100 Bad Haircuts
August 28, 2006 4:25 PM   Subscribe

How do you tell someone how to cut your hair?

(I am a male.) When I go to the barber/stylist, I never have a good answer for that inevitable question, "So, how would you like your hair cut today?" I am totally naive to hair cutting techniques, so my anemic answer, "a little of this, a little of that, not too much so and so" never gets me a satisfying haircut. On occasion I have shown a magazine picture to the person, and that has helped, but I feel like an idiot telling the person to make me look like Joe Supermodel.

I assume I could go to a pricey stylist and give them total control. But, assuming I want to spend $20-40 at a regular place, is there some way to figure out what I want and communicate it to the person with the scissors?
posted by Slarty Bartfast to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (40 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Just show them a picture of you, or someone else, that has your haircut.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:32 PM on August 28, 2006

I just tell them which size guard to use on the clippers (higher number = longer hair), because I keep my hair very short. If you want them to bust out the scissors, I think bringning the a picture in is fine. What's wrong with wanting to look good? This is *your* hair; any awkwardness at the barber lasts for a half-hour tops, but a crappy haircut lasts for weeks.
posted by CRM114 at 4:34 PM on August 28, 2006

Just take in a bunch of photos of hair styles you like, and ask if any of them are possible with your hair type. Tell them what you like about them, and give them permission to be creative.

You're not asking them to make you look like Joe Supermodel. You're telling them you like Joe Supermodel's hair because of X and Y, and you wonder if your hair could look like, or if there are other styles that would give you that X or Y look.

For example: I had straight long hair down to my rear (I'm a guy), and I decided it was time to go short. So I printed out a bunch of photos of Michael Shanks and told him that I felt okay with him cutting down to that length, and that I liked the spikiness, but didn't need to have it if my hair wouldn't do it.
posted by Laen at 4:42 PM on August 28, 2006

Splurge at least once for a good stylist, bring pictures, tell them what you like about the pictures. Don't worry about feeling silly (or at least just grin and bear it) -- you're getting a service from them, and you want to make sure you get the best possible service/value for your money. Tell them you don't know how to describe what you want, ask for advice and explanations. Listen carefully -- even write down what they say if that's the only way you can remember it. Don't be shy about asking lots of questions (you can leave a really good tip if you feel you've been annoying). Then, having received this education, you will then be in a much better position to tell a cheaper barber what you want. All in all, it's just an hour or two of embarassment and awkwardness for a lifetime's worth of better haircuts.
posted by treepour at 4:47 PM on August 28, 2006

Good question. I have this trouble myself.

Although I now go to the same hairdresser regularly enough that they've begun to know what I want.
posted by knapah at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2006

I had a really fabulous haircut once. As soon as I went home, I had someone take a picture of me from different angles. You might do that when YOU get a great cut. I agree with treepour: I really don't think you need to feel silly bringing pictures. I've never gotten any flack for that. Lots of people do it. Or find a friend who always has a nice cut and ask him for a recommendation.
posted by Lockjaw at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2006

My girlfriend's mom is a hairstylist, so when possible, I have her cut my hair. She sees me often enough, and knows how I like to have it. When I can't get to her, I bring a picture, like everyone else.

I see you're in Seattle. I have to plug my favorite place to go over here: Rudy's [I've gone to the U-District and Phinney ones; I think that there's another one somewhere else, too]. Everyone who works there has tattoos and/or piercings and/or weird hair, but they do a good job with my hair and they're reasonable - $17 bucks (I always leave a $3 tip and just call it twenty bucks). Plus, it makes this Taurus-driving, Gap-wearing square feel like a little more of a badass every month or so.

P.S. I can't neccesarily vouch for the quality of Rudy's for much more than a short men's haircut - it's definitely not going to compare to what you'd get at a high-priced salon. Still, a good pet for your money.
posted by rossination at 5:00 PM on August 28, 2006

I've found that this is much less of a problem with higher-priced (and presumably higher-quality) stylists. The last three good stylists I've gone to have asked this question and I've responded, "Thinned-out, tapered on the sides and a little shorter, but not too short on the top. I like the textured style from razor cuts." All three stylists did an excellent job--I only switched stylists when I moved to a different city. A couple times I've been crunched for time and had to find a place that would take a walk-in appointment. Both times in the last couple years this has resulted in bad haircuts. If they bust out the clippers to do anything but edges on the back of the neck, I know I'm in trouble.
posted by mullacc at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2006

I always get the same haircut, but usually from different haircutters. I find that telling them (a) that I want a "trim," and (b) how long it has been since my last haircut, they are able to tell what I'm looking for 9 times out of 10. By telling them how long your hair has been growing, they can imagine what it looked like back when it looked like you want. If your prior haircut was bad, you will of course need to be more descriptive about what you want.
posted by brain_drain at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2006

My only suggesteion is to spend a little for a medium priced place (Aveda isnt bad, and they give a student discount and so forth). I used to be proud of finding the last few bastions of $5 haircuts, but after a couple of visits to Aveda (about $25) I decided they really were worth it every couple of months.

As for directions to give, I cant help you there. My standard line is simply: "Short, but not too short." I say this without fail every single time, and amazingly, everyone seems to know just what that means. ;)
posted by jak68 at 5:35 PM on August 28, 2006

I have a photo of myself with a good haircut, and it's in my wallet. When it's time for a haircut, I walk into a barber shop and show them the picture. If they fail, they don't get my business again (or a tip).
posted by solid-one-love at 6:03 PM on August 28, 2006

I go to a barber... I tell him "A summer haircut" or "A winter haircut" and have never had a bad cut (from the barber).

I don't think I've had a satisfying haircut from a woman, probably because I can't describe what a summer/winter haircut is..

Go to a barber.
posted by hatsix at 6:20 PM on August 28, 2006

Go to a barber.

For me, this is actually bad advise. I followed it for many years and never (ok, rarely) had satisfying experiences getting my haircut. Cheap/expensive, same person/new person, man/woman. Seem to be just the luck of the draw.

One day I realized that the cut I prefer is simple enough to do myself, sometimes I need my wife's help. Haven't been to the barber since, and I always have a satisfying experience. Didn't start to save money, but that's nice too.
posted by gregoryc at 6:42 PM on August 28, 2006

"Four on the razor on the sides fading up to the top, leave the top just long enough to brush back without hair spray or gel, round the back, and no sideburns, just a straight line across."

Structure of the above:

(1) Length of the sides (via razor).

(2) Length of the top.

(3) Disposition of sideburns.

(4) Squaring off or rounding the bottom of the hair near the neck.
posted by WCityMike at 7:07 PM on August 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

"Short", "trim" and "letting it grow out" are my three most common responses. I let it grow out in the winter, and I love getting that short haircut in the spring. In between I just get it trimmed. In the back the two common choices are "gradual" (they'll use clippers) or a straight cut. Gradual grows back in nicer, but unless you have short hair you might be adverse to the military type effect it can have. Staight can look a bit silly, but if your hair has more volume/life to it, or if you keep it long in the back then this is the way you want it.

Don't be afraid to vocalize your wishes...barbers often think people want those comb-overs or whatnot. I've got hair that naturally gives me that "hitler" sort of look, you'd think barbers would fix it each time, but they don't they think I want that extra flap of hair hanging down. After a while though I noticed that if I said something then 9 times out of 10 they would fix in such a way that I was happy with my hair for weeks.
posted by furtive at 7:08 PM on August 28, 2006

Hi Slarty, looks like you and rossination are neighbors (you need to adjust your lat/long, though!). Maybe we should meet for a beer ... I've been to Rudy's but I'd recommend Spin's in Wallingford instead.

Do you have a style you're shooting for? Maybe take in a picture of George Clooney or some other celebrity and say "I want to look like him." :-)

If you have wavy or kinky hair, as I do, you may want to try getting a razor cut, or razor texturing at the end of the cut. This smooths out the curls and prevents flyaways. The idea is that they draw a straight razor gently through your hair with a comb guard over the blade. The angle (for me) is very shallow, and it feels like they're ripping velcro off your head (painlessly). The results look incredibly professional but it takes only about 5 minutes.
posted by Araucaria at 7:10 PM on August 28, 2006

I just say "Whatever you think will work"
posted by yetanother at 7:10 PM on August 28, 2006

Number two on the sides and back, leave the length on top, round the neck, leave the sideburns.

Easy as pie. Mmmmmm, pie.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:12 PM on August 28, 2006

i always like to tell them that i'm lazy about the upkeep (ie getting up early to blow dry and straighten and such for hours on end). im sure its easier when you're a guy, but if they give you a high maintenance haircut and you arent a high maintenance person, its never going to look as good as it does when you leave the salon.
posted by fillsthepews at 7:17 PM on August 28, 2006

Find your local old-school old-man barber. Tell him you need a good haircut and tell him how long you want to wear your hair and sideburns (you probably at least have some basic idea of how long you wanna wear your hair, right?) Oh, and let him know if you're inclined to use styling products or not.
posted by desuetude at 7:24 PM on August 28, 2006

Go back to the same hair stylist over and over. It's amazing how they do remember, even though you're only there once a month or so, how you like your hair. Over a few cuts they get closer and closer to Just Right.

I suppose bringing in a picture of someone is a little weird, but hey if it works, use it.

And tip!
posted by intermod at 7:48 PM on August 28, 2006

Bring a picture--more than one if you have to so the stylist knows exactly what it is you mean when you say, I dunno, that you want the hair of Brad Pitt in Troy.

I'm a girl with long hair now, but when I decided I was bored with it a couple years ago, I chopped it all off to boy-short for the second time. The first time I cut it short back in university, I wasn't happy with the result, but I didn't have any visual aids with me, and the stylist at the time didn't know my hair. This second time around, I brought in a couple pictures showing different elements of the style I had in my mind's eye, i.e. the textured back of Halle Berry's short 'do, and the bangs of model I found in a short hair style magazine, so my stylist knew what I wanted. Visual aids will preempt any miscommunication or misunderstanding.

If s/he is any good, they'll usually consult with you prior to cutting to manage your expectations--eg. if you have curly hair but want a style that only works with straight hair, they'll tell you it won't work and steer you towards something that does. Whatever happens, make sure you're comfortable and confident in their chair.
posted by phoenixc at 8:11 PM on August 28, 2006

Hi Slarty, looks like you and rossination are neighbors (you need to adjust your lat/long, though!). Maybe we should meet for a beer ... I've been to Rudy's but I'd recommend Spin's in Wallingford instead.

Ha! It was a trip to Rudy's in Fremont that promted the question. My old guy at Scream in Ballard left and I'm heartbroken. And it's actually not such a bad cut, I just was pondering this (rather Seinfeld-esque in retrospect) question.

(I'm totally waiting for the next Seattle meetup but I never read MeTa, so I'll probably miss it...)
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:21 PM on August 28, 2006

Take the picture(s). I always felt funny about doing this too, and one time as I dragged out my picture I said to the stylist, "you probably hate it when people bring pictures, but ..." and she told me that actually they really like it, it is much easier to see what the client has mind, since few of us can really explain what we want clearly. They can then discuss what will work about the style and what might not and then go from there. That's why they always have those picture books in the waiting area. I still feel weird about it, but not enough to apologize any more. You can always joke about it, "make me look like him!" and then say, "no, really, I like X, Y and Z about this cut, will that work with my hair?"
posted by redheadeb at 8:30 PM on August 28, 2006

When I once (accidentally) got a haircut that I really liked, I took some pictures of myself, then brought them in to show on subsequent occasions. Worked great.
posted by thumpasor at 9:05 PM on August 28, 2006

I tell my guy "No shorter than a number 2, please".
Being a barber, he's only got one cut anyway, the only difference is how short.
posted by madajb at 9:33 PM on August 28, 2006

(I'm totally waiting for the next Seattle meetup but I never read MeTa, so I'll probably miss it...)

Oddly enough...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:49 PM on August 28, 2006

Strangely, no one has yet given the answer that I've always thought was really sage: when you finally DO get a good haircut, say "So, what do I ask for if I want this exact haircut again another time?"

Then you'll get the top secret super-accurate barber terminology and you'll be set for life.
posted by bcwinters at 5:39 AM on August 29, 2006

madajb, I beg to differ. Perhaps old barbers only have one cut, but I go to a shop full of young barbers and, when I ask for variation, I definitely get it.

Slarty, try a younger barber - they do exist. (and the hot cream shave on the neck is fantastic!)
posted by notsnot at 6:11 AM on August 29, 2006

If I ever wanted my hair cut other than a basic trim, I always would just take a picture of the style I wanted and would say "cut it like this". That usually works.
posted by dward88 at 7:40 AM on August 29, 2006

I found that any system of numbers or lengths got me into trouble, so I started using adjectives describing how I want to look afterward, and how much time/product I'm willing to invest.

"Can you give me something versatile that I can pimp on nights out and sort of, um, tame 9 to 5, with one product that doesn't require a blow-dryer? It's really up to you - you're the professional."

Haven't looked back since.
posted by mdonley at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2006

I am a man. I go to a barber shop. Not a hair salon. Not a great clips. A place where the barbers are 45-90 yr old men and I am the same *race as a majority of the clientele. There is a pole outside. They shave your neck with a straight razor. Etc. (It's called the West Side Barber Shop for you in the Atl).

I say "I need a haircut, medium longish, off the ears with the back corners rounded off"

I almost always get something that is close enough. The only thing that sometimes happens is the hair in the front is a little too long, which I then ask them to fix, which they happily do. This costs me $14 and a tip.


*I'm not a racist. There are very large differences in how one cuts "black" hair (which not all "black" people have) and white/asian hair. This is something the barbers themselves say (white and black), and why I changed barber shops (after finding out only 2 of the 6 people in the shop I was at really felt comfortable cutting my hair).
posted by gte910h at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2006

One thing I've heard is: Once you've gone to the good stylist or whoever and gotten the good haircut, ask that stylist "How should I describe what you've done to another stylist in another city so they could repeat it?"
posted by chazlarson at 8:53 AM on August 29, 2006

Just say, "Business in the front, party in the rear."

Your stylist will know what to do.
posted by Dirjy at 12:04 PM on August 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I found someone that gave me a great haircut the other day and asked her how I could ensure I got the same style each time.

She told me to go home and photograph my head form a few different angles and then bring the photos in next time.

I did so, and now I take the digital camera with me to the hairdresser's to remind the lady of what she did last time.

Seems to be working perfectly so far.
posted by dunstanorchard at 2:08 PM on August 29, 2006

I have to add one thing. Please don't assume that a high priced salon is better than a more economical competitor strictly based on price. I've paid a lot of money for some bad hair cuts. Actually, for a guy you can do a lot worse than the crusty old guys giving $10 haircuts at the old school barber shop in your town.

I think you really have to ask around and get recommendations from people that you trust. Try them out and hopefully you can find someone that you can afford that really does a good job and gets your hair.

If you only find expensive places that do a good job then go to them until you get the hang of what works. Maybe you can find someone cheaper who can maintain the pricey cut so you return to the expensive place once a quarter or something?
posted by deanj at 5:00 PM on August 29, 2006

I would have to agree with getting to know one stylist and letting them get the hang of your hair. I did this for years and when I would change hair care professionals my hair would go from crappy to pretty good over the course of a year or so. Knowing the number of the guard I preferred definitely helped speed this process along.

Nowadays, however, I just say, "Hey there Mr. Razor! Take it all off!" and it always looks good. Your results may vary (mostly depending on the lumpiness of your head).
posted by Chickenjack at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2006

Barbers suck. People who say things like "men go to barbers" are asshats and they probably have shitty haircuts. Absent other evidence, the price a stylist charges probably reflects the quality of work done at that establishment and whether or not the stylists were educated at a top-tier salon school and continue to educated themselves. Some people don't care about the quality of their haircut. Fine. Some people look fine with shitty haircuts. Fine. That doesn't mean the $12 barber can compare with a salon charging $35+ for a men's haircut. I've been to plenty of highly recommended barbers and it wasn't until I went to a decent salon that I actually got a good haircut, or even knew how bad my old haircuts were.
posted by mullacc at 12:00 PM on August 30, 2006

Your Favorite Haircut Sucks.

But seriously, your haircut does say a lot about you. My $9 haircut (+ $6 tip...) says everything I want. I'm not obsessed with how I look, I don't spend money on things that aren't valuable to me. I'm in a relationship and work in a cube, I don't have to impress people, my performance is measured by numbers, not how much I spend on my haircut.

Different strokes for different folks... I'd have to believe that I'm not an "asshat", as I haven't ever been called that to my face, and I'm not intimidating enough to keep people from calling me names.

My cheap barber does compare to the fasionable salon. I've had my hair cut at fancy places while dating a girl who cared about where I got my haircut. I can't notice a difference. Then again, I get as simple of a haircut as possible.
posted by hatsix at 1:20 PM on August 30, 2006

notsnot -
I tend to prefer barbers who, having learned their trade cutting hair for the boys shipping overseas have parleyed that experience into a thriving 2 seat barbershop, replete with pole outside, old guys holding court inside and Playboys from 1986.
Bonus points if the barber is sitting in the chair reading the sports section when you walk in and still has (and uses) a hot foam machine.

I will not frequent a shop that uses any combination of the words "stylist", "appointment", "gel" or "that'll be thirty-five".

Hence, the one haircut. heh.

mullacc -
$12? What am I, Rockefeller?
posted by madajb at 12:22 AM on August 31, 2006

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