+ Hairstyles

How to Talk to Your Hair Stylist, a Guide


Last week, I went in for a haircut and my stylist and I got onto the topic of bad haircuts.  Her strong belief is that bad haircuts happen because stylists and customers speak two different languages.  The customer has one vision of how her hair should look, and explains it as best she can.  The stylist interprets those words to create her own vision, and hopes the translation is close.

So how do you guarantee that you never leave the salon with a bad haircut again?  Here are a few tips for talking to your stylist.

Bring a Photo.  If you’re seeing a new stylist or you want to make a change in color or cut, bring a photo.  That way both people are looking at the same vision and can discuss what you like about the cut and how you envision it looking on your head.

Don’t Choose Red Carpet Photos. Celebrity photos of red carpet styles or modeling shoots don’t work.  Why?  Because those styles often include extensions, retouching, and hours to create.  Instead, grab street style shots from Pinterest or Instagram, or a photo of the celebrity out-and-about.

Bring Yes and No Photos. Bring a picture of a haircut you like, and a photo of a similar style that you don’t like.  For example, I want Jennifer Garner bangs, not Hayley Williams bangs.

Stop Talking in Inches. Have you ever seen a hairstylist break out a ruler and say, ‘So you want two inches off?’. No, you have not.  So stop talking to your stylist in inches.  Instead, point to the spot where you would like the hair to stop.  For example, “I’d like my hair to touch just below the shoulder when dried and styled (point to spot).”

Make sure you specify you want it that length when the hair is dry.  If she cuts it that length when the hair is wet, it will dry shorter.

‘Just a Trim.‘ My stylist and I have a very good relationship; but stylists are like surgeons, they’re cutters.  They don’t want to give you a trim.  They want to give you a cut.  So if all you want is a light trim, be very explicit.  If I’m growing my hair out, I ask for a ‘baby trim’ with just the ends cleaned up.  I also explain that I’m looking to lose as little length as possible.

Be Realistic.  If your hair is chin length, you’re not walking out of that appointment with a lob.  If you have stick-straight hair like mine, you’re not going to get the same wavy, thick look as Priyanka Chopra.  So if that’s the look you want, ask your stylist how close you can get to that look.

Break the New Stylist in Gently. Do not go to a new stylist and ask for a full makeover.  What if she’s not a good fit for you?  What if he isn’t as experienced as you were hoping?  Instead, ask the new stylist for a simple haircut.  If you seem to have a good report, and you get a cut you like, book an appointment for a big change.

Talk About Lifestyle and Maintenance. So you just got an amazing wavy lob with the perfect caramel highlights, but you only have 20-minutes to get ready in the morning and can’t afford to have your color touched up every six-weeks.  Well, I hope you took a picture because you’ll never see that hair again.

It does you no good to ask for a style that you don’t have the time, money, or skill to maintain and recreate.  If you need to learn how to curl your hair, book an appointment for a style on a non-busy day (not a Saturday) and ask her to teach you.  Can’t afford to maintain your color?  Say something.  Unwilling or unable to spend time on your hair everyday, don’t fall back on a ponytail.  Instead, ask your stylist if there’s a cut that would be easier to maintain so your hair tie isn’t your best friend.

Don’t Make Changes on Saturday. Want a different hairstyle?  Breaking in a new stylist/colorist?  Don’t go on Saturday.  This is usually the salon’s busiest day, and you’re not going to get the time you need to make a change.  Go when the stylist isn’t in a rush, like the end of the day on a Tuesday.

The Words You Should Never, Ever Say. Never tell your stylist that they can do whatever they want unless you mean it.  Never say you’re ready for a big change unless you mean it.  I once watched a girl run from a salon in tears because she told her stylist she ‘wanted something different’ and got a wedge bob where her elbow-length hair had once been.  So give free rein cautiously, or not at all.



  1. Alison says:

    I love the idea of “this, not that”. I think I have *finally* found a stylist (and salon) to stick with after two years of searching, so I will be trying this out with her in a few weeks.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  2. MK says:

    This is an awesome post. Thanks, Belle!

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  3. Courtney says:

    It took my years to find a hairstylist who asks or does all of these things! I didn’t even realize how important it was, but my hair has never looked better. (Only took ten years…)

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  4. Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog says:

    “Stylists are surgeons”–this is so goddamned true. I love my stylist now (I’ve been seeing her for 6 years) and she knows I keep my hair long and I like it like that. Any changes we make don’t change the length very much. But before her, I went through several stylists who took one look at my waist-length (at the time) hair and couldn’t wait to hack it off, no matter what I said. To them, a trim was three inches minimum.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  5. Jenn S. says:

    I got highlights for the first time *ever* yesterday, and I used all of these tactics and can recommend. In the chair, my colorist and I spoke at length about the common disconnect between client and stylist. It’s just like anything else – I don’t speak hair fluently just like a mechanic probably doesn’t speak IT. Delightfully, I found ‘my’ salon.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  6. Allison says:

    Great tips! I would add, don’t assume that your stylist remembers what you’ve asked her for in the past. They should have a file with your color, but they don’t for your cut. I got my haircut by a new stylist, it was great. I went back for a highlight touch up and trim, and made the mistake of not clarifying with her again that I prefer a blunt cut, not heavy layers, and just asked her to do what she did last time. I left with a Taylor Swift shag that I cannot pull off. Totally my fault for not being more clear.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  7. AVV says:

    Another tip: make sure the salon will fix it for free if you don’t like it (usually within a certain time frame). Obviously you can’t add back length, but color fixes – glazes work wonders – or other tweaks can make a huge difference if you realize after a day or two that something isn’t working. I’ve had my hair dyed blue at my current salon (an Aveda shop), and I never would have made such a leap without that kind of guarantee in place.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  8. Erika says:

    After a successful haircut ask your hair stylist how they would describe your haircut to themself/another hair professional. I definitely picked up some descriptive terminology that, along with some photos, made the transition to my most recent stylist fairly smooth.

    September 21, 2016/Reply
  9. Bonnie says:

    Great list. My husband is a hair stylist and barber (and yes, the perks can be great–but then again, more often than not, the cobbler’s daughter has no shoes), and I know he would agree with all of these. One more thing: please try not to cancel at the last minute. It is very upsetting to the stylist and also wreaks havoc on their schedule and pocketbook (they don’t get regular paychecks–they are depending on you and your tips). Give them the same courtesy as you would anyone else with whom you have an appointment (doctor, etc.). It’s okay to CALL at the last minute if necessary to schedule something, just don’t cancel. If you absolutely must cancel, reschedule for another date/time at the same time as you call.

    Also, listen to your stylist. If he/she tries to gently move you away from bangs, for example, or a certain color, there’s a reason for that. Trust them.

    Finally, remember that they are human, too. Things happen on occasion–cars break down, traffic is bad, life happens. If your stylist is a little late once, don’t act like it’s the end of the world. They’ll extend the same courtesy to you. And remember–clients who are nice and/or tip well will get preferential treatment. My husband will move mountains for his favorite clients (e.g., he’ll come in on a Monday when salons are generally closed, stay late or come in extra early, give them better rates, etc.).

    September 22, 2016/Reply
  10. Dennis Sanchez says:

    A very good friend of mine is looking for a hair salon. You mentioned that when you are talking with a hair stylist, you should talk about your lifestyle and how much time you are willing to put into your hair daily. My friend is a very busy person, and has unique hair. I’ll have to help her find a stylist that can help give her a look that stays looking good easily, and works for her unique hair type.

    December 28, 2016/Reply
  11. Frank Delaware says:

    My wife has been thinking about going to a hair salon for years, but didn’t really know how to communicate what kind of hairstyle she wanted. It’s interesting that you say to make sure to ask your stylist how close you can get to your desired look. Since my wife has very unique hair, it would be nice to know what her options are without damaging her hair.

    January 25, 2017/Reply