Have you ever found yourself in a hairstylist’s chair, mind brimming with all sorts of questions? Promise yourself to ask your stylist “this time for sure,” only to find yourself biting them back yet again? It’s normal to feel shy or intimidated when you’re in the hot seat or to get distracted by the stylist’s suggestions, but the key to a happy relationship with your stylist and to satisfactory results is in solid communication.

Talking To Your Hairstylist
Hero Images/ Hero Images/ Getty Images. 10 Rules For Talking To Your Hairstylist

Even the strongest of us end up quailing under a pro’s judgy gaze and suddenly every well thought of instruction you had fades away, much like wisps of hair falling to the floor. And while it’s true that there are hairdressers who don’t really listen to clients or are unable to translate expectations into real results, nine times out of ten, you can avoid a bad hairdo if you know how to truly speak to your stylist.

As many folks I’ve spoken to on the issue tell me: sometimes you know exactly what you want and you know what the right technical terms are but you’re still unable to communicate the same to the stylist. So here we’re going to break down what a successful conversation with your hairstylist/ hairdresser should be like.

#1 Know Your Capacity, Spell It Out

Before deciding on a cut, most stylists will ask you about the level of effort you’re going to put into styling the same. If you’re opting for a cut that looks best in straight hair but you can’t be bothered to blow-dry regularly, you’re going to end up sorely disappointed. If you ask for rainbow color but don’t want to splurge on salon-grade products, you’re better off with a simpler dye job.

Be honest about how much time and effort you’re willing to put into styling a haircut. Let your hairstylist know the same. You might want to impress them in the moment but it’s a lot better to be upfront than to be saddled with a style you can’t manage- and you’ll be the only one to blame for it when it goes wrong.

#2 Ask For Quotes

That Kardashian-esque ombré you’re lusting after? It’s going to cost you. The end results will be worth it, but don’t go into the experience blind to reality. Nothing is more insulting to a stylist or embarrassing for a client (and everyone else around) than a hiccup when payment is due. If you’ve got a budget, discuss the same with your hairdresser. They will respect you all the more for it. Nobody likes a tantrum and as stylists we respect the fact that you’ve got to take your needs into consideration as well. Just remember: you get what you pay for. Don’t skimp: there are other ways to save money on your hair.

#3 Instagram Is Not Real Life

Think of Instagram as the Disney of hair stories: if you’re waiting on a monster-slaying knight on a white horse or a seamless transition from black to blonde, you might as well pitch a tent and get comfy. If you’re pulling photos from Instagram, be realistic. There’s a whole lot of editing, touching up, filters and effects involved and while your stylist may be a maverick at their trade they’re most certainly not magicians. Your stylist can instead help you balance the season’s hottest hair trends with more pragmatic concerns.

#4 Explain The Motivation Behind The Appointment

Look, it might be the oldest cliché in the book but most hairstyling appointments are booked either right after or just before a major event/ experience. From breakup haircuts to prepping for a wedding with some new color, it’s never a good idea to go into a whole new look without examining your own reasons for doing so. Change can be great, but it needs to be timed right. As stylists, we like to think that we can help our clients look and feel good, while also addressing some of the deeper concerns behind the transformation. Talking to your stylist (you don’t have to get too candid if you’re not comfortable) about why you want to change your look can be a great way to analyze the decision from a distance. Think of it as a sounding board- with professional insight. With the right information in hand, a hairstylist can help you achieve what you’re looking without necessarily going the same way as you’d originally planned. You can still reinvent yourself or return to an old favorite without committing to the wrong route.

#5 Know How Inspiration Photos Work

Always take an inspiration picture along if you have one. More, if you can. When it comes to communicating your expectations to your hairdresser, nothing is as effective as a photograph. That said, be realistic with your #hairgoals. You can’t expect to rock a platinum crop or insist on an undercut without really having the features or the personality for the same. Give your stylist tons of visual cues so they know just the color, length, texture and effect you want- but then take a step back and let them add their professional opinion to the discussion. They might be able to help you recreate the vibe you’re going for in a manner that is better suited to you, the individual.

#6 Know The Difference Between Correction And Creation

It’s one thing to want a new look; it’s another to want to salvage a botched up one. If you need hair color correction the stylist will need to take a different approach as compared to an original dye job as of itself. Going blue is very different from using blue to cover up a flawed silvery grey dye. Explain to the stylist:

  • What you wanted.
  • What you got instead.
  • How/what went wrong and where/why.
  • What you would like done now.

Remember, a professional repair project is going to cost you a pretty penny even if you’re only covering up the damage done by a drugstore dye.

#7 Use Concrete Terms

If you ask your hairdresser to cut “a couple of inches” but don’t specify exactly how many you can’t complain if they lop off a foot. Don’t be vague and don’t expect the stylist to figure out your feelings. You need to commit to your own wishes in decisive terms. Real world metrics apply at the salon too so you must be clear, concise and accurate when you communicate. An inch is not five, burgundy is not red and a side-swept fringe won’t magically fan out at the front.

#8 Be Your Own Inspiration

It’s okay to want The Rachel or The Karlie Kut but do you know what is more likely to suit you and be a realistic ideal? Your own best look. If there’s a particular past haircut or color that you really liked, felt beautiful and confident in and know worked for you, bring photos of the same. If you don’t want to blandly return to an old look, your stylist can help retain some old elements while working in a few new ones. There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right haircut. But once you know what that is, working with what you have and what you love is a lot easier and more celebratory of the self as compared to trying to become someone else.

#9 Dress/ Behave Like Your Usual Self

The way we talk, sit and act as well as what we wear (clothes, shoes, makeup, accessories) all contribute to our look and personality. A lot of our work as hairstylists is to pick up the nonverbal cues to a client’s style and mix it into the hairdressing. So, don’t dress down to the salon just because you want a day off. It could send the wrong message about who you are and who you like to be. Conversely, don’t deck yourself up either. Recreate your standard look and behave as you would amongst friends and family. Any falsity on your part (however unintentional or well-meaning) could completely scramble up the message you’re trying to send your stylist.

#10 Be Honest About Your Hair History

If your hairstylist asks you questions about your hair care regimen, hair health, past treatments and styling choices (and even if they don’t) give out as much honest, detailed information as you can. A lot of people make poor choices that affect the quality, texture and appearance of their hair and then they’re tempted to hide the same because they’re ashamed. Don’t worry: your stylist isn’t here to judge you but to help you. Every little detail can help your hairdresser make informed choices about the techniques they use on you. To wit: it’s important for your stylist to know whether your hair is a certain way naturally or because it’s been chemically treated so that they can choose new treatments and products accordingly.

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