How to get a haircut you'll actually like, according to stylists

A great haircut can be transformative. Stylists weigh in on how to ask for — and get one — you'll love.
If you agree on cutting a half inch off of your ends, ask if your stylists can show them on their comb what you believe a half inch is and see if they agree.
If you agree on cutting a half inch off of your ends, ask if your stylists can show them on their comb what you believe a half inch is and see if they agree. Sergey Nazarov / Getty Images/iStockphoto
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By Nicole Spector

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life,” said the fashion mogul Coco Chanel, who, for the record, donned a trendsetting sleek bob.

Dr. Tricia Wolanin, a clinical psychologist, is inclined to agree with the iconic French designer and business mogul.

“The timing of when [a woman] chooses to get a haircut is key,” she says. “Is it post-breakup to redefine a new you, and release excess burden and baggage? Is it a marking point for a new adventure such as graduation, new job or a notable birthday? Or is she getting this haircut as a metaphor to take time out to care for herself and move into her power?”

Though our motivations for getting a haircut vary (and sometimes, we’re just looking to tame the beast of tangles), we can all agree on one thing: we want a good haircut. Actually, no, we want a fantastic haircut — and for good reason.

“Haircuts are one of the first things people notice when you make a slight alteration,” says Wolanin. “When we take the time to make a shift, others notice. It may be a trim in our bangs, new color, or a whole new style — but our hair makes a statement.”

A great haircut can bear a hefty price tag — yet fall short of expectations.

And haircuts can be expensive.

Celebrity hairstylist Paul Labrecque says on average a great cut in a big city costs “about $150, and will last about six to seven weeks.” Edward Tricomi, stylist and co-owner of Warren Tricomi Salons puts the ballpark figure for a new do at “$130 up to $1,000. It depends on what you are requesting and where you go. I can make that cut last anywhere between three to four months.”

But we don’t always get what you pay for, do we? I don’t know anyone (male or female) who hasn’t suffered a terrible haircut.

What steps can clients take to ensure the best results?

Scour Yelp and other review platforms

If you’re looking for a new stylist, do as much sleuthing as you can on their professional work.

“Look up a hairstylist’s reviews online, talk to current and past clients, [and/or] visit a salon in person and ask a hairstylist about their experience and portfolio,” hairstylist Chad Seale says.

Many stylists have a presence on Instagram, so be sure to check out their work there, too.

Book a consultation first

One of the best tips I’ve learned over the years, when booking a hair appointment, is to secure that the cut comes with a consultation.

“A consultation should be included as part of the service, and doing one complimentary is the norm,” says Labrecque. “At my salons we generally allow 15 minutes with each client for this process.”

You can also book a consultation with just a blow dry, which Neven Radovic, lead stylist at Ian McCabe Studio, recommends.

“Your hair is a big deal and impacts you daily — you should be comfortable when you are spending your hard-earned money on it,” says Radovic. “I recommend booking an appointment for just a consultation and a blow dry. This way you can get to know the stylist and how they work before doing anything serious. And then if it is a good fit, book a second appointment for a cut/color.”

Be honest about how much time you spend on your hair everyday

Be as direct as you can with your stylist — not just about what you want to change (or keep) — but about your hair routine. If you often throw your hair up in a messy bun because you don’t have the time to deal with it, tell the stylist that so they can create a cut that’s easy to manage.

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“Be honest with your stylist,” says Seale. “A good stylist will know the perfect hairstyle for your face, lifestyle and preferences; however, he or she should also be willing to listen to your concerns and work with you.”

You should also point out if you use or are open to using products everyday as some hairstyles are more high-maintenance (and costly) in this regard.

Get inspiration from TV, beauty mags, Pinterest and Instagram

Part of the job of a hairstylist is to know the current trends. If you’re out of the loop, they can fill you in, but if you have no idea what you want, it’s best to do a bit of homework to get some ideas. The stylists we consulted recommend checking out Pinterest, beauty magazines and fashion influencers on Instagram. Save a few pics on your phone to show the stylist what appeals to you.

“It’s always great to show your stylist a picture of something you’re trying to achieve so they have a good idea on how to move forward,” says Tricomi.

Hear out the stylist’s suggestions, but hold your ground

A stylist should have suggestions for what they think will look best on you based on your preferences and lifestyle. But don’t feel obligated to agree.

“If in the end you don’t want the style he or she recommends, they should willingly yield to your decision,” says Seale.

Consider not only face shape, but body shape

No two faces are the same, but most faces fall into one of four categories: oval, long, square or round.

“Each one has different haircuts that look perfect for them,” says Tricomi. “Bangs or no bangs, blunt cuts, or long layers — it all depends on how you cut and structure someone’s new look. When you’re cutting, what is really important is body structure and facial features. A great stylist knows how to balance all of those compliments and give the client the look they're looking for.”

It’s good to have some idea of these factors before heading in (you can easily do this by following one of the many online guides for measuring both face and body shape).

“Pinterest can help the client look at face shapes and find cuts that are best,” says Tricomi.

When you’re cutting ,what is really important is body structure and facial features. A great stylist knows how to balance all of those compliments and give the client the look they're looking for.

Celebrity pictures are appreciated — but keep it realistic

Recently I visited my hairstylist with a photo of Mandy Moore. I do not at all resemble Mandy Moore (not even in face shape). My stylist could immediately see why her haircut wouldn’t work for me, and was able to politely explain it. She also pointed out that the haircut was highly stylized, meaning it required much more work than I’d want to put in everyday.

“Don't go in with an exact photo and expect to leave the salon looking like the photo — your setting yourself up for disappointment,” says Andrew Carruthers, a hairstylist and education director for Sam Villa. “Because every head of hair is different, replicating an image is an unrealistic goal.”

Instead, discuss what aspects of the hairstyle can be replicated on you in a favorable fashion. Ask yourself, “What do I like about this cut?” and go from there.

Will you still love this in three weeks? Three months?

Though the longevity of a haircut depends on the style, make sure you’ll be comfortable with your new do for at least three months.

“Fortunately, when it comes to hair, a dramatically changed cut won’t mean you’ll be stuck with that look forever; however, hair can take time to grow back so when you’re considering a huge transformation, you have to be sure you can live with the look for a good amount of time,” says Seale.

You should also consider the inverse of this advice: it’s only three months. Maybe you should try something totally new!

Not sure about bangs? Ask for a ‘long bang’ to try

“Should I get bangs?” It’s a question possibly every single salon-going woman has asked herself (and all her friends). I wish I had the answer for you — as well as for myself. Honestly, it depends on the style you’re going for and how much of a commitment you’re ready to make (bangs are a pain to grow out). If you’re on the fence but want to flirt with the idea of bangs, go for a long bang.

“A longer bang will grow out faster if [the client] changes her mind, once completed,” says Julien Farel of the Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa. “If she then finds herself loving the look and is more daring, she can then always cut them shorter at her next haircut.”

Want a more youthful look?

If looking more youthful is a priority, your haircut can help with that.

“Bangs, long hair, rich color and natural curls,” can give a younger appearance, says Radovic. “Of course, it depends on the person’s features but generally speaking, these styles tend to bring a more youthful look. Hair has the ability to make a person look 10 years younger.”

Ask for visual clarifications

“If you agree on cutting a half inch off of your ends, ask if you can show them on their comb what you believe a half inch is and see if they agree,” says Carruthers. “If you want the super texturized look that is very popular on long bobs and shags at the moment, bring pictures of the texture you are comfortable with. Just simply saying, ‘I like a lot of texture’ leaves things open for interpretation. It also helps if you can show examples of things that are not appealing to your eye. If you're not sure, ask the hairdresser to provide examples of what they would suggest based on your hair texture.”

Pump up the small talk by asking ‘encouraging’ questions

One of the daunting aspects of getting a haircut can have nothing to do with the actual cut, but with the chattiness of the occasion. If you don’t feel like talking, it’s totally fine to say this upfront, but if you’re up for it, ask a few friendly questions to set a comfortable mood for both you and the stylist.

“Questions like, ‘How long have you been doing hair? What kind of hairstyles do you like? Does this suit my face shape and bone structure? Will you show me how to style my bangs?’” are encouraging, says David D. Dennis, stylist from Milk + Honey in Austin. “Demoralizing questions can set the wrong tone and vibe — [these are] questions like, ‘Are you going to cut all my hair off? Have you ever done this before? You’re not going to make me look fat, are you? Positive?’”

Stay calm — a nervous client can make a nervous stylist

If in the middle of a haircut you notice something looks amiss, feel free to ask questions about it, but don’t panic.

“Remember that there are phases in every haircut and sometimes the path to beauty has a few ugly moments in between,” says Carruthers. “If you are getting nervous, ask a few questions in a calm and curious way. If a hairdresser senses that the person in the chair is panicking, things are bound to head in a bad direction. Like any artist, creativity and performance go down hill if the emotions start going up.”

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