Seven tips for finding a new hair stylist

The move required a new hair stylist. (Eventually, a dentist and family doc, but first things first.)

In the neighbourhood adjacent to mine, I rented a temporary apartment for the moving week (via Airbnb, a great resource) and found my stylist, Laurie of LocalB, by peering through its large window daily and noting how good everyone looked, both in the chair and holding scissors.

If you're thinking of switching hairdressers, here are my ideas, and please, those of you who've done it, please add your own:

1. Go to a neighbourhood that echoes your style.
if you want classic, coiffed hair, check your business district; if you want something casual yet polished, cruise the upscale neighbourhoods, and if you want edgy, asked the tatted-up girl in funky bar where she goes. This is a good screen, because salons attract a certain clientele. 

Not 100% reliable, though: my Parisienne friend Daniele got a knockout classic bob–every hair cut with microscopic precision– at Toronto's Coupe Bizarre, from a girl with a half-shaved head and barbell studs in her face.

2. Sit in a nearby coffee shop and see a few heads, before and after. Notice whether a woman leaves with that "looking gooood" bounce in her step. Maybe book a manicure there and take a good look around. If they're turning the chairs in 20 minutes you are likely not going to get personal attention and a precise cut.

3. Be wary about online reviews; there is a good deal of shilling and slagging in the gossipy, competitive hair world.

4. The time-honoured advice of finding someone with a great cut and asking who did it? Meh.

The stylist who's great for one may be only mediocre for you. Some stylists have biases, so everybody gets layered bangs. Others stylists can be inconsistent or simply lose interest in their work; some rest on their reputations. I prefer someone up and coming, not yet a star, who still has juice for the job.

Similarly, portfolios on the salon's web site are not perfect predictors either, or the creator may be long departed.

5. Make sure you see the stylist first, rather than booking by phone. If he or she has an unflattering cut or crummy colour, make any excuse to get out of there. Women with curls: if the stylist picks up thinning shears, run.

Some salons offer an initial consultation for a minimal fee; the cut is not done then, but you can discuss ideas and let your radar sweep over the place.

6. Pay attention to the product lines they sell. The better the products on offer, the more likely the salon benefits from regular seminars offered by these companies.

7. Finally, resist loading the stylist with too much baggage. It's OK to mention that you abhor short bangs or don't want your ears showing, but a good stylist is an artist first. Let him or her have some creative freedom; it's hair, not cosmetic surgery. As my stylist friend Ingrid said, "We've seen thousands of heads, you've seen one."

I only told Laurie that I don't want to blow out or chemically straighten my curly hair. She revised the shape, an improvement subtle to the world but appreciated by me. 

Isn't that what we all want: a great cut we can manage ourselves, rain or shine?


RoseAG said…
I have had good luck asking women I see all the time at the YMCA who does their hair.

If their cut looks good after a workout I know it's been cut well. If they're regulars at the "Y" they most likely live in my neighborhood and are less likely to be shelling out more than I'm willing to spend. I know that hair is important but I'm not going to spend over XX amount for a cut.

Since everybody is all sweaty and in workout wear it doesn't seem to personal to ask where they have their hair done.
Rubi said…
The one source for online reviews that I'd recommend is -- since we curlies need special love in the stylist's chair, I find that the reviews are much more accurate.

On the reverse, if you're a person who loves her stylist, tell your friends. I've got a stack of my stylist's cards that I hand out (judiciously).
Susan B said…
One of the very best haircuts I've ever had was at a "coiffeur" type salon where the stylists and clientele were all older Puerto Rican women. We're talking curlers and rows of bonnet dryers. I was out of town and badly needed a cut, and went there on the recommendation of the hotel concierge. I still dream about that haircut.

I tend to switch stylists when I feel they're starting to "phone it in" or stop giving input. I hate it when a stylist says "what do you want?" and expects you to tell them *exactly* how you want your hair cut, without offering any opinions or suggestions. I feel that part of what I'm paying for is expertise and a knowledge of what will work with my hair and be flattering.

My current colorist/stylist is a freelancer, and we've worked out a deal where he comes to the house on a weekend or evening. That way le monsieur can also get his hair cut while my color processes, and we don't have to factor in drive time or find babysitters.
coffeeaddict said…
This post is a must read for anyone considering changing their hairdresser. I also love the way you arranged your priorities ;-)
Where I come from, we don't have that many options: a few renown salons who really do take the effort to continually invest in their hairdressers' education and a lot of local shops who still practice what they learned decades ago. As a child and a teen these were the only places I knew and they didn't have the first idea on how to tackle my thick wavy hair. For the past 10 years I've been going to one of the top salons in the country and it's not cheap by Slovene standards but it's worth every cent. My hairdresser is a young girl and I believe I was one of her first clients. She and I have build a solid relationship over the years and I have absolute confidence in her.
materfamilias said…
I love your priorities! This would be tops on my list as well -- otherwise it's a long commute back to the old stylist!
I was lucky enough, in the first few weeks after we moved here many years ago, to read a local paper's article about a young hairstylist, just out of school, who'd won a National Award. He's since gone on to win many of them, throughout the years when he was my stylist. Eventually, he got so busy that I switched to another stylist in his studio, and then I followed her to her own. The idea of having to do this all again is not pleasant, but you set out some very helpful approaches. Good to hear how well you're settling in to your new home.
Susan Tiner said…
Excellent advice. I hope you find the perfect stylist for you soon. I know I wouldn't like having to figure this out all over again -- it's such an important relationship!
Jill Ann said…
Oh, the curse of the curls! I have fairly curly hair, which I sometimes wear curly and sometimes blow dry; so my cut needs to accommodate both. My current stylist doesn't really "get" curly hair, which is odd considering she has a daughter with curls. I have one daughter with thick wavy hair, and another with tight curls. The curly one, who is 18, has learned to love her curls, and has a long sideswept mass of curls, which I think is quite glamorous (when she doesn't have it in a ponytail!) I'm just so glad she's gotten over wishing for straight hair, since when your hair's that curly, it's really pointless to try to straighten it. But it's hard for a teenager to stand out from the crowd!
Duchesse said…
RoseAG: You are indeed lucky; I have had mixed results for the reason described.

Rubi: I had one of the worst cuts of my life at a much-lauded salon devoted to curlies- YMMV.

une femme: That is so true (for me, anyway)- the "Gran Goggles" I wrote of earlier go on. Sometimes there are other reasons, they just hit a slump. That old school salon sounds like a real experience!

coffeeaddict: When you find THE One, hang on to her! But sometimes one moves.

materfamilias: That's a great principle and I had not thought of it: follow a noble lineage. Great stylists can spot talent in others ; they hire them or can refer you.

Susan Tiner: Please read the second sentence of the post. I *have* found her.
I hope that my stylist will continue to do my hair...she has recently been diagnosed with cancer and will be off work for 6 weeks ate the meantime I am going to one of the gals in the salon where she works.

I think that tip about asking people with hair styles that you like is a good one.

Was it difficult finding a new doctor?
Mardel said…
I like your priorities.

A stylist will be one of my top priorities when I move. Loosing my long-time stylist is one of the things I will miss when I move, and it has been over 25 years since I have had to find a new stylist.
Duchesse said…
hostess: I am sorry to hear that.

Actually I said that asking people with hair styles you like is *not a foolproof idea*. ("Meh" indicates skepticism, not endorsement.)

I have not yet found a doctor; everyone I ask either has one who is not taking new patients or has none at all. But we have a family member who can help.
Beryl said…
You are so right about curls thinning shears!
Beryl said…
""Meh" indicates skepticism, not endorsement."
Not familiar with this term. Is that a foreign language or an East Coast convention?
Nancy said…
@Beryl: Re "meh," the answer is neither. It's a Simpsons-ism. And in 2008 it was voted into the Collins English Dictionary. More here:
Duchesse said…
Beryl: Nancy got there first; it helps to have teen-to-twenties under your roof.
Tiffany said…
I've given up looking for that 'special' stylist, having had so many awful experiences, but I think your advice is excellent. I've stopped dyeing my hair and am keeping it ultra-short (beyond pixie). Oddly, I feel more like me ... Although some people are flummoxed by my choice.
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: Even if our hair is super-short, there are differences from stylist to stylist. (I wore my hair like yours for a decade or so). Some cut it merely 'short-short', others were able to create a more graceful frame with a few details.
LPC said…
Get this. Since I am now growing my hair all one length, and letting it go gray I have switched from my fabulous Maiden Lane salon to SuperCuts. Culture shock! I'd been with Christian for over 5 years. Best hair person I ever had. I only hope I can return to him at some point.
Duchesse said…
LPC: Is it that you think you do not require much intervention during the growing? Will you be going back to him? Does he know why you left?

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