explain it.

For example, a client might want to go very light with her hair color but I don't recommend it not because it wouldn't look good, but because I know that she can't commit to coming in every 4 weeks to get her regrowth touched up and because of that, she'll spend the majority of her time with major regrowth and looking less than great.

In a situation like that, I'll always explain my reasoning, and if it really comes down to it and the client is super insistent, I will do it. But she would probably be better off taking my suggestion and making a compromise, such as just brightening up with some lighter pieces around the face or going just a couple shades lighter.

So be open minded! A good stylist will be taking into consideration not only what will be aesthetically hot but what works with your lifestyle (how much time you'll realistically spend on it daily), budget, and time (how often you'll be coming in for touchups.)

Sometimes I may tell clients things they're not dying to hear, but it's never because I'm getting a kick out of it. My life would be a lot easier if I just "yes"-d everyone to death, but everyone would look a lot crappier.

Is there anything else you're curious about, from over on that side of the chair? I thought it might be interesting to put some things out there than the usual magazine wisdom of "Bring a childhood picture to get your best blonde," which OK, isn't half bad.