How to Get the Look You Want at the Hair Salon

Natasha Burton
Tyler Olsen / Getty Images

Tyler Olsen / Getty Images

Knowing what hair cut or color you want is one thing—but actually trying to describe that look to your stylist? Not always easy. Sure, photos can help but the type of photos and the way you explain the style you desire can make all the difference, to you and to the pro creating the look.

To make sure that you leave the salon perfectly satisfied every time, we asked stylists to share what they wish clients would say (and do!) when talking about the style they want to achieve. Use this cheat sheet the next time you visit the salon.

 1. Don’t use hairstyle lingo.
According to Noelle Spinosa, who’s owned three salons in the Boston area for nearly 25 years, managing and understanding client expectations is the biggest hurdle stylists face. And she actually advises against clients trying to adopt salon or stylist-type wording in order to communicate your needs as clearly as possible.

“Don’t use ‘hairstylist lingo’ when describing a cut or style,” she says. “Using terms such as ‘a graduated bob hairstyle’ to me means exactly that, but to a client it may mean something entirely different.”

2. Bring more than one photo.
To help your stylist understand what you want, bring in multiple visuals says Phil Mania, owner and stylist at Mania Hair Studio. “There may be a common theme in different looks that I see that you don’t,” he explains. “Visuals provide a level playing field of communication. They are powerful tools.”

As far as what angles to look for when choosing photos, Cutler Salon stylist Armond Hambrick says he appreciates when the image is from the front with all the of the hair pulled forward, or a diagonal of the profile so you can see how the style sits in front and behind the shoulders.

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3. Show a video of the style if you can.
A picture does not necessarily have all the angles and can be retouched, filtered, and otherwise altered (especially on Pinterest), Spinosa says. “Instead, bring a video of the look you want to achieve,” she advises. YouTube hair styling videos or even runway shows will provide plenty of inspiration, and you can play them right on your phone.

4. Point to exactly how long (or short!) you want your hair to be.
When it comes to length, it’s better to actually show your stylist where you want your hair to fall, rather than talking in inches or using vague terms like “just a trim.” “Use your hands to describe the length and style,” Spinosa says. “Be clear as to the length of your hair.”

5. Compare the color you want to something concrete.
Being specific about your color not only helps you narrow down the look you want, it really helps your stylist understand your vision. “Linking hair color explanations to foods, drinks, and objects is a great way to describe what you want,” says hair and makeup artist Lena Shkreli. If, for example, you want to go red, distinguish whether you’re envisioning a fire engine red or merlot red.

6. Be realistic.
Cutler Salon colorist Elizabeth Hiserodt says it’s crucial that clients choose cuts and colors that suit them. “If your inspiration comes from someone with thick, wavy hair and highlights, but you have fine, straight hair, know that the color won’t look exactly the same,” she says. “Different textures and thicknesses will change how the color complements the hair.”

Skin color will also affect how your color looks, she says: “Considering the undertones in your skin—yellow, pink, or olive —is crucial. Not all tones can wear all types of hair color. Look for inspiration from women that generally have a similar skin tone to your own.”

7. Send looks and ideas in advance
George Gonzalez, owner of George the Salon Chicago, says that clients should always have their stylists’ email addresses and, if possible, should send ideas and inspiration prior to their appointments. “If a change of color or cut is what you are looking for, e-mail your stylist a detailed description and photos of what you want,” he advises. “Tell them when exactly your next appointment is so that your stylist can start to think about your future transformation.” That way, you are both on the same page before you sit down in the chair.

8. Remember that it’s up to you to make sure you’re being heard.
When you are in the salon, be sure to sit and discuss your hair before you get sent back to get shampooed, Gonzalez advises. “Make sure your stylist connects with you and understands your needs,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to say ‘No, that’s not what I mean.’ It is a stylist’s responsibility to understand your language and what you are describing when it comes to your hair.”

If you cannot clearly communicate with your stylist, he adds, someone out there will be willing to go the extra step to meet your needs and make you feel heard.

9. Take advice when it’s given.
That said, when stylists give you honest feedback on the style you want, it’s important to listen, Hambrick says—they’re experts, after all. “If they are urging you to reconsider bangs, it’s not because they don’t like cutting them, but because bangs don’t suit your face shape,” he explains. “At the end of the day, we want you to walk out of the salon happy!”

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