June 2019

You + Your Hairdresser: It’s Complicated

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Any woman who has ever changed hairdressers might tell you that it is one of life’s most traumatic events. (This could apply to a few men, although most men I know are pretty chill about their hair—unless it’s falling out.) For me, any change that relates to my hair rates right up there with Halloween horror films, modern thrill rides, and large family gatherings. In fact, I think going to a new hairdresser should rank about number three on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale—less stressful than a death in the family or divorce, but at least as terrifying as imprisonment and just as likely to call for a few psych sessions.

Making an appointment with a new hairdresser is like agreeing to go on a blind date, only your blind date doesn’t usually show up with sharp objects in his hands that can potentially destroy your self-image by changing the way you look for what may feel like eternity. The worst that can happen on the date is you endure a couple of hours of awkward conversation and then have to change your phone number, address, and identity.

When it comes to your hair, more is at stake. Once you walk through that salon door, you will be a captive in the hands of a stranger wielding powerful chemicals, razor-sharp tools, and hot appliances, the combination of which has the potential to force you into hiding should things not go quite as expected. (Before trying a new hairdresser, I recommend taking a mild sedative and booking a session with your therapist for the next day—you know, just in case you decide life is not worth living for the next four to six weeks.)

All joking aside, there are many reasons to change hairdressers or try someone new. For example, if you are blonde and your black and gray roots are out two inches while you are stuck in another city away from home, you might have to break down and get some color and highlights. (Ask your regular stylist for your color level and any tips he or she might share with a fellow professional.) If your hairdresser is sick or has an emergency just prior to picture day or a big event, you may have to secure the services of another stylist. If you move, whether it’s to the next town or across the country, you probably want to find a hairdresser close by.

Breaking up is hard to do
There also comes a time when the client/hairdresser relationship—for one reason or another—has reached its natural end. You know it’s time to go when: you’ve been unhappy with the last several color jobs; your hair isn’t behaving the way it once did, and the stylist hasn’t addressed the problem to your satisfaction; the stylist is misinterpreting your feedback; or you’re simply not getting what you want. Sometimes I think stylists and their clients get in a rut together; both are burned out and/or frustrated and ready for a breath of fresh air. Nobody wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we continue pretending everything is fine until we ride off into the sunset (a new salon), never to be seen or heard from again. I think the modern term for this is ghosting. It’s not polite.

Leaving your hairdresser can be a bit like a breakup or a divorce, only without the custody battle and division of property. The drama is real, because who knows you better than your hairdresser? He or she likely has some serious dirt on you. Yes, most hairdressers serve as quasi-psychotherapists, whether they like it or not, and they pretty much know the scoop on local news and town gossip. Most are also professional enough to keep your personal business private. If not, it probably is time for a change.

According to every hairdresser I’ve ever spoken to about the topic of clients leaving, they are used to it and don’t take it personally. Nevertheless, hairdressers are human, and we owe them the courtesy of notice, especially when it’s been a long-term relationship. If you’re looking for a change or need to break up, good manners dictate a proper farewell. Thank your hairdresser for his or her service and move on. If you are brave, you can do this in person. If that seems uncomfortable, at least write a nice note and cancel any pending appointments far enough in advance for those time slots to be filled. You can even send flowers or an extra tip if so compelled. It all depends on the length and the closeness of the relationship.

Meeting your match
Finding a new hairdresser is going to require some work on your part. Here are some tips for the hunt and a few suggestions for establishing a happy relationship with your stylist:

Ask around. Take names and numbers from friends and acquaintances whose hair you admire.
Research online. Salon websites and social media pages are good starting points. Peruse outside reviews, then average them out. (Someone will always be unhappy, and the most dissatisfied customer is usually the most vocal.)
Make an appointment for a consultation. When you find a stylist you want to try, a conversation lays the groundwork for a successful relationship and the result you want. Be prepared with some inspiration photos, but don’t get too attached to a look that might be unachievable or unrealistic for your hair type. Discuss any challenges you have with your hair and expect honest feedback.
Book a blowout, a trim, or a few highlights. Maybe you’re not quite ready for the complete makeover or a full commitment. Start slowly and get to know your new stylist by making small tweaks to your existing color, cut, and style.
Have realistic expectations. Hair texture, face shapes, and skin tones vary. Be open-minded to the stylist’s suggestions in regard to what will and won’t work with your particular features. You will also want to have a frank discussion about your lifestyle—how much time you are willing to devote to daily styling and how much time and money you expect to invest in salon maintenance.
Don’t rush. Arrive on time and allow ample time for your appointment.
Trust your stylist. Once you’ve established a plan for your hair, try to relax. Hairdressers are artists who love making people look amazing. Sit still and let them do what they do best.
Consider purchasing the recommended products and styling tools. Your stylist is not money-gouging but offering advice on how you can achieve healthy hair and salon results at home between visits.
Tip generously. Hairdressing is not an easy profession. It requires a great deal of education and continuing education plus long hours, patience, and people-pleasing skills. There is an old adage that salon owners should not accept tips. This simply isn’t the case anymore. Your hairdresser is in business to make a living. If you are happy with your hair, stop complaining about the price and, by all means, add a 20 to 25 percent tip.

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