How do I keep the salon from making my haircut too femme?
August 18, 2014 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm a mid-twenties woman who grows her hair out long and cuts it all off every few years. Tomorrow I'm cutting it all off again. How do I get the stylist to respect my masculine haircut wishes?

My hair is about shoulder length and pretty blunt, and tomorrow I'm going to have it cut ear-length or shorter. I've gone through that drastic change several times now, though it's been three years or so, so I know I like it and am looking forward to it.

The problem is, that while my personal style is somewhere between "active tomboy" and "unfashionably lazy", I read as pretty straight, and the stylists always seem to take this as an invitation to femme up the haircut I ask for with feathering or pointy sideburns or whatever. I like masculine short hair, though, and don't appreciate this "help".

What are some key haircutting terms I should know for men's hair? Should I just bring reference pictures of men wearing the haircut I want? Can I just say, "don't make it too feminine"?
posted by hollyholly to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't go to a salon?

Go to a barber shop or to a queer-friendly alt-type place where the stylists are all tattooed.

It'll be cheaper, too.

Should I just bring reference pictures of men wearing the haircut I want?
Pictures always help.
posted by phunniemee at 11:44 AM on August 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


Bring in pictures of examples you like, like on your tablet or phone. It's best if they are workable with your hair's texture. I recently brought in pictures of things I DON'T like at all and reviewed them with my stylist. And that seemed to really reinforce the DO pictures.
posted by mochapickle at 11:45 AM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bring pictures, for sure. It's actually probably more helpful if you bring pictures of women wearing the haircut you want, as they will probably still try to femme it up if their reference is men. And be explicit that you're looking for a masculine style, not-too-feminine haircut.

Without explicit instruction, they're going to default to what most people want, and that tends to be gender normative, so be as explicit as possible.
posted by brainmouse at 11:46 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to a barber shop or to a queer-friendly alt-type place where the stylists are all tattooed.

+1. Better yet, ask your queer and gender-nonconforming friends who they see, and go there. Sure, you'll look like all your friends, but that's better than being misgendered and looking like someone other than yourself.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can say anything you want as long as it isn't disrespectful or biogted. You are paying for a service.

Pictures are never a bad idea, because pointing at the air or holding bits of your hair this way and that are vastly open to misinterpretation. Point at the picture and say "I want this. For real like this, though, I don't want it girlied up."
posted by Lyn Never at 11:47 AM on August 18, 2014

Oh girl, I feel your pain. It drives me craaaaazy when they try to soften the edges and feather the sideburns and all that jazz. Pictures can help, and being willing to ask for extra trimming at the end of the appointment helps, too. Don't know where you are, but if you're in NYC and want a stylist who will truly listen on this topic, I have a name for you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2014

There are tons of tumblrs and pinterest boards dedicated to masculine haircuts on women - springs to mind. Definitely bring pictures.

Ask specifically for someone who is used to giving clipper cuts.

I've had to use statements like "No, I want it this short" (hold fingers apart). "No, like a boy." "No, cut around the ears."

If they don't cut it short enough, make 'em keep going. Be assertive and you will get what you want.
posted by desjardins at 11:51 AM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Most people don't do such drastic length changes I think too-- that might be part of it. Do mention that you've done the chop before and are looking forward to it.

And yeah, pictures and lots of words.
posted by travertina at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also: whether you're queer or not, it will help if you dress in a way that reads unambiguously "lesbian," that way they're not thinking you're a straight-girl-tomboy (even if you are, this will help you get a manlier cut).
posted by desjardins at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Photos will always trump verbal descriptions. Bring in a couple of photos of exactly what you want and tell your stylist that you're looking for a more masculine cut and don't want it femmed up.
posted by quince at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2014

Bring photos. Personally I go to a guy at jc penny salon of all places. He's not phased by me going in to get a pixie from shoulder length hair. Then just this weekend we buzzed the sides and back.

Take in pics, even those of guy's cuts you like. Try to get a guy stylist or ask for someone who routinely does men's cuts. (Again a barber could be good as others have said.)
posted by Crystalinne at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found that it helps to remember that stylists are trying to make sure you leave happy and that a lot of women get really upset about "bad" haircuts. So pictures definitely help as does using your hands to indicate shape and length. But I think what best helps is assuring the stylist you know what you're asking and that yes, really, you'll be happy with the cut.

I find it useful to say things like "I know it's [boyish, not the current style, unusual, whatever--personally, I use "dated to my days"] but I really like to have my hair [cut in this manner]"--this shows the stylist that you know you are asking for something that's not the usual "make me look like this actress" request that they often get.

It's also okay when the haircut is finished to ask if things can be corrected or tweaked to match what you hand in mind better. Then tip well!
posted by crush-onastick at 12:02 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you bring photos of yourself with previous masculine cut?

Stylists are afraid of displeasing a client. If they see that you've done it before, they won't be afraid that you won't like it, since they are now assured that you really know what you are asking for, and aren't just in a bad mood looking to chop it all off.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do you have any pictures of you with the short haircut you like? This will have the benefit of showing exactly what you want while also assuring the stylist that yes, you've done it before and no, you're not going to freak out when it's done.
posted by sfkiddo at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2014

Ha, jinx St. Peepsburg!
posted by sfkiddo at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this is about 50% clarity in communication and 50% choosing the right place to get your hair cut.

On the clarity side, don't be shy to say "don't make it too feminine" or "I like masculine short hair", and definitely ask for changes if you're not happy with how it looks at the end. (If you're worried about taking up their time, don't--it took me about 5 minutes to cut those pointy sideburns off at home that one time, it will take the stylist like 5 seconds.) If you don't realize it looks too feminine until you get home, you could probably even go back and ask for a quick tweak, especially at a place that offers free bang trims.

I also read as straight, even though I'm not straight and even when I'm doing my best not to read straight. I always feel more comfortable getting my hair cut--and am usually happier with the result--when I go to a queer stylist or a queer-friendly/alternative salon. Those stylists actually believe me when I tell them I'm not going to spend any time on my hair, and fuss less about a drastic cut. I really recommend that if it's an option in your location.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:15 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

barbershop! i hate it when they make it look feminine after ive just explained i dont want it to and i haven't wanted it to in a while...
posted by zdravo at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2014

i always start every haircut by saying, "i'm not terribly attached to hair - i've shaved it all off a number of times." this seems to help some - still, when i tell them i want to go from hair past the middle of my back to a short bob, the hairstylists always blanch. i just keep insisting that's the style i want and showing them pictures - and not only what i do want, but i got one bob i really didn't like a while back and so i now also show that picture, "not this!"
posted by nadawi at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2014

It sounds pretty clear that you want a man's haircut so I would use those words. "I want a man's hair cut (show photos). I want my hair to look like a man."

Saying not femme to me sounds like you still want them to adapt the cut to you. If you really want them to stick a mens cut on your head. Tell them that.
posted by saradarlin at 12:24 PM on August 18, 2014

Go to a student salon (like a beauty school), ask for a student learning men's haircuts, and then tell them exactly what you want (pictures help too). Students are new enough that they still listen to clients, instead of second-guessing them, and they will be THRILLED to have someone come in who wants a real, drastic change, and not just a trim. Then, just keep saying, "Oh, I love it, but could we go even shorter?"

Bonus: It will be cheaper, too.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I go to a barber and I say "I want a man's haircut" and then I show them a photo of a man with the haircut I want. A manly man, with a beard. I say "If I could grow this beard, I would, but I can't and I'd like this man's haircut anyhow. Use clippers. Thank you. I know it's a slightly odd request."

If I lived in a bigger place, I'd scour Yelp for places that do boygirl haircuts or that advertise as queer-friendly. Once you find a person you like, never let them go.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have your exact same trouble. For me, the thing that has consistently worked the best is dressing consistent with the haircut I want, not the haircut I have. Even if it means a trip to the thrift store for a new outfit. The second best thing is going to a hairdresser with tattoos and an alt look. She actually trusts me to know what I want.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:37 PM on August 18, 2014

I have the same problem, and live somewhere that queer hairdressers, etc, are nonexistent. So I walk in, sit down, and tell them that I would like short hair, and I would like to look as much like a stereotypical lesbian as possible. Sometimes I also have a photo of a (men's) haircut as reference, but the lesbian request has, nine out of ten times, resulted in far better haircuts than anything else I've done.
posted by MeghanC at 4:10 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been in your boat, to a degree - I want short cuts that can read as queer but don't read as butch or masculine, generally. Here are things that have helped me not get a fussy too long for me femme cut:

  • If my hair has gotten longish, make it clear that I've done this before and I'm waaaay comfortable with short cuts.

  • Relatedly, mentioning that one time when I went to a barber shop and told them to buzz it to something manageable for a 3 week camping vacation, and had shorter than an inch long hair and it was perfect for how little showering I was doing, wooooo!

  • Mentioning that I do not style my hair. Ever. I mention this cheerfully and upfront, like "I spend zero minutes on my hair in the morning and I don't intend to ever change that, so I want to make sure this haircut works for my lifestyle." This also helps dissuade any product-pushing, later.

  • Using the word "edgy" a lot when describing the look I'm going for. Like, much more than I believe my current haircut warrants. Edgy. Edgy. Say it repeatedly. I don't read as edgy at all, imo, but no one has ever taken this to mean they should start shaving an entire side of my head or anything.

  • Sometimes if I'm in a big town, I talk about how hard it was to find someone who did edgy cuts in $SmallTown. Especially if I'm not dressed to fit their conception of who wears this kind of haircut, as desjardins alludes to.

  • The person cutting my hair should have a beard or tattoos or both.

  • In your case, if you really are looking for an unfussy or military style dude cut, I would just go to a barber shop and be done with it. If you want something more stylistically complex but masculine-reading, that's a communication challenge, but otherwise, be directly, bring a picture & don't sweat it so much?
    posted by deludingmyself at 5:03 PM on August 18, 2014

    Oh! Also, after reading your question again and the responses, I'd note that it's actually hard to tell how masculine you're looking for. There's a whole spectrum of haircut gendering, so if you say "not too feminine," you could get really different results depending on the stylist, even if they think they're hearing you right. I mean, I say that, and I still want people to feather my sideburns some. I can't tell from your question whether you want a straight men's haircut, or just closer to that than people normally give you. So yes to bringing pictures, and yes to pointing out what it is you like about them: "See the way the sideburns aren't tapered? I definitely want that." Specificity is your friend when combating default haircut assumptions.
    posted by deludingmyself at 5:08 PM on August 18, 2014

    Just explain yourself firmly: "I want a man's haircut. I don't want a coquettish girly version of a man's haircut. I want an actual haircut that you would give to a man and send him out into the world with. Please cut my hair just as though I were a male customer. I am absolutely not going to get upset at you for making me look too mannish. Just the opposite. Now, here is the style I'm going for..."
    posted by 256 at 5:39 PM on August 18, 2014

    I have had this problem. "I want a men's haircut, not a women's haircut" has worked just fine for me.
    posted by zug at 5:49 PM on August 18, 2014

    It worked! I wore more masculine clothes than normal, I took in a picture of a dude wearing my haircut, I said "please make it masculine, don't feather it or anything", and it worked out great. My previous attempts, which were just bringing in pictures of women wearing masculine haircuts and saying nothing about gender, were not nearly that successful, and this was no more trouble. Thanks guys!
    posted by hollyholly at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

    Yay! Can we see a picture of your awesome new haircut?
    posted by 256 at 3:12 PM on September 17, 2014

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