How To Get A Haircut You’ll Actually Like, According To Top Stylists

Photographed by Ramona Jingru Wang.
The seemingly endless disappointment of a bad haircut is something that unites almost all of us. It’s a well-trodden story: You enter the salon armed with a specific idea and unbridled optimism. Somewhere in between your first cup of tea and second magazine, you notice that your hair is a little shorter than anticipated — lopsided, even. Still, you thank your hairdresser, thinking that maybe you can fix it at home. When that proves fruitless? A good cry in the bathroom mirror.
Certainly, the emotional connection that we have with our hair can’t be underestimated. A 2022 study into confidence and appearance, conducted by insights agency Opinium, found that 56% of people polled had recognised “good hair days” as a self-esteem booster. Over the years, an abundance of research has also shown that hair is intrinsically linked to identity and self-image. All things considered, it makes sense that a slip of the scissors (easily done) or a slight miscommunication can be upsetting. 
However, achieving a haircut you love — well beyond the first day — needn’t be so tricky. Ahead, we asked three top hairstylists how to navigate the salon experience with confidence, and we learned a lot. 

Don’t dodge the consultation — it’s free.

If you tend to give it a miss, a hair consultation is essentially a 15-minute appointment before your actual appointment. It’s more commonly associated with drastic hair colour transformations, but booking a consultation ahead of a haircut is a must, too, says hair trend forecaster and stylist, Tom Smith. Almost always free, consultations are a good opportunity to lay out exactly what you want from your cut without any pressure or time constraints, says Smith. Do you want your hair to be low maintenance? How often will you come in for a trim? These are just a couple of the key questions your stylist should ask you before reaching for the scissors. 
Likewise, Gennaro Dell’Aquila, award-winning hairstylist and founder of GA Salons, says that consultations are not just helpful, they’re essential given our unique features like face shape, hair texture and maintenance preferences. “Also don’t forget to mention if you’ve had hair treatments in recent months,” says Dell’Aquila, particularly keratin treatments and hair relaxing, which can alter the texture of your hair, as well as bleach or colour. “This all really matters when planning your perfect cut,” stresses Dell’Aquila. 
If you have specific needs, or are particularly nervous about getting what you hope for, Smith recommends calling up to book a separate, dedicated consultation ahead of time: “Even consider multiple consultations with different hairstylists,” advises Smith. “Instinctively, you’ll feel who you have the best connection with.” It’s sage advice for finding a “signature” stylist, someone you’ll revisit time and time again. 

Be vocal about your dislikes.

It’s all too easy to rattle off what you love (air-dried texture, natural waves, low-maintenance styling) and to gloss over what you don’t. But a good hairstylist should be open to hearing about your dislikes, suggests Dell’Aquila.
“Be ready to share a detailed description of hair that you’ve had and loved — as well as hated — in the past,” advises Smith. Even better? Bring along selfies for reference if you have them. With this in mind, Smith’s top tip is to remember that it can take time for your hairstylist to learn how your hair responds to certain cutting (and colouring) techniques: “If you feel you’re getting close to your goal, give them up to three consecutive appointments to refine and evolve the plan,” says Smith. “It’ll be worth it in the long term.”

Bring reference photos — but not too many.

Whether you get them from Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, or Refinery29, reference photos are a great starting point for discussion as they help stylists understand your aesthetic preferences, says Dell’Aquila. “However, it’s vital to recognise that each person’s hair will respond differently to the same cut due to unique textures and growth patterns,” adds Dell’Aquila. With that in mind, Neil Moodie, founder of Neil Moodie Studio, says that it’s your stylist’s job to be honest about what’s possible versus the idea you have in your head. It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s definitely better for your hair (and maintenance plan, but more on that later) in the long run. 
“Reference photos are essential and the easiest way to help get on the same page,” agrees Smith. “My advice is to bring three of your favourite reference images that are all on different people but ideally of a similar hair type. This includes texture density, colour and styling, and how you intend to wear your hair day to day.” This, says Smith, gives your hairstylist a great starting point from which to evolve the idea into something unique and tailored to you. But consider a limit on the number or photos you present. “More than three can be confusing,” says Smith, “and showing only one — or one person — can make meeting your expectations hard, as there may be more things at play than just the desired hairstyle. Do you want to be Hailey Bieber or do you just like her bob?”
Moodie also drives home the importance of being realistic. In fact, countless celebrities and influencers edit pictures of their hair, reveals Moodie. “This happens a lot,” says Moodie, “particularly with hair colour, but haircuts can be tweaked, too.” Not only that, Moodie always reminds his clients that a picture shows a cut from just one angle. “Hair is three dimensional and needs to be considered from all angles,” says Moodie. 

Commit to a “hair plan”.

The excitement of a new cut often means that maintenance is an afterthought, so you’d be forgiven for trying (and failing) to recreate the same style or texture at home. “A key reason why you might not be satisfied with your haircut [after washing it yourself] is that it requires specific styling, which your hairstylist has executed after the cut but hasn’t communicated to you,” says Smith. For that reason, it’s imperative to have a long-term “hair plan”, he adds. “This creates the foundation on which a successful hair appointment — and a long-term client-hairstylist relationship — is built,” says Smith. 
It starts with the correct styling products. From the initial shampoo to the last spritz of hairspray, don’t be afraid to ask your hairdresser if you can take pictures of the products used throughout your appointment. It’s even likely that the salon will have a handful of those products for sale, but there shouldn’t be any pressure. If you’re on a budget, consider shopping around in your own time. “If your hairstylist is not automatically offering suggestions for the best products, tools or techniques to use at home, you’re perfectly entitled to ask for this information,” says Smith. He stresses that any good hairstylist should be clear and helpful with their recommendations.
Investing in the correct hair tools is also an important part of enjoying your haircut for months to come. Take curtain bangs, for example. They can be styled with straighteners, but depending on the look you’re going for, you might be better off with a round brush and a good hairdryer. With that in mind, Smith suggests being honest with your hairdresser about how much styling you’re willing to commit to. “A great hair appointment involves education on how to maintain your look at home,” says Smith. “[Very few people] instinctively know how to blowdry or style their hair,” says Smith, “but some are more interested in investing the time needed to practise and refine their dexterity and hair skills for daily styling.” Smith continues, “If it’s important to you, your hairstylist can help teach you during your appointment, but YouTube videos can also help support you at home while you continue to improve your skills.”

Opt for a “low-maintenance” haircut.

A common reason for feeling disappointed with a haircut is the surprise of change, says Dell’Aquila. “Making a major hair change, like going from long lengths to a short bob, can be a shock that is not just physical, but [emotional, too]. You’ve got to be ready for it,” says Dell’Aquila. “This is why we often recommend going for low-maintenance styles,” he adds. “That way, when you wake up, your hair is practically ready to go, and you don’t need to fuss much over it.” Again, a consultation is helpful to determine just how low-maintenance you’d like to be. Do you like to let your hair air-dry? Do you want to wash and go? 
Likewise, one of Moodie’s first questions for a client is if they consider themselves to be low maintenance. Happily, Smith says that experienced hairstylists are equipped with an abundance of cutting techniques that can help manage the silhouette and texture of your hair — not just to bring it as close as possible to your reference photos, but to ensure that you don’t have to style it too much. “Any styling you’re willing to do on top is a bonus,” says Smith. 
Lastly, Dell’Aquila stresses the importance of maintaining your haircut with regular trims (every eight to 12 weeks) to prolong your desired look. Fringes usually require neatening up every two to three weeks, and helpfully, many hairdressers offer free fringe trims in between salon visits.
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