How To Talk To Your Stylist About A Terrible Haircut

Welcome to Unprofessional Advice. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I'll take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous). Got a question for the column? Email me.

Dear Kelsey,

I have gone to the same hairstylist for about six years now. I’ve always received an exceptional, or, at the very least, pretty good haircut. We’ve developed a rapport over the years, perhaps even a low-key friendship. As a painfully shy person, this is incredibly important and comforting to me.

On my last visit to her, I presented pictures of the haircut that I wanted, like I’ve always done in the past. She waved them away, indicating that she knew what I was going for. When she was done, the haircut was nothing like the pictures I had brought in! It was choppy and stuck out at awkward angles and looked awful! She asked me if I liked it and I choked out, "It's cute," before paying and rushing out to cry in my car.

I don't know what I should do from here. Do I continue to go to her? After all, this is the first time I have had a negative experience in all these years. And if I do, what steps can I take to make sure this doesn't happen again, especially without insulting her work or jeopardizing our positive relationship?


At Least It Grows Back


Two years ago, I got Rachel-ed. It was a cloudless autumn day when I walked into the salon, chatted with my sweetie-pie stylist, discussed some layers and a new length, and then sat in her chair. She got it. And she was a pro. Two hours later, I looked up and realized she’d Rachel-ed me. Like, full-blown, Season One Rachel. I stammered something about how light it felt and stumbled out the door trying to yank my new razor shag into a ponytail.

You know, I get a lot of emails about relationships, mostly from people having trouble with boyfriends, girlfriends, or best friends. The problems aren’t always easy, but at least they’re well-worn territory. You got dumped? It sucks, but it’s really not that complicated. Is this a relationship? It’s complicated.

Why are there no self-help books on how to navigate this, one of the most vulnerable long-term relationships in our lives?! Think about it: You see this person once or twice a year (more, I guess, if you have fancy hair). You’re forced to have a long, one-on-one conversation with them while they snip away, or else suffer in awkward silence. And all the while, they hold in their hands the power to dramatically change the way you look. Sure, it’s just hair, but to a lot of us, hair plays a role in our confidence. (Is that vain? Yeah, maybe, but talk to me after you’ve been given a non-consensual Rachel, okay?)

Here’s the good and bad news, ALIGB: It’s fixable. Like almost all relationship problems, it all comes down to communication. You describe yourself as painfully shy, so I’m guessing communication isn’t your jam, but even if you do end up switching stylists, you’re going to have to get comfortable with this uncomfortable practice.

First, remember that your stylist doesn’t want to maim you. She wants you to leave happy. So if and when you go back to this woman, let her know what it was you didn’t like about this cut. Pro tip: It’ll be a lot easier for both of you if you focus on specifics (the choppy look, the length, etc.) rather than just telling her, “That last cut suuuucked.” Use that friendly rapport, because she’s a human. But be direct, because she’s also a professional. Remember that. This is her job, and I’m sure she wants to do it well.

Next, whip out those pictures. Obviously, you know how to prepare for a haircut, so just get clear on what you want and make sure you’re both on the same page before she starts cutting. Being assertive can feel a lot like aggression when you’re not used to it. But they’re two very different things.

Here’s the really tricky part: When she does start cutting, keep communicating. The conversation will meander to more pleasant topics (hopefully), but don’t be afraid to keep checking in about the cut. You can throw in casual questions (“So, are you thinking around this length for the long layers?”), and if you see her veering in a direction you don’t like, don’t hesitate to interject: “Sorry to interrupt! I think that’s short enough in the back.”

I realize this won’t be super fun at first. But ultimately, it’s going to help you both out. I learned this lesson post-Racheling. The next time I stepped into that salon, I communicated my ass off. And she was totally cool! In fact, I think we both got more relaxed with each other. The end result? The best damn haircut of my life. In fact, each of the following haircuts has consistently been the best damn cut of my life. All from the woman who, long ago, gave me a goddamn Rachel.

That’s why I say you need to practice this whether or not you switch. You could go to the best stylist in the world and she or he could bungle it. Furthermore, even the best stylists in the world have off days (remember: they’re humans, too). And sometimes your stylist just isn't on the same wavelength as you. After all, layers don't mean the same thing to every stylist.

Bad haircuts happen, and hair grows back — so you’re probably going to have to get it cut again at some point. This much I know is true. If you want to spend less time crying in your car, you’ll have to spend more time talking in the chair.

In the meantime, I recommend a headband.




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