I am not my hair... but I'd like to at least be friends.
April 3, 2016 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Three or four times over the past four years, I have had the haircut of my dreams. But for reasons I genuinely don’t understand, no matter how many pictures I bring into the salon of what I’m after, it has been extremely difficult to keep getting the same haircut. So I turn to the hair professionals and other styling experts of Metafilter: please help me become fluent in stylist-speak so that I can explain exactly what I want!

Thanks up front for reading the saga.

My hair is pretty thick and fairly wavy (roughly 2B). For several years I wore it past my shoulders, with only minimal layering; before that, I mostly wore it in various long or short bobs. Four years ago, after my old stylist closed his salon, I decided to try something new. The first stylist I saw (selected based on excellent Yelp ratings) gave me My Dream Cut straight out of the gate: medium length, side-swept bangs, and layered it all over to play up the waves—basically what I would call a modern update of feathered hair. Examples here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (I realize that these are not all the identical haircut, but this is definitely the overall silhouette/style). It was easy to manage, looked great between washings, and got a ton of compliments. I was ready to be her client for life.

It was then, dear reader, that my troubles began. When I returned for a trim, the experience was bizarre: the stylist insisted that she’d never seen me before, got argumentative with me (and another client, fwiw) when I said I didn’t want to buy the book she was selling on liver detoxification (yes, really), and then hastily cut my hair into a random, choppy mess before rushing me out. Needless to say, I never went back.

Since then I estimate I’ve seen seven or eight different stylists. I’ve managed to get the cut I’m after maybe two or three times, but each time I returned to the same stylist for a trim—stressing how much I loved the previous cut and wanted to maintain it—they’d give me an entirely different cut. (I realize now that each time I had the right one, I should have taken a picture of myself for future reference, but I didn’t. Lesson learned!) Other stylists have just skipped straight to the wrong cut. These cuts tend to fall into three general categories: shags (1, 2, 3), bobs with slight layering (1, 2, 3) or some version of Jennifer Aniston in the ‘90s (1, 2). In February, my current stylist basically gave me this (which is halfway right!); when I went back yesterday and showed her the above pictures, she gave me something close to this.

I think one of the major problems is that—no matter what I say about it up front, and how I'd like it layered—stylists don’t seem to know how to deal with my hair’s thickness; either they underestimate the bulk of the under layer and cut it blunt or snip in some teensy layers (so my hair quickly turns into the dreaded puffy triangle as it grows out), or they overestimate it and thin/de-bulk it too much (so it winds up being very lank and scraggly, and takes ages to grow out).

I’ve had the right cut before, so I know that I’m not asking for something that’s impossible to attain with my hair texture or face shape. I’ve gotten $40 cuts and $85 cuts and $175 cuts. I’ve gone to hipster stylists in their 20s and established stylists in their 40s-50s. I've gone to stylists with reviews on Yelp that say they're experienced with wavy hair. I have a Pinterest board full of pictures of what I want, which I show to every stylist every time. I explain exactly what my styling routine is. And yet: here I am, having just shelled out $150 for yet another shag that makes me want to cry every time I look in the mirror, and which is going to take I don’t know how many months to grow out again. (No offense to anyone with a shag that they love, I’m sure it looks great on you.)

After four years of this (not to mention having spent thousands of dollars at this point), I am beyond frustrated and bewildered. I promise I am not some sort of diva or perfectionist or control freak. I am friendly, considerate, tip well, and the few times I’ve complained/asked to have a cut adjusted (either by the same stylist or a manager) I’ve been super grateful, tipped again, etc. I feel like I’m communicating what I want as clearly as possible, but obviously something is getting lost in translation. Please tell me the exact vocabulary I need to use in order to get what I want, so that there is absolutely no longer any question or confusion. (Also, if you think there’s an emergency haircut to get that will make this shag more bearable to grow out in the interim, I’m open to suggestions; at this point I'm tempted to get a short bob and just let it grow out for six months.)
posted by fizzyliftingdrink to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have the language but one thing I've done to solve this is, immediately upon getting home from a good haircut, take pictures of it with my phone from all sides, and keep those on my phone to show the stylist next time.

I realize this doesn't solve the immediate problem of how to get the next good haircut, but hopefully other responders will get you there
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:00 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you have nailed it with I think one of the major problems is that—no matter what I say about it up front, and how I'd like it layered—stylists don’t seem to know how to deal with my hair’s thickness -- I had long stretches where I was entirely resigned to lousy cuts for my fine hair. Even the odd good cut could seemed to be a stroke of luck; the same stylist could not duplicate it -- it might look similar but it would not style up as it had before. Sometimes I found somebody decent and they'd move away, or I would...

Finally I found a woman with hair just like mine and a fabulous cut. It was clear she had not fussed and spent time getting it to look fabulous; it was just quite, quite nicely cut. I asked.

So I've seen her stylist for about a decade now and haven't had a lousy cut since. He knows how to cut fine hair; he listens to "and I don't want to have to use products and fuss with it, wash and wear is wonderful," and all is well.

The only other thing beyond stopping a stranger on the street I would do is make clear that "either they underestimate the bulk of the under layer and cut it blunt or snip in some teensy layers (so my hair quickly turns into the dreaded puffy triangle as it grows out), or they overestimate it and thin/de-bulk it too much (so it winds up being very lank and scraggly, and takes ages to grow out)" and explain that you need a modest de-bulking. I would also bring in "don't want that" mistake photos, especially ones where you can point to them and say "This is what happens with a lot/too little removed."
posted by kmennie at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

medium length, side-swept bangs, and layered it all over to play up the waves

I hope someone comes along to this thread who has a professional background in hairstyling, because to me (not a hairstylist) that sounds about as specific as you can get. One thing I've learned with hair vocabulary is it's helpful to stylists who cut my hair when I'm clear about I you don't want (in my case, the dreaded curly hair triangle). What don't you like about this haircut or previous haircuts? You can mention that too.

Definitely take along pictures of celebrity haircuts you like. Find old pictures of yourself with the haircut you liked best and take those along too. When you next get a haircut you like, take loads of pictures both immediately after, and a few weeks after the initial cut, once the hair has "settled".

You didn't ask this, but I just wanted to add: Don't panic yet re: yesterday's unsatisfactory haircut. Hair always looks different when you have it "done" by a pro and settles down a little in the roughly 2 weeks after a haircut. You also figure out how best to style it. Don't rush to get an emergency haircut immediately following your cut yesterday... It will settle down and then you will really know what you're dealing with and have a better idea of whether you really need to get it re-cut or not. (I got my hair cut a week ago and was very happy with it, and am now dealing with extremely confused hair which looks different every day.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2016

Best answer: How about going to a stylist who works specifically with curly hair? They'll have a better idea of what to do with strong waves and thick hair than your average stylist. You should be able to find one on the recommendation section of naturallycurly.com
posted by MsMolly at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would also bring in "don't want that" mistake photos, especially ones where you can point to them and say "This is what happens with a lot/too little removed."

Oh, I should have mentioned: I definitely have been doing this too, for at least a year or two. It has seemed to help a little, but not a lot.
posted by fizzyliftingdrink at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2016

When I moved to CA, my hair changed dramatically, and I had a few years of salon hopping. Like you, I had the perfect cut/bad 2nd cut thing.

Eventually I found someone who didn't give me the perfect cut right out of the gate, but we did communicate well during the cut. Since I'm socially anxious, I went back just because I didn't dread the 30 minutes of small talk. I mentioned what I liked and didn't like about the previous cut.

It took a few tries to realize the difference between salon hair and I have to do it myself in the morning hair.. Partially because I wasn't a 6-8 weeks person. So planning for the extra growth was tricky. But we eventually found a perfect length for my wave.

That said, she really likes the poofy triangle for my face. But once we got the texture/weight fixed that my hair was genuinely wavy, I've come around to her way of thinking.
posted by politikitty at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2016

Response by poster: I will try not to thread-sit, and I thank everyone for their commiseration and battle stories! What I am really interested in is the terminology I can use when showing the correct cut so that a trained stylist will understand. For example, is there a specific name for the kinds of layers I want, and are there specific techniques and tools used to achieve this cut? Similarly, are there specific terms for the kinds of layers/techniques I am asking stylists to avoid? ("Modest de-bulking," mentioned above, is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for.)
posted by fizzyliftingdrink at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do your stylists cut your hair wet, or dry? Maybe ask for a dry cut? I also experienced inconsistent results when asking for layers in my somewhat wavy, somewhat thick hair with a number of different stylists/price points. My current stylist, who cuts my hair dry and follows/plays up my hair's natural wave, does a much more consistent job.
posted by Wavelet at 10:57 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

This xovain article is all about how to communicate with hair stylists, using the terminology they use.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 10:59 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you know what tools the successful cuts have used? In my case, I have had luck asking for razor cuts.

Another trick is if you have a salon product you like (for me, shampoo and conditioner), try looking for a place that uses that same product. I think that would be especially relevant if you use a daily product-- "I use Product X, the cut should work with that".
posted by nat at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2016

Best answer: Another article here.

I think talking too much about *specific* techniques might not be the way to go. A because hairdressers sometimes mean/understand different things by the same words, and B because there are some stylists who *can* deliver what you want using a technique other stylists haven't used well. (A lot of stylists have messed up my hair with wet cuts; the best cut of my life was done wet.) It's their job, I think it's sort of up to them to decide how to achieve what you want.

I'd focus on communicating, roughly, that you want long layers with the bulk / weight taken out all through, so that you've got movement all through, with some slightly shorter face framing layers.

I think, though, that even if you found the perfect words to use, whether the stylist will really hear you, agree with you (and not just do what they want), and be able to deliver are the real issues. Your pics should have been enough to communicate your desired cut. I think the stylist wound up giving you a shelf because they didn't know how to structure the cut, or blend the layers.

Weird that you had that experience with the amazing stylist. I had a good one who went on and on about toxins this and cleanses that... it's bad enough having to trust them with your hair without having to hear the equivalent of broscience :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi! I have your hair, and I always get it cut like you describe. It's HARD to find a stylist that knows how to do this. So I just tell them exactly how to do each part. Here is what I have them do:

1. DRY CUT. It must be dry cut. (If they won't do it, find someone else who will. It's too hard to judge how much bulk removal to do when the hair is wet.)

2. Part the hair from ear to ear across the back and cut it 1.5-2" shorter than the desired final length of the hair. Blend this in with vertical scissor cuts up to 1.5" above the cut line.

3. Cut the remainder of the hair to the desired length. Soften the cut edge with vertical scissor cuts and shape waves by trimming to points individually so they sit nicely, up to 2" above the cut line.

4. Remove the remainder of the bulk in the back and at the sides with DOWNWARD facing scissor cuts.

5. Starting from the crown, pick out a dozen or so individual 1-1.5" width sections (ideally using your natural waves as a guide) and trim up to an additional 4" above the final cut line. Trim to points individually.

6. Trim and blend in bangs.

7. Check for overall shape and sculpt out any remaining bulk with downward facing scissor cuts if needed.

If done correctly, this is essentially a wash-and-go style, as your waves will naturally stay together. It also grows out beautifully. If you're in the LA area, I can recommend a stylist that will do this for you.
posted by ananci at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Good advice above; I have a few things to add that you may find helpful.

For the dry length, based on your photos, I would point to the spot where your neck meets your shoulder. Then ask for the layers that start at mouth level. "Medium length" and "long layers" can be too subjective of terms, though why a stylist couldn't get it from photos is beyond me.

If I was trying to recreate those photos, I would cut three horizontal layers at high or 180-degree elevation for that awesome 70s shaggy look. (Though asking for this specifically could get, as one poster suggested, too technical).

Ananci's method is pretty sound for freeing texture in a modern way. The shorter underneath layer is a kind of undercut and the vertical cuts can also be called slide.

I don't 100% agree with the "must be cut dry" though; a shampoo is a way to get your hair back to a natural state, as opposed to the way it was styled. If it were me, I would cut the length guides dry when you pointed them out, shampoo and give you a nice relaxing head massage, comb out and proceed with the major cuts, gently diffuser dry with some awesome styling creme, do the surface slide cuts/texturizing/final adjustments around face and bangs. All to say a stylist who wants to give you a shampoo isn't necessarily wrong.

A note on your bad stylist experience: thinning bulk, layerizing, texturizing, etc. leaves alot of randomized lengths through the hair which become difficult to trim. I find the heavy texturizing has to skip haircuts if they are fairly frequent, or have a 6 month grow-out between. That said, this person sounds like no kind of good service provider; the proper response if she had given you the last cut would be to give it all a proportional trim calculated on the time between cuts, do some adjusting, explain what I just did but try and have you leaving satisfied.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Belated follow-up: I found a specialist in curly hair through naturallycurly.com (as MsMolly suggested) who said she could do exactly what cotton dress sock and ananci described. Victory!
posted by fizzyliftingdrink at 1:40 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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