Throughout college, I worked as a receptionist in a really nice hair salon. It was always interesting for me to find out how people choose a good hair stylist. For first time visitors, that was often the first question I asked them.

I’m sure you can guess that the number one response was “my friend told me about you.”  Yes, the almighty referral is key, so why have I been scared off from settling down with a good salon? Fear of the unknown, and bad hair experiences.

For years, I have only gotten my hair cut once a year. It’s just easier to keep it long, so I haven’t been the ideal person to come to when asking for a referral (until recently).  My stylist in Wisconsin knew me. She was my friend. I trusted her, and I knew that whatever she wanted to do with my hair would be ok because she had proven that over and over again.

Then I moved and the next two hair stylists I tried only saw “creativity” when they looked at my long locks.  Since I have had long hair for years, these ladies “knew” what was best for me and decided to bypass my requests. I left frustrated, saddened and thought, “Did they not hear me when I said it HAS to be able to go into a pony tail?

Yes, I know that pony tail limitation is the kiss of death to a creative person, but when this happened, I had four children in five years, and I needed that option, yet it was taken away from me.  After that, I seriously waited until we would go to Wisconsin on visits and then I’d have my hair done at my friend’s salon and only there. Now that my niece is an excellent stylist (in NH), I count the moments till she comes to visit and she does my hair in my kitchen.

How sad is that?  A good hair cut can completely change the way you feel about yourself. I am all about finding ways to save money in the hair department and I will share those soon(all hair stylists will hate me then), but hear this, I also feel that investing every once in awhile in a stylist who can dramatically change the way you look, make you come alive with a new cut/color and somehow transform your mundane mane into something magical is worth every penny you will spend. I’ve bit the bullet twice this year and tried out two salons. One on referral, one found through a Groupon.

So how do you choose a hair stylist?

(Four inches cut off the back. Yes, a complete shocker to me, but you must communicate accurately, which I didn’t.)

1. Ask around. Get referrals.

My sister in law is a perfect example. Her hair is always adorable. It’s always up to date, the color is fantastic and she always looks put together. Over the years she has built up an entire clientele for her stylist  just based on her hair style. People ask her all the time where she gets her hair cut, and the majority of them eventually schedule an appointment.  If you see a stranger with a unique cut that you have been pondering. Stop them and ask. They will be flattered and you will have one more stylist to consider. You may have quite a few names to consider at this time, but that is a good problem to have. If salon names start crossing over, you know you’ve found a good place to start.

2. Find out about the Salon

Honestly, if you are new to an area and have an excellent salon recommended to you with a quality staff and continued mentoring and educational programs, most likely, all the stylists will be superior. A good indicator of this is continued higher level training. This past year, my niece went to Paris for advanced classes. Her salon requires continued training (at the stylist’s own expense) and she attends International Beauty Shows. I know that she is up on the times and that she is continuing to practice her skill.

For me, I am really not about “looks”  but when it comes to the person cutting my hair, I want their own hair to reflect expertise. I just found out an acquaintance of mine has been a stylist for decades. I was shocked because often when I see her, I think, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to give her a hair make over.” Her hair hasn’t changed since the 80’s and unfortunately, her style is stuck there. That leads me to believe that she might not be the best referral to give.  Stylist tend to change up their hair a lot. I love to see that, but if I don’t ever like the way a stylists changes his/her look, that might not  be a perfect fit for me.

My niece recommended checking on or googling salons to see their reviews. Look at the salon’s website to see the stylists bio and experience (although there are many excellent stylist who are new and therefore much more affordable.) Make sure they are current,  not just with the presentation, but also using quality products.

3. Schedule a Consultation: Bring Pictures

If you are considering a major change in your hair, schedule a free consultation in advance to just ask a few questions. I didn’t realize this was an option, but my hair dresser niece assured me it is, and if the stylists resists meeting with you for a few minutes, that might not be the stylist for you. ‘

Recently, with this last cut, which is quite the change for me, I talked a lot with the stylist before he started.

As you are discussing, see how receptive the stylist is to your opinions.  Will she listen to what you want and then repeat what you want. This is key because you may have a perfect idea in your mind, but you need to be able to communicate that accurately and that is done by having them repeat what you want in a style. My stylist listened well and let me talk, but I was way too indecisive in what I explained to him, so the shock of having four inches cut off was not entirely his fault at all. Fortunately, I like the cut, even if it put a complete wrench in my 30 days – 30 ways Hair Challenge concept. (I got it cut right before I started this and all my plans for doing longer braids and styles went down the dump because of the cut. ;))

Bring in a picture of a style that you are considering and find out if they think it’s will work with your hair type. Pull up a variety of pictures on you phone or print some off of blogs. Often, a specific style may not work with your hair. Make sure you find out if they can achieve something similar to the picture. Ask what they consider to be their strengths or their favorite services to render. Some stylists might be excellent at color, while others have strength in dramatic cuts or up-dos. For instance, the stylist who just cut my hair would get a high recommendation from me on cut, but I was not happy with my highlights. Now, I think that’s something I could work through if I choose to go back to him, but I am not certain at this point. The  highlights look great in the picture, but I was very specific that I did not like the “hollywood trend” of having roots show. I do not want to PAY for highlights that look like the roots have grown out for four weeks but unfortunately, I still received that.

Sometimes, people immediately make a decision based on the fact they hate how it was styled in the salon. For me, that is never a problem because I can’t style it the way they do anyhow, but I do want them to educate me with a style that I can replicate at home. As long as the cut is great, I’m not worried about the style that day.

With this cut, I loved how he styled my hair, but it’s not realistic for me.  Since then, I have never styled it like this again because it took about twenty minutes of blow dry time, which is not feasible for me on a regular basis, but it’s nice to know it’s an option.

Since my hair barely fits in a pony tail anymore, I’ve been wearing it pulled back at the top a lot, which I really like. Yes, I know style it in nearly the same way as before, just shorter, but sometimes it’s easier to go with what I know.

Are you like me and have had your hair the same way for years?

Maybe it’s time you got out of your comfort zone and tried something new. It’s only hair. It will grow back, which is what I keep telling myself. I’m actually glad that I didn’t communicate clearly because it allowed me to try something new that I would not have normally tried. (I just wished it would have been a little later in the year.) 🙂

Have fun and invest in yourself. It’s worth it.