I remember irritating the hell out of my parents as a teen, convincing them to pay for a rather expensive straightening process that required two visits —this was decades before the arrival of straight irons and Brazilian blowouts -- only to decide to cut my hair short on the second visit. This was back in the day of Marcia Brady and her perfect straight sheets of blonde hair parted down the middle.
Esme Marshall became my hair role model (though I never did rock those Brooke Shieldseque brows) through my high school and college years. Which brings me - at last - to my first rule of talking to a hair stylist:
Insist on a consultation before your hair is even shampooed.
Let your hairstylist see how your hair moves. Stand up, shake your head. Talk about what your expectations are, why you chose to come to this particular hairstylist (you love his beachy looks, you've seen his great blunt bobs...) and then have a realistic discussion. Do your research! On to rule #2:
Bring in a photograph of a hair style or color that you like.
Yeah, sure, you've all heard that before. But it helps show a hair stylist what you think a mid-length cut looks like, better than just telling him and ending up with something that grazes your jawline instead of your shoulder bones. It can also provide good guidance for colorists. You've no doubt read that your childhood haircolor is the most flattering - in my case, that didn't apply as my hair was dark brown and I've now been a medium blonde for the past 15 years. But if you were naturally blonde as a child, dig up some photos if you want to go lighter.
Thanks to the internet, it's easy for find several views of the same haircut. Case in point: last summer I wanted Carmen Kass' short haircut, as cut by master hair guru Sam McKnight. Not only was I able to find several photos of Carmen, I actually found a YouTube video of Sam cutting her hair!
While I never quite looked like Carmen's twin sister, I was happy with the results!
Which leads me to rule #3:
Don't be shy. Ask an expert for advice!
Ted Gibson, Oscar Blandi, Rita Hazen, Serge Normant, Harry Josh, even my hair god Sam McKnight are all on Twitter, as well as many other top stylists. And while you may never be able to afford their services (or be famous enough to hire them!), most will be very happy to answer a question you may have about one of their hairstyles. In my case, I sent Sam McKnight a tweet, telling him that I had a pretty good version of his Carmen Kass haircut from the Balmain show and was wondering what products he'd used to style it. He wrote back almost immediately -- Magic Move -- which I found at my nearby Ricky's beauty supply store.
Now obviously, Carmen has silky straight hair whereas mine is both color-treated and wavy. On to rule #4:
Be realistic about your time, money, and hair care commitment!
To maintain a short cut, I need to plan on getting my haircut every 5-6 weeks. I already get my hair colored every 5 weeks as I have horrific gray roots, so I needed to add more frequent haircuts to my budget as well. On top of that, the only was to keep my hair sleek and frizz-free was to get a keratin treatment ($250-$350 for a treatment that lasts 1-3 months, plus shampoo and conditioner specifically for treated hair at $25-30 a bottle.) I cut down my blow-drying time but had to add in some time with a flat iron.
I'm single, work from home, and only have to style my hair once or twice a week. However, if I was a busy working mother on a budget, this would not be the best hair style for me.
On to rule 5:
Women who look like they "just stepped out of a salon" probably just did.
Know your hairstyling skills or learn some new ones.
Are you all thumbs with a round brush, flat iron, curling tongs, diffuser? If so, either tell your hair stylist what you can and can't do. OR - book an appointment with your stylist or an assistant to learn how to style your hair. Bring in your own equipment or ask for a shopping list.
Which brings us to rule 6:
Ask for specific brand names of hair care tools and products.
New York editorial stylist Steven Dillon rarely uses a single product out of the tube. Instead, he'll mix a personalized concoction of creams and serums in the palm of his hand to get exactly the results he wants. Put down your iPhone or look up from that British Vogue and ask what your stylist is doing, what products are being used and how you can replicate his or her efforts at home.
Rule 7: Invest in good styling tools, especially a professional quality hairdryer and brushes.
Here's why -- all hairdryers are NOT created equal. Even if you have easy breezy wash-and-go hair (Bitch!) there are times you'll need a dryer to give you extra body or just get you out the door faster.
A good, powerful dryer will cut down on the amount of time you need to expose your hair to heat, whereas a cheaper dryer may not have the same kind of strength. If you have curly/wavy/frizzy hair, you'll want a dryer with a concentrator that will help direct the airflow down the length of your hair, preventing frizz.
Again, ask your stylist for recommendations for dryers and other tools as well as brushes. For some hair types, natural bristles help distribute natural oils, but they can be too damaging to fragile hair - a mix of natural and synthetic bristles might be better. Ask!
And my final rule for fabulous?
Go to the best hairstylist you can afford and let them do what they do best!
As a creative professional, I can go a bit nuts when non-experts question my creative judgement. I know how to do my job and I do it well. Same goes for a hairstylist. Do your homework, have a great consultation, but ultimately, let them do what's best. Even if you're not in a big city, seek out the best hairstylists where you live. Ask that woman in your pilates class who cuts her hair or compliment her on her haircolor and say you're looking for a great colorist. More often than not, people are happy to share their experts. Or if you'll be traveling to a big city, splurge on an appointment with a top stylist. Tell them you'll have to maintain it when you get home and ask for your color formula. Once back home, go to your local stylist about 3-4 weeks after your cut -- before you NEED a haircut -- so your stylist can still see the lines to follow from your original cut. You should be able to stretch the life of your hairstyle this way. If you can't afford the top stylist every time you need a cut, ask him or her to recommend someone less expensive in the salon. This way, you can get the top stylist two or three times a year and someone more affordable the rest of the time.
Okay, I lied. I have one more rule.
If you have a great experience, write a thank you note.
People are so fast to complain and so slow to compliment. So if you love your new hairstyle, take the time to write him or her a note. Repeat one or two of the raves you've received. Tell how you've never felt so fabulous. It doesn't have to be a long letter, a few sincere sentences will do. (And you can't imagine how well appreciated it will be. Especially the next time you need a last minute appointment. Or when rates go up and you somehow still pay the old rate.) I'm not saying to do this to get something in return, do it because it's nice and a great thing to do.
Finally, if despite these rules, you are unhappy with your hairstyle, don't whine and moan.
Give it a few days then call your hairstylist and come in to discuss it.
It took three cuts before I got my perfect Carmen Kass hair of my dreams. Be specific about what you don't like and what you expected. You may find out that your hair texture isn't right for the blunt cut in the photo or that you'll need to grow out your bangs for a few weeks. (I swear I had several months of Steven Dillon just waving scissors over my head and telling me to come back in 10 weeks as he was waiting for my short hair to grow out enough for a really great cut.) Your hairstylist should fix your hair at no additional cost or explain what can or can't be done. If you're still unhappy, then ask how you might have been more specific in your requests and go elsewhere.
It's just hair. It's not a kidney - it will grow back.
And who knows? That haircut that you hate might just be the best look for you ever!
Change can be unexpected, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Look back at photos from 2007 - that was five years ago! Does your hair look exactly the same? Then you need a change. It could be subtle - highlights or lowlights, center part to side part, an inch longer or shorter - but make a change. Your face, your wardrobe, your lifestyle has changed over five years, so should your hair.
Do you think Ellen Pompeo's Meredith Gray would have landed Dr. McDreamy if she'd stuck with her high school hairdo all these years? I don't think so!