10 Tips for a Great Cut

We all have haircut horror stories. A light trim that turned out to be a 6-inch loss, ends so uneven your friends thought you cut them yourself. Or how about the stylist who gave you bangs without asking? Many people even hate the thought of walking into the salon and sitting down in that chair. It really shouldn’t be this way — unless you’re at the dentist, of course. Then you can go ahead and hate the dreaded chair.

The reason for all of this angst? Plain miscommunication. Okay, it’s true that some hairdressers really should have their scissors taken away, but more often than not, a bad haircut is caused by bad communication. What special powers do hairdressers possess that turn strong, opinionated women into meek, intimidated yes-men? Whether you’re at Vidal Sassoon or Supercuts, you are a paying client and you have to participate in the process to get the cut you want. You can’t expect them to read your mind, nor should you allow them to boss you around in the chair. Got it?

To make it easier, we’ve put together a list of 10 tips that will help you get a cut you love. A great haircut can make a world of difference in how you feel, so don’t just step into a salon like an innocent doe. Follow the steps below and you’ll get a great cut without spending hundreds of dollars for an appointment with a celebrity stylist.

1. Find pictures before your appointment

Do your research ahead of time. Don’t go into a salon 20 minutes early so that you can find a picture of a style you like. Especially if you’re making a change, you need a few days to think about it. Buy a couple of hair magazines to find styles that will work for your hair. Your stylist will also need more than just one angle of the cut. If you can’t see the sides or back, find pictures of other cuts that are similar to what you want.

2. Know your hair type

Stylists are not miracle workers. If you have thick, curly hair for instance, Cameron Diaz’s shaggy layered ‘do is not going to work on you. But long layered styles like Debra Messing wears will. Magazines can tell you what type of hair works best for each cut. Is your hair thick or thin, fine or curly, wavy or straight, flat or frizzy? Read about the styles you’re not interested in too. You might find that they’re actually tailor-made for your type of hair. Have a back-up photo. If your hairdresser tells you that your hair just can’t be styled like the photo, have another style that you were considering.

3. Ask for stylist recommendations

Don’t just walk into a salon and sit down in the first available chair to get a cut. If you don’t have a stylist, or you’re not happy with the one you have, ask for recommendations. Friends, coworkers, anyone whose hair you really like. If you see someone at a party or on the street with a great cut, stop and ask them who cuts their hair. They’ll be flattered you asked.

4. Take in pictures

Lots and lots of pictures. Stylists need to see more than one angle. If you can only find one angle, take in additional pictures that capture elements of the style you want. Your stylists will get an idea of what you like. Pictures don’t have to come only from hair magazines. Magazines like People, US Weekly and Talk have lots of celebrity shots that are great for photos. (Ahem, you could also print out your faves from Beauty Riot’s celebrity hairstyle galleries, just sayin’.)

5. Don’t be intimidated

Whether you’re spending $20 or $100, it’s your money. The stylist is working for you and needs to treat you with respect. If a stylist is full of attitude and doesn’t seem to be listening to what you’re saying, call him or her on it. Simply say, “I’m sorry, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I don’t feel like you’re listening to what I’m saying. While I appreciate that you know more about hair than I do, I really don’t want an asymmetrical hair cut.” Be polite, but be firm. If you still get a bad vibe, get out of the chair. Just because you made an appointment doesn’t mean you have to stick around and pay for the pleasure of being insulted.

6. Know what you want

Hairstylists are not mind readers. Don’t sit in a chair and say, “Whatever you think is best.” Know what you want. Listen to a stylist’s recommendations. He or she can tell you if your hair is capable of achieving a style, how difficult it is to maintain, etc. But ultimately you have to say yes or no to the suggestions. No one is going to secretly cut a bald patch in your hair just because you said no. Stylists welcome communication from clients.

7. Ask questions

If a stylist suggests bangs, ask why. It could be that you have a really high forehead and the stylist is trying to gently suggest ways that you might look better. It could just be a whim. Ask for an opinion of the pictures you’ve brought in for your hair. Ask how difficult it will be to style, if it’s high-maintenance or low, what tools and products you will need, etc. If it looks like more is being cut off than you wanted, ask the stylist to stop and explain what he or she is doing. Don’t just sit there. Participate in the process.

8. Take notes

Take something to write down the techniques your stylist used so that you can duplicate the look at home. Did she use a large round brush or a small round brush? Did he hold the hair under or over the brush when he blew it out? What did she put on your hair before she started styling it? What did she put on afterwards? Ask and write it down.

9. Compromise

If your stylist is telling you that your hair just can’t do what you’re asking, you should probably believe it. Stylists are trained and licensed to cut hair and they have no reason to steer you wrong. After all, if you look good, they look good. Talk to your stylist about what she thinks would be good for your hair, have her show you some pictures, and ask her about how you would style it. If you don’t feel comfortable with the suggestions, get a light trim, do some more research and find another stylist.

10. Tip! Tip! Tip!

The standard tip for a haircut is 15 percent. Hairdressers have to pay chair rental fees and only get a percentage of each cut. So like waiters, they rely on their tips as part of their income. If you stiff your hairdresser, he will remember. The next time you go in he might not have as much time spend with you or he’ll simply do what you ask, even if it’s a bad idea for your hair. If you aren’t happy with the cut, let your hairdresser know immediately. Is it what you asked for and it just doesn’t look good on you? Or did she goof and not give you what you wanted? If it’s the latter, ask her to fix it.