The Straight Truth About Salon Etiquette

Stylist consultation about changing hairstyles

Experts Weigh in on Salon Etiquette

There’s a compelling connection between hairdresser and client, which is such a cold word given the warmth of the bond. For 45 minutes every eight weeks or so, a hair stylist focuses their full attention on the client in the chair. Touches her, studies her, listen to her, makes her feel and look more beautiful.

I once knew a really accomplished hair stylist who had a huge roster of VIP clients. The only hitch was his equally huge temper and self-regard. But the talent was sublime. An investor decided to back his salon and made the foolish, but entirely innocent mistake of installing a glass door at the entrance. One client after another slammed that glass door in fury after her appointment. The door shattered time and again, and eventually it closed forever. The hairstylist’s skill couldn’t compensate for his abrasive personality.

Hairstylist advice about hairstyle changeBut such stories are uncommon. In fact, I can’t think of another professional alliance that comes even close to the one between a woman and her hairstylist. Her doctor sees her, maybe once per year if she’s healthy and not pregnant. Her analyst is generally more expensive and not nearly as cheering. And her trainer? Too sweaty; too bossy. A hairdresser holds a trusted place in a woman’s life.

Implicit in that trust is confidence, care, and open lines of communication about sometimes very intimate matters. Trust also carries with it a sense of responsibility.

Ever received poor treatment from a hairdresser or a salon you chose to give your business to? Here are the best ways to address the most common service snafu’s. The folks at Real Simple magazine, asked 14 seasoned pros, including institutions and etiquette experts, to weigh in on what to say when you’ve been wronged by your hairdresser or salon, and here’s what they had to offer;

Stylist consultation about changing hairstyles

How can I get the hairdresser to focus on me rather than gabbing with other clients or answering his cell phone?

CHRIS MCMILLAN: Ugh. Hairdressers really shouldn’t do that. You would be within your rights to say, “I wouldn’t interrupt your haircut—please don’t interrupt mine.” You’re paying a lot of money for a good cut, which requires undivided attention. You’re entitled to ask for it.

MICHELLE SLATALLA: Get your stylist’s attention gently and say, “Wow! It seems like you’re really busy today. Maybe I should have come on a different day.” That way, you’re sending a clear signal that you would like him to be more present.

What should I say if I’ve cheated on my hair stylist between visits and it’s very obvious?

SARAH POTEMPA: It’s nice to compliment your hair stylist when you go back. Mention that you got a hair cut when you were on vacation and that the hair stylist who did the job said your cut or hair color was great. If you give your hair stylist, good feedback, you’ll bring the situation back to some­thing positive.

McMillan: Say it was convenient and act as if you did it spontaneously— not like you thought it out and researched it. Clients often try other people, but they’ll usually come back to their regular hair stylists. Hair stylists have to expect that and put their egos aside.

ANNA POST. Say, “I wanted to switch it up a bit” or “I was in the mood for a change,” then tell your hair stylist what you liked or didn’t like about it. Use it as a spring­board to talk about your visit that day. You don’t need to apologize—you didn’t cheat on your husband!

How do I get my hairdresser to be on time? She is forever running behind schedule.

McMillan: Try talking to the hairdresser salon man­ager. Say, “I love the way this person does my hair, but she’s always late.” That way, you don’t need to get involved. The man­ager can instruct the hairdresser to be on time.

POST: I would be direct with the hairdresser. Say, “Jen, I wouldn’t go to anyone else but you, but I need us to stick to our appointment times. This delay really messed up my day.”

POTEMPA: Try to schedule your appoint­ments for earlier in the day. Chances are your hairdresser won’t be running behind yet and you won’t be kept waiting.

What if I hate my hair cut?

McMillan: If you don’t have the stomach to let the stylist know when he’s done cutting, call him once you’re home. Don’t not say anything! The stylist will do anything to fix it, because at the end of the day he wants you to be happy and doesn’t want to lose clients. He should fix it for free within a week.

TED GIBSON: You should call the stylist and tell him what it is you don’t like (for example, the top is too puffy) and ask for styling suggestions. There’s almost always something you can do to make a bad hair cut look better. He can also assess whether you need to come in for a retrim, which should be free.

What should I say when my hair stylist tries to talk me into a look that I’m not comfortable with?

POTEMPA: Use your lifestyle as an excuse. Say, “I’m too busy to handle a big hair change right now.” Hair stylists know you on the surface, but they don’t know what your daily schedule is like.

GIBSON: First of all, realize that many women actually break up with their hair stylists because they never encourage them to try anything new. Still, all you need to do is hear your hair stylist out— you are never under any obligation to change your look.

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