It’s time for another installment of our Ask a Hairstylist series, featuring celebrity hairstylist and Dove ambassador Mark Townsend! Townsend shapes and snips the hair of Hollywood’s A-list (think Mary-Kate, Ashley, and Elizabeth Olsen; Dakota Johnson; and more) and will be answering all your pressing hair questions.
This month, we decided to take his expertise in another direction. One of our own was struggling with the one thing almost every woman goes through at least once in her life: ending things with her hairstylist. She wanted to know how to “break up” with her stylist in the least awkward way possible—and who better to speak on the correct etiquette in this situation than a seasoned, experienced hairstylist? Take notes.
Hi, Byrdie readers!
In my industry, these types of “breakups” happen ALL the time. Sometimes I’ll be on a long press tour with my new client and my old client at the same time. It can be awkward, but I’ve learned to develop a thick skin over the years. In my world, I rarely hear from the clients themselves; it’s normally through their publicists. But for the rest of you ladies, it’s not quite as easy. People leave stylists for a multitude of reasons, and all are justified. What I will say is that the longest client/hairstylist relationships I’ve seen all have one thing in common: communication and evolution. I’ve been with Ashley and Mary-Kate for more than a decade because I listen to them and evolve with them. I try to channel their vision for their hair into reality, and gently steer them only when needed. The second a hairstylist makes it about themselves and stops listening to what their client wants, it all goes downhill.
I’ve often witnessed the end of a long relationship between client and hairstylist, and found myself puzzled. He did amazing work on her hair, their chemistry was amazing, and they had been “together” for years. But in those cases, I have to remind myself this is still a customer-service industry. Whatever reason the client decided to leave ultimately must be respected. And it could be for a multitude of reasons.
Maybe she just wanted to try someone else and play the field. Maybe her aesthetic evolved and didn’t fit with his anymore. It can be hard for the hairstylist, no doubt. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the client, and there really is no wrong reason. Most hairstylists got into this industry because they love making people happy. If the client is happier with someone else, it’s part of the stylist's job to be selfless and accept it. How you go about the “breakup” is another story...
Honesty, while not always easy, is definitely the best policy. Here’s the thing: I love when my clients have opinions. Nobody knows your hair better than you! When a client tells me this is how I need to cut their bangs from their personal years of experience, you’d better believe I listen. But often, clients feel muted in the chair and don’t want to rock the boat.
Communication is key. If you’ve been getting your hair cut for years by someone, try someone else out by chance, and LOVE the new stylist, I’d gently let your original one know. Something like “Thank you so much for all the amazing hair you’ve given me over the past couple of years. You truly are awesome. But I think I found someone who understands my fringe a bit better” is a nice way to go.
As a young stylist in the game, if I had heard this (and trust me, I did), I’d immediately start brushing up on my cutting skills and try to make myself better. That’s what separates the good hairdressers from the amazing ones. Amazing ones are open to learning new things and constantly trying to better themselves.
If you’ve only seen a stylist a couple of times and don’t have a real relationship with them, I see no problem with just changing stylists and not letting them know. Although, the term “ghosting” does seem a bit harsh! That being said, if the stylist reaches out to you to and asks if you want to book again, I think it’s respectful to thank him for his work and let him know you’re going to someone else now.
Switching to a stylist in the same salon can be a tricky situation, and egos can be easily bruised. In the case of a "salon switchover" (which sounds like a reality show I would watch), I’d take immediate action. Call or text your old stylist and let him gently know that you’ll be seeing his co-worker from now on. Reaching out first helps quell rumors and awkwardness around their work environment. Honesty, again, is the best policy. But another good bit of advice is “Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”
If you’re seeing a new stylist in the same salon as your last, do NOT trash-talk your previous stylist. Word travels fast around the shampoo bowls, and the last thing you want is hurt feelings or general unpleasantness. However, if you’re in a new salon, feel free to tell your new stylist what you liked and didn’t like about your last stylist’s work. (Then again, hairdressers run in circles, and many know each other. If you go in too harsh on your past stylist, it just may get back to them. So be careful with your words.)
For better or for worse, I’m an extremely busy man. And some weeks, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to see everyone I want to. As soon as I know I’m gonna have to reschedule or cancel, I go into immediate action. I let my client know the dates I WILL be available, and I always recommend the right stylist to fill in for me. I know tons of hairdressers, so I have a good idea who will be the best fit.
What clients decide to do in this situation is ultimately up to them. For some people, reliability is the most important factor. It makes sense then for them to seek out a new stylist. Most of the time clients will understand. But if it happens more than once, I totally understand why a client would move on. If a hairstylist recommends someone else to you, you should not feel bad about seeing the new stylist full-time if you like what that work more. This person came recommended, after all!
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This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.