Hair salons can be intimidating—especially when you've scored a much-coveted appointment, or you're shelling out a weeks-worth of your paycheck for the service. It's hard to relax and even harder to speak up when things aren't going exactly as planned. Before hitting up salons was (literally) part of my job, I was always confused about the proper etiquette. How much to tip? How much to talk? What if you don't want to talk? The list goes on and on.
Each time I stepped foot in a fancy salon I felt a bit of imposter syndrome creeping up, like as if I was dressed up in someone else's clothes. Truth be told, haircuts still freak me out. But, my forever saving graces, the imitable Halli Bivona of the John Barrett Salon and Brian Zinno, senior education director at the Antonio Prieto Salon, have calmed my fears and listed every last thing you should remember before, after, and during your styling session. Let your education begin!
Come to your consultation with an idea of what you're looking for. "This may sound like a given," Bivona says, "but I've had a ton of clients who give no direction on how they would like their hair cut or styled. Or they say do whatever you want. Unfortunately, I'm not a mind reader." Instead, try to have a candid conversation with your stylist about what you like, what you don't, and the type of style you're looking for.
It is helpful to come in with a picture, but you have to take into account the person in the photo's hair versus your own. "Sometimes, clients bring in very unrealistic pictures," explains Zinno. "The picture should be in the same realm of your hair texture, length, and desired maintenance." On top of that, timeliness is important. Hair salons are kind of like airports. If a plane is delayed by a couple of hours, it messes up the rest of the flights for the day. If a client delays her stylist by a half hour, it can mess up the stylist's following appointments for the rest of the day.
"Once you and your stylist have narrowed down how you would like to wear your hair, you need to then trust your stylist's judgment," Bivona says. "If you are constantly telling a stylist how to hold the brush or how to section your hair, a stylist loses their creative flow and you may end up with a look you are unhappy with."
Zinno agrees: "It's difficult to do your thing when a client is nitpicking at different things before you've even started to cut." The best advice is to come to an agreement before the service begins, and then have faith that your expectations will be met by the end.
This extends to the stylist assistant, as well; don't be rude. Stylists take note of people bullying their assistants (the people who wash and dry your hair,) even if they don't feel comfortable mentioning it to their client. And if they don't notice it on their own, people in salons talk. Everyone in a salon knows who the rude clients are.
"Don't space out when a stylist mentions product," Bivona suggests. "Yes, selling product is a part of the business, but we won't recommend a product unless we feel it will improve the overall quality of your hair, as well as give you the results you're looking for. Why get an amazing cut if your at-home product regime only causes more damage?"
Zinno echoes a similar sentiment about product choices. While you're allowed to use whatever products you'd like (and many in-salon products can be pricey,) it is paramount that you listen to a stylist's advice. Sometimes one prescribed product can give you the hair of your dreams while you're wasting your time with a dozen others. FYI: My life has truly gotten better since the day Bivona told me to start using Shu Uemura's Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Oil ($69).
"Keep an open mind during your consultation," Bivona says. "As a hair stylist, it is my job to make you look and feel fabulous. Sometimes to do that, I will recommend going in a completely different direction than the look you are rocking at the moment. Even if you aren't ready for a big change, listen to what your stylist has to say, and do a little Pinterest research to see if that's a look you would like to try."
A stylist also can't give you good advice if you're not being honest with them. It's always important to tell your stylist if you've had a chemical treatment on your hair like double-processing, or Japanese or Brazilian hair treatments. You should also be absolutely truthful about the way you dry your hair, regardless of whether you use a hairdryer every time you step out of the shower or not at all. It dictates how they cut and style it.
"This may sound harsh, but try to avoid putting your hand through your hair while it's being styled. I (and many other stylists) work very hard to make sure that your hair looks amazing and that it will last, explains Bivona. "The way we leave hair to cool or set for a blowout or updo can look a bit weird—but we're not done! There is a method to our madness. If you start to comb out your hair or push pieces around, it may ruin the style and take double the time to get to the finished product."
"Once we're finished with your style, please speak up if you are unhappy. If something looks out of place or it's just not quite what you wanted, I will know how to fix it! I would much rather do that then have you leave the salon not 100% happy with your look."
Stylists do this for a living. Anyone who's been in the business for a few months or more has had to deal with unhappy clients. It's actually best to speak up before you get home and decide you can never, ever go back and it's time to find a new stylist. Chances are, your stylist was having an off day, which can happen to anyone. If it's something that can be fixed, he or she will likely fix it free of charge.
Want more advice? Here's what happened when my hair broke off, and how I learned to fix it.