How do I find a good hairstylist?
March 22, 2004 1:14 AM   Subscribe

How do I find a good hairstylist? [more inside]

For most of my life it's worked for me to just let my hair grow into a quasi-controlled mop, occasionally restrained by the usual thrifty, low-fuss methods -- a friend/relative who can sortof cut hair, doing it myself, or a bi-annual duck-in to the nearest corner barbershop. This produced results which, if not stunning, were usually aesthetically acceptable and mostly fit my personality. In the last 2-3 years, however, my hair has become thin enough on top (probably lost about 2/3 of it) that this simply isn't working anymore.

Of course the thing to do when the do-it-yourself method fails is to call in the professionals. The problem is I have no idea how to find the professionals, or even approach them once I find them. I've tried visiting a few local places, but mostly I just seem to walk out with a shorter version of what I walked in with, even when I encourage them to get creative, and I don't usually get much dialogue in the way of talking about possibilities. So I've come to the conclusion that I'm either not going the right places or I'm not approaching people in the right way.

What I'm looking for is someone who can suggest some potential hairstyles that might fit my head and hair, discuss them with me, and execute a decision. I know these people have to exist, but their world (and the world of people who probably use them frequently) has been so peripheral to mine for my whole life that I don't know where to start. Where do I start to look? What can I use to tell if someone might be able to help provide what I'm looking for? How do I need to learn to talk about this?
posted by weston to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total)
Either just try a lot, and make sure it's clear you're looking for help, not just a trim up. Try either an expensive looking hairdresser for both sexes, or if you don't have the money or you happen to run across one, a male only hairdresser. The latter are probably more experienced with suitable haircuts for balding men. Also, ask those of your friends who have really well-groomed hair. If all else fails, do the same to strangers in the street. Worst you'll get is a weird look (or a punch in the face, depending on how you phrase the request).
posted by fvw at 2:46 AM on March 22, 2004

Take it from somebody who is now beyond thinning: Go short.

I dealt with all of the stylists I could throw at my thinning follicles and in the end my head was a moussed up mess that was rapidly approaching the combover look. Then I got married, and my sweetie, using her deft skill with barber scissors cut my hair on a regular basis. It looked good, but if the wind blew the wrong way or if I wore a cap, it looked pretty funky.

Last year we hit on a solution. On a whim I bought a pair of those motorized hair clippers. She put the 1/2 inch guard on and ran the dang thing over my noggin like a lawn mower, switching to the shorter attachment as she got closer to the edges. She still uses scissors to even out the bottom, but it now takes all of 5 minutes to get "the look." Beyond that, I wash it and leave it alone. No combing necessary, and it's a very liberating experience. Freshly cut it looks neat; as it grows out it gets a wild, "zhusshed" look which is okay with me.

I ran across this article about thinning haircuts that you might find of interest.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:08 AM on March 22, 2004

Try going to salons. While these will be more expensive (generally) you tend to get people who are more focused on you rather than how many heads of hair they cut.
posted by thebwit at 6:09 AM on March 22, 2004

I think it's mostly trial and error. I've had the best haircuts from girls who flirt with me a bit though I'm not sure it's not just a placebo effect either but in general they've spent more time on my hair (what there is of it) and didn't just give it a quick buzz with the shears. Locally I lucked out with my first hairdresser, she was excellent but she left for Seattle. She recommended her friend but she wasn't excellent. She'd basically bludgeon me with the shears (I kid you not) and cut my ear. Twice. I changed salons and lucked out again and had the same hair dresser for 5 years. I decided to shave my head though so now I don't have one at all :P
posted by substrate at 6:18 AM on March 22, 2004

since i don't have much hair i use one f those wahl hair trimmer / shaver things. a no 2 works fine as a diy solution, but it helps to have someone to tidy the bits you can't see.

my partner started getting her hair cut professionally recently and had the same problem of finding a good place. she used two tactics - ask people in the street whose hair you like and go to a salon in an appropriate area of town (ie for her, not a salon in the very upper-class area where we were living (which gave her a cut like all the rich, thin, blonde professional wives that live there), but in a more bohemian area with students/intellectuals (still, given chile, rather rich people, comparatively, but a different social sphere)).
posted by andrew cooke at 6:29 AM on March 22, 2004

I've found that the longer I stay with a particular hairdresser, the better haircuts I get. Each time I go for a cut I try to mention something about my last appointment, usually something complimentary, to make myself memorable and make the impression that I'm coming to them in particular, not just because they are the first available. Most hairdressers, it seems to me, want to build and keep a base of clientele and will work to keep them happy.
posted by eastlakestandard at 6:57 AM on March 22, 2004

My wife is a hairstylist and here are a couple of things I've observed.

Stay away from the mall. A lot of times, those places hire people right outta school, with no experience. They usually cause a lot of bad cuts. My wife was there for years, fixing the cuts the newbies screwed up.

Andrew Cooke's suggestion about asking people, is a great referral for salons. More often than not, they're probably stylists. I've never seen a woman asked more about her hair, than my wife. So approach those people, as they might be a stylist ot give you a good name of one.

Go to smaller salons. A lot of times, these newer/smaller places have staff that are as good, if not better, than the big salon with the BMW's out front.

Look at the place's appearance & stylist's "look". Would you trust a car mechanic who's own car wasn't working? Why would you trust a stylist, who didn't look clean or had nice hair?
posted by mkelley at 7:24 AM on March 22, 2004

Oh, and one more thing: Please tip your stylist.
posted by mkelley at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2004

when you see someone with hair that looks similar to yours in texture and weight and is cut WELL in a style you like. stop them and politely ask who cuts their hair.

this is how i found my stylist. i recently went to a concert with four other women who all go to the same stylist. as i was coming back from the bathroom i realized this girl in the crowd was following me and she said "oh, i was following you so i could get back to my friends." and when i looked confused she said, "you're one of those girls with the great hair who was standing next to us. you all look like you just came from the salon." all of us were overdue for haircuts. that's how great my current stylist is. i handed this girl her card.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:00 AM on March 22, 2004

When I want a new stylist, I go to a salon in a cheap mall (one with a Wal-Mart or a Zellers and dollar stores in it) and pick out an older hairdresser. This usually ensures that I'll get good cut for under $25, tip included.

I don't let anyone under 30 cut my hair. Sure, there are twenty somethings hairdressers out there who are good, but I figure my best bet is to go for someone experienced. I like my hairdressers to be in their forties or fifties. They've got decades of experience and they wouldn't still be wielding the scissors if they weren't any good.
posted by orange swan at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2004

I've moved around a lot over the last few years, and I've always had pretty good luck with the local aveda salons.
posted by ph00dz at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2004

Until recently, I've had the worst three-year run of haircuts in my life. What finally broke the bad hair trend was my stylist, who is very skilled (and expensive, dammit, but I want to enjoy my decent looking hair for a while before I ruin it at Supercuts again) and a stern discussion before she performed her first haircut where I clearly outlined the difficulties I had been having for three years, the things that other stylists had done to me that made me unhappy, and where I was willing to go.

It worked like a charm! Communication is key. Now I trust her to pretty much do whatever she wants with my head and I generally come out look A-OK.

So once you do go to a stylist, make sure you spell out exactly what your problems have been in the past, and your general level of styling habits. This will help make sure that you don't get a bad haircut from a good stylist who just didn't understand what you wanted.
posted by jennyb at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2004

I can't forget a puzzler from my childhood days that goes something like this...A travelling salesman goes to a strange town and decides he needs a haircut. It's not a big town and he finds that there are exactly two barbershops. He goes to the first one and finds that it is not very tidy with magazies everywhere, hair on the floor, and the barber himself is rather unkempt, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and long messy hair. The other barbershop in town is neat as a pin with magazines neatly stacked on a table and the barber wears a bright white smock and is well-groomed. Which barber should the salesman go to?
posted by jaronson at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2004

The unkempt one, of course -- he's the one who cuts the hair of the well-groomed one.
posted by kindall at 10:59 AM on March 22, 2004

Do you have a monetary ballpark? Figure in how many days you go between cuts and how much you're willing to pay a day to feel comfortable with your hair.

Call the salon and ask how they suggest you select one of their stylists. If you get the generic "all our designers are great" move on. You're looking for a place where senior stylists are paid more than the entry level employees. Then request they pair you with a person from the mid-priced (or higher) range who is experienced cutting thinning hair.

That's 50%. Just as important, purchase a handful of guy type (not porno) magazines and take in 3-5 pictures with you. It's terribly difficult to convey with words a look, and with pictures your stylist will get a better feel for what would make you happy.
posted by Feisty at 5:37 PM on March 22, 2004

Find a barber or stylist who has hair like yours. When you get a good cut, take several pictures. I get a better cut when I show the haircutter what I want.
posted by theora55 at 5:44 PM on March 22, 2004

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