They're the soldiers with scissors, the deities of dying, and the architects of amazing 'dos. They're your hair dresser, and they have some things they really want you, the customer, to know about their job.
To find out how we hairy humans can make the styling experience better for both parties, I asked the pros what they wish people knew about their job. I even had an in-depth conversation on the topic with my own hair dresser, Janine Ker, while she managed my mane. Here's what they said.
Do Your Research Before You Come In
Hair dressers are creative, but they're not mind readers, nor are they able to decide what hairstyle you want. That's on you. Ker told me it's best to show up with some inspiration photos:
They should encompass all three aspects of what you want your hair to look like. This includes the cut, the colour, and the styling. It does take time, but try to look for an overall final look in one photo if possible.
Hair stylist Austin Knight agrees:
BRING PICTURES then BRING MORE PICTURES. Seriously. The more pictures you can give us the better we can determine what you like about the photos and how to get you where you want.
Ker also suggests you read up on what hair and styling terms actually mean:
Articulation is key. Have a clear sense of what you are trying to convey to your hairdresser. Take the time to research terms and references as best as you can.
And Knight cautions against believing everything you see on social media and sharing boards:
Just because someone called it something on Pinterest doesn't mean that's what is shown in the picture. Remember, Pins and Instagram photos are often shared/repinned by people that aren't professionals and therefore may not know the proper terminology.
Jason Berg, a professional hair dresser for 10 years now, uses the terms "bleach" and "colour" as an example:
Bleach and colour are two different things. If you're going lighter, bleach will probably be involved at some point, and there is a lot more potential for damage than with dye when you're going darker.
When you've done your homework and you know what you want, Gretchen Hugo, a 30-year hair veteran, suggests you tell the salon ahead of time:
Letting the person booking your appointment know exactly what you are getting. All services are not created equal highlights are different than colour or balayage. A whole new style is different than a trim. If you are not sure what you want (which Is OK) ask the receptionist to book you more time.
But whatever you do, don't come in clueless and expect the hair dresser to magically figure out what you want, Hugo says:
When you come in for your visit please do not keep saying "I don't know, what do you think?" You booked an appointment in advance, please put in a bit of forethought.
Have Realistic Expectations
According to Ker, one of the biggest issues in the salon is people having unrealistic expectations when they come in. People know what they want, but they don't realise they may not be able to pull off what they see. Ker explains:
Hair texture varies from person to person, and the way one cut looks on an inspiration photo does not mean that it will look the same on you. This also applies to colour and styling. Everyone has different face shapes, skin tones, and complexions.
And Berg says that a lot of people don't realise how intensive some styles can be:
A lot of clients also bring in pictures from "insta-famous" stylists without realising these people spent multiple sessions/hours and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, on their hair (seriously, watch a Guy Tang video. Sometimes you will see him eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a client before finishing around 2 a.m.).
If you want a major change to your hairstyle, or you have super thick or long hair, make sure you know what you're getting into. You might need multiple appointments, or you might need to book a huge chunk of time. Berg has a helpful rule of thumb when it comes to colour changes:
Generally speaking, the bigger the change you're making from your natural colour, the more time/money/upkeep it's going to take.
As Knight puts it, hair colouring comes down to chemicals and time, not magic:
Sometimes what you want isn't as easy as just putting one colour on your hair. It can take multiple processes or days. Trust me, I teach hairstylists and sometimes even THEY don't comprehend that.
And while pictures are good for giving a hair dresser an idea of what you want, Hugo cautions customers about getting too attached to the appearance being presented:
Pictures are just a guideline, not an exact image of what your hair will turn out. Hair texture, length, and thickness all play a part in the finished product.
Clean Your Hair Before You Come In
Clean yourself, people. Please. Yes, you're probably going to get your hair washed at some point if you have long-ish hair, but you should come in already clean. Knight says a surprising number of people come in with sweaty or dirty hair:
We may have to wash it eventually anyway but it can affect hair colour deposit and it's just gross, y'all. We don't wanna touch or smell that.
Ker complained about the same thing to me as I sat there wondering if I was clean enough. Lauren Garcia, a 10-year professional hairstylist and makeup artist in Austin, Texas, strongly agrees:
When having your hair styled for a special occasion, DO NOT have dirty hair. There is nothing more disgusting than having to style greasy, dirty hair.
You're an adult, not a fidgety four-year-old. Sit still, says professional stylist Steve Hernandez. It's a matter of safety:
If I ran with scissors through your living room, you'd call the police. Why, in a salon chair, is it a good idea to whip your head around with scissors next to your face?! Not too mention my fingers. Hold still, please!
Going in for a big change to your hair style can be scary, but you need to let your hair dresser do their thing. Biba of Biba Isla Salon, a pro stylist since the '80s, urges you to trust your hair dresser and their methods for achieving the look you want. Don't shove how-to videos and Pinterest guides in their face:
Some clients do not understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat and what they are doing is blocking the creative flow of the hairstylist! I did hair before the internet and have invented a lot of styles just from pure imagination. It is insulting to bring in other people's how-to videos, or to tell a hair dresser how to do their job. Personally, I shut down like a crashing computer. When you micromanage them down to the very last details, you're basically doing your own hair - then you wonder why you don't like the finished product. Trust your stylist! If you do not trust them, do not book with them.
Don't Rush Them
As we've already mentioned, styling hair takes time, especially if you're making big changes. But even if you're only getting a trim, you need to leave plenty of time for both parties. After all, as Garcia puts it, you're really booking time for yourself when you make an appointment. Try to enjoy it and don't rush the person holding sharp objects near your head.
And please be considerate of the long hours hair dressers usually have to work in order to make ends meet. That means you shouldn't walk in right before closing, says stylist Lisa Garee:
Being a stylist at a salon that's open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, you'd think that leaves plenty of time to make your way in for a haircut. However, almost every day, one minute before closing, someone wants us to "squeeze in one more." Do they think their experience will be truly authentic when they show up at 5:59 p.m. when you've been there since 8 a.m.?
Stylist Trent Carter shares her frustration:
When they come in a few minutes before closing and insist on only a trim — and you still have guests waiting…. They don't understand we work our asses off standing behind a chair for nine hours without a five minute break. Then we stay late and that "little trim" ends up being an entire new look.
Yeah, don't do that. And if you're going to be late to your scheduled appointment, please tell them ASAP, begs Hugo.
Hair Dressers Aren't Price Gouging You
Getting your hair did can be expensive, but despite what you might think when you see the bill, you're probably not being bamboozled. Hair dressers work constant, long hours to make a living. And even then, it's not a great living, explains Knight:
We don't make hella dough. Unless your stylist is REALLY killin' it, they probably aren't banking like you think. If you think our prices are too expensive take a moment to consider the cost of living in your area, the cost of product to work with, and the cost of maintaining a business. That's right folks. It's a business. We have a bottom line to meet and expensive tools to buy. Education ain't cheap either. We aren't just pocketing your payments for ourselves.
When prices go up, Knight clarifies, it's because the cost of their operation has gone up. The high operating costs are also why it's so important you show up to appointments or tell them when you have to cancel, notes Berg:
When we're not working, we're not getting paid. That means missing or cancelling appointments last minute is a big pain in our arse. Try to give as much notice as possible if you don't think you'll make your appointment so the salon can try to fill your slot with a different client.
Be Open and Talk to Your Hair Dresser
Ker tells me that the number one thing you can do to improve your hair styling experience is to relax and be honest and open minded with your hair dresser. They want to help you, so help them do that. Knight likens it to chatting with your doctor:
Talk to us. We can't give you what you want if you don't tell us. It's just like the doctor. You don't get to come in with an illness, not say anything about it, and then be angry when your illness isn't addressed.
If you don't tell them what's going on with your hair, there can be some serious ramifications. Don't hold anything back, even if you're embarrassed. Berg uses over-bleached hair as an example:
If you bleach your hair too much, it WILL break off. Be honest about what you've done to your hair before, so stylists have a better idea of which chemicals will be safe to use on your hair.
Hair dressers will probably ask you questions about your hair and how you style it, so be ready to show them what you like and what you don't, says Hugo:
If you are having problems with your hair show us with your hair styled the way you usually wear it so the stylist can see what the problem areas are and help. And be prepared to talk about your hair routine. We are absolutely here to help you, but you are the one who has to wear it and style it so input on your part is crucial.
As Gloria Villasenor, a hairstylist for over 30 years, explains, they're going to be honest with you — so you should do the same:
I'm very honest with a person who is sitting in my chair. I'm not going to promise them something I can't deliver — that's very important! You don't ever want a dissatisfied client to leave the salon. It's all about them, nobody else matters at that time. Communication is the key to this job, ask questions, listen very carefully, look at pictures because my red is different from there red, and my inch is different from there inch. I truly believe that honesty is the best policy.
Don't Be Rude
I truly hate that I have to say this, but don't be rude to the people who are trying to help you feel good about the way you look. Stylists are not idiots who dropped out of school because they couldn't handle it; they're artists who love to work with hair and make people look amazing. Yes, it's a customer service profession, but that doesn't give you permission to treat them like a servant, states Jeanny W.
Knight reminds us that they often work 10 to 12-hour days, on their feet, using their arms and hands nonstop. That's not easy no matter who you are. Knight asks us to keep that in mind next time:
Yeah, we have a cool job, but that doesn't mean it isn't still WORK. We hurt. We're exhausted. Please don't be a jerk. We really do want to like you. Don't make it hard.
As Villasenor explains, hair dressers put up with a lot, but they care about their clients:
Sometimes I look up at the clock and realise it's already 4:00 p.m. and I haven't eaten. But it doesn't matter, you leave everything at the door when you walk in the salon that morning. You put a smile on your face and you go to work making your clients' "dream hair" become a reality.
If you find you're constantly having issues with hair dresser in your area, Ker asks that you check yourself. If it feels like everyone else is the problem, it's probably you who are the problem.
This article has been updated since its original publication.