Advice for going to the hairdresser
May 29, 2013 11:23 AM   Subscribe

If you've got curly hair, can you explain to me your process for going to the hairdresser and coming out with a haircut you like?

I'm a 30 year-old woman with medium-long, curly hair. The same hairdresser cut my hair from elementary school until 4 years ago, when I moved so far away that I couldn't go to her regularly anymore. I never had to explain anything to her because she knew me so well: I would go in and say, "I would like it trimmed, please," and she would do her thing, and at the end it would look good enough to wear down when I wanted (that picture is from the last time she cut my hair when I was home for Christmas).

So I know what I want as an end result: a normal-looking haircut, where my hair is still a medium-length, and where I don't end up looking like a mushroom, or an A-frame house, or an overly-coiffed poodle. But I have no idea what you have to do to achieve that end, so I can't explain it to a new hairdresser, and so that's what keeps happening to me. Incidentally, they also keep telling me how I can make my hair curlier, which always makes me feel like we've stepped into an alternate universe. Anyway, I've been wearing my hair in a ponytail for the better part of 4 years, and I'm getting a little tired of it.

So how do you explain to a hairdresser what you want? What words am I missing? What strategies?
posted by colfax to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Step one: Go to and look at the reviews in their Salon Finder to make sure you're getting stylist that knows what to do with curly hair.
posted by Andrhia at 11:25 AM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A-frame house, or an overly-coiffed poodle.

This sounds like an issue with layers or a lack thereof. It looks like in your picture your hair is cut longer at the front, shorter at the back with a few light layers toward the middle back - kind of like a graduated bob. I had my hair like this for a long time when I wore it naturally curly (and mine is much curlier than yours, it doesn't have the straight bit at the top before it starts curling.)
posted by sweetkid at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2013

I go to the Aveda Institute. We have an indepth discussion of my hair, what I like about it, what makes me crazy and exactly what I want it to do.

"I blow it out on a round ceramic brush, but in humidity I get a halo of flyaways. I'd like to wear it curly some days, but I like it to be versitile. Here are some pictures. I like fullness in the crown and sometimes I actually wear a 'bump it', totally uncool, right?"

Then just to make sure the student has it, the instructor will come over and the student will explain what he/she plans to do. Here's the good part, the instructor will then advise the student of the proper technique and some issues that the student may encounter. I'll remember my cowlicks and say, "I part my hair here because of a cowlick and there are two in the back.

Everyone tells me how cute the haircut is. I pay $15.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:29 AM on May 29, 2013

I've got curly hair as well and my very best haircut advice is to what Andrhia says and find someone who knows curly hair. Go to that person with clean, dry hair so they can see exactly how it falls naturally. And then, show them pictures of what you're thinking. Pictures explain everything a lot better than words.

When I tell a hairdresser I want a cross between Shakira and Gisele hair, I have a totally different idea than what they have.

When I show them a picture and ask if they can do something like that, I usually end up pretty satisfied. Also, hairdressers will tell you that they like pictures.
posted by kinetic at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2013

Best answer: where I don't end up looking like a mushroom, or an A-frame house, or an overly-coiffed poodle. But I have no idea what you have to do to achieve that end

"Long layers."

If you can find a hairdresser that specializes in curly hair, on or yelp, that will help. Otherwise, take in a ton of pictures of what you want your hair to look like. I use k8t's pinterest page from an AskMe earlier this year, which has short and medium styles.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:35 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yup, you totally need to go to somebody who knows how to cut curly hair. Use the Salon Finder that Andrhia suggested, or just find a few people with curly hair whose haircuts you like and ask them where they got theirs done.
posted by ourobouros at 11:36 AM on May 29, 2013

Best answer: Hi fellow curly haired person! :) I have almost waist-length layered curly hair and this is the story of my life. After many horrible haircuts in which hairdressers ignored my requests and gave me mushroom cloud mullets and horrible, horrible bangs, I now am the bossiest person ever when it comes to my hair. Here's what I do now to ensure that I have a decent haircut these days.

When I make an appointment, I insist that whoever works on my hair be someone who is legitimately versed in working with curly hair to begin with. Some salons will try to tell you that all their stylists are good at working with curly hair. This is a lie. Ask who typically works with curly-haired clients more often than their coworkers and go to them. Check Yelp before you go and see whether or not the salon has good reviews for that particular stylist. Get there early and see how that stylist works with their clients. I even sometimes aim for a stylist who has nicely styled curly hair themselves as they can relate when I tell them about all the horrible haircuts I've had in my lifetime.

Next, I remind myself and the stylist of what can and cannot be done to my hair. For me, this has to do with the overall style that I want (long, face-framing layers cut when my hair is straight and dry so it'll be the right length when it's curly) and the tools that cannot be used to work with my hair (razors, thinning shears, boar bristle brushes, and volumizing mousses and conditioners). Armed with a few reference photos of people whose haircuts and face shapes are compatible or analogous with mine, I typically say the following when I'm just sitting down with a stylist (yes, it's long):
"As you can tell, I have layered, curly hair, and as such certain tools and products cannot be used during my haircut. Please do not use razors, thinning shears, boar bristle brushes, or volumizing mousse, and please only cut my hair when STRAIGHT and DRY since when my hair curls the haircut is going to end up substantially shorter. I need to see what it will look like if I process it, which I likely will. Also, here is a picture of what I would like today: lots of long, face-framing layers. Please do not cut off more than X inches unless we talk about it first. Thanks!"
Then I relax and hope for the best. I'm finding that it's really okay to be bossy about this. This is our hair, after all. :) Good luck! If you are in San Diego or Los Angeles, I can recommend a few stylists I trust to you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:45 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I only have wavy hair, not curly... but what I did to find a curl-friendly hairdresser was just look for friends and acquaintances with good curly haircuts and ask them who I should go to. I found a really great hairdresser that way.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:49 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dear fellow curly haired person, I feel your pain after many, many years of going to hairdressers who really did not get my hair, and left me looking silly at best. (Prize for this goes either to the person who gave me a "gypsy shag" or the one that thought an Afro was best for me.)

What finally worked was . . . finding a very well reviewed hair dresser who had curly hair themselves. Last time I looked I used CitySearch and Yelp. I've been delighted with the hairdresser I found.
posted by bearwife at 11:51 AM on May 29, 2013

P.S. -- when I find said hairdresser, I share a bit of my hair experience, explain that brushes, combs, blow driers, etc. are guaranteed frizz producers and hence shouldn't ever be used, and ask for their thoughts.

Also, memail me if you are in the Seattle area for my hairdresser info.
posted by bearwife at 11:57 AM on May 29, 2013

In addition to Aveda, the DevaCurl directory is also good, and where I found my stylist.

My stylist cuts my hair dry, taking each curl individually and cutting it. No brushes, razors, or thinning shears. It takes awhile but looks incredible.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have hair nearly identical in curliness to yours.

She drives three hours each way to get to the nearest hairdresser who knows how to cope with curly hair. She found this person on this "Curly Stylist Finder". (Incidentally those Deva products are really good.)

I'm not willing to spend six hours in a car just to get a haircut, so I finally just gave up and learned to cut my own. It's actually much easier than cutting straight hair, it's just that the way to do it is completely different from how hairdressers are taught to cut straight hair: cut it while dry, pick up individual hunks of curls and trim the end, repeat until done. The only difficult bit is doing the back of the neck by feel, but if you're staying medium-length you won't have to worry as much about that as I do.
posted by ook at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just FYI these curly specialists (especially those trained at Devachan etc) can be very expensive, but they tend to be perfectly happy to give you a haircut that will last 4-6 months.
posted by cushie at 12:01 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have similar hair, perhaps not quite as curly. I tend to have the same problems that you do when I choose to wear my hair curly, unless I've gotten it cut just so. I've recently found that the key for me is 1. Explaining I predominately wear my hair curly, but would like to be able to wear it straight as well. 2. Explaining that I do not wish to look like a triangle, and as such need layers. I keep trying to describe them as "chunky" layers, but that doesn't translate well into stylist speak, so I usually say I need layers starting high up and continuing down the length of my hair. I have really fine hair (although it is thick), so I need the layers to make sure all my hair doesn't weigh down in the ends and make me look like a pyramid. It looks like your hair may be similar to mine. Also if there aren't enough layers my hair won't curl as nicely. Typically I've found that when I spell out everything, the stylist will give me close to what I want. But mostly layers. yes. layers.
posted by Quincy at 12:04 PM on May 29, 2013

Step one: Go to and look at the reviews in their Salon Finder to make sure you're getting stylist that knows what to do with curly hair.

This is really really the most important step. There are tons of very good (and very expensive) hair stylists out there who have no idea what they are doing when it comes to curly hair.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:12 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Getting the layers right is what you need to avoid the weird poodle/triangle shape issue. Just tell your stylist that you want layers that will not give your hair a weird shape. Also, when you first go, go with your hair down in its natural state, so your stylist knows what the default state of your hair is. And don't be afraid to let your stylist know what you know won't work for your hair.

In my experience, the difference between a really good stylist for curly hair and an adequate one is how the haircut grows out. I got a great haircut in February, and usually I'd start getting annoyed with the shape of my hair as it grows out about two months later. Almost four months later though, and I'm still pleased with the shape it's grown into. If you're in LA, I can recommend the one I went to.
posted by yasaman at 12:24 PM on May 29, 2013

Adding to the chorus of voices telling you to find a curly-specialist stylist. Life is too short to have to explain the very concept of having curly hair to somebody you're paying for their supposed expertise in cutting hair. It's expensive, but it also tends to take at least twice as long as a standard cut for straighties does, so it's a fairly legitimate labor cost.

Before I started making sure to get someone with good reviews on, I would get people who'd swear up and down they had tons of experience cutting curly hair and knew how to do it well -- and then they'd say, "wait, but you're not going to straighten it?" FAIL.
posted by asperity at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2013

I have curly hair and have great luck with finding a picture online and taking it with me. Sounds like you want a medium length bob, so I would search google images for that.
posted by michellenoel at 12:55 PM on May 29, 2013

My hairdresser is full time in Sacramento, but works in San Diego sporadically, if either of those locations is near you. She only does curly hair.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:09 PM on May 29, 2013

I'm lucky that my curly-haired mom has been my hairdresser for the last 27 years... but not everyone is so blessed.

Echoing what everyone says above, you want steep layers to thin out the bottom instead of give you a triangle head. Steep layers also cuts a lot of the curl, which sounds like what you want?

Best of luck!
posted by stompadour at 1:32 PM on May 29, 2013

I love the stylist I found through the DevaCurl website and the haircuts are fantastic. I liked my old stylist- who even had curly hair herself!- and didn't want to switch. But I knew she wasn't cutting it right, so I did switch. It's like night and day, the difference. My hair is so much better-behaved when cut right. I live in a small college town, and we have several Deva-trained stylists in town, so you probably have some near you, too.

My sister and I went crazy for the DevaCurl stuff together. We both followed advice at first, with great results, but the DevaCurl products are so great. They're expensive, but they last and last. The haircuts are also expensive, but I only get my hair cut every three months, so the cost definitely works out over time, and the results are really noticeable.
Also, the Curly Girl Handbook is probably at your local library, and has a lot of good advice in it!
posted by aabbbiee at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing the advice to get a Deva cut. I was really resistant to the whole "patented system" cut (and to paying $100 for a cut), but seriously, since I've started getting Deva cuts my hair has never looked so good, nor grown out so well. In fact, because I like to alternate between long and short and my hair grows pretty quickly, I've found that one Deva cut can last me 6 months to a year and grow without the dreaded pyramid.
posted by TwoStride at 3:12 PM on May 29, 2013

In San Francisco, anyone at MaduSalon can make you look great. Feel free to MeMail me for my favorite.
posted by dame at 3:46 PM on May 29, 2013

I found my stylist by searching "curly hair" and "wavy hair" (two separate searches) in Yelp for my city.
posted by fozzie_bear at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Caveat - I have thick wavy hair, not curly.

If you can't find a recommended stylist for curly hair in your area you could try to find a more senior stylists in a good salon. The sort of person who can do a good job with most any hair presented to them. At least that works for me but as I said my hair is very heavy and wavy, not curly.

I find that I can't generally get the kind of hair cut I want from a more junior stylist, unless they are closely supervised whilst cutting my hair. They just don't seem to get just how much they need to thin out my hair and what to do with the layers given my waves and cowlicks or that I really mean it when I say I do not want to blow dry my hair, that I do not want to use more than one or two products and that I do not want to spend time having to style my hair and that I won't get it cut for again for 4months plus, now that it's quite long again. I was happy to have it cut every 4-6 weeks when it was shorter because of the no styling, blow drying and few products criteria.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:47 PM on May 29, 2013

Response by poster: Oh you lovely people! Thank you all so much! For the advice and for the descriptions of the hairstyle I want and for all of the offers for stylist reccomendations!
posted by colfax at 1:53 AM on May 30, 2013

I stop women in the street with hair similar to mine that looks good and ask where they got it cut and how much it costs. Everyone has always been very happy to share.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:07 PM on June 3, 2013

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