How to Find the Right Stylist

7 years ago

Nearly two years ago, I decided it was time to get a job. It was all very exciting, I assure you. I found myself a fab position after a few months of networking, I bought myself a professional wardrobe and I switched around lots of things in my life. And, when I say “switched around lots of things in my life,” I mean I learned how to commute, I realized why people in offices get so excited about free food, and I started seeing medical professionals close to my office rather than those close to my home. I went to the dentist down the block and the eye doctor around the corner and the dry cleaner across the street.

And then I started to think: what other services might I require in my new, employed life?

On my list were a spot for a good, cheap manicure, a nearby tailor, and someone to cut my hair. I decided to start with the hair stylist.

I had a very short haircut at the time and could not imagine getting off the train at night after a long day at work and going for a trim near my home. The idea of spending a couple of hours on a Saturday getting my hair cut didn't appeal to me much either. I had also been disillusioned with my latest home-town haircuts and so I began my research...

In my city, one can spend $30 on a haircut, or one can spend $300 on a haircut. My goal? Something in the middle. Ideally, something under $100, especially since I had short hair which would need frequent trims.

I asked every person I met who cut their hair. I asked people with terrible haircuts and people with fabulous haircuts. I asked a co-worker with crazy-short purple hair and I asked a co-worker who is older than I am and has completely different hair than mine (long and curly).

I carefully checked into fees and I crossed the $200 stylists off my list along with the $30 stylists and made a list of the cutters I wanted to try in the general vicinity of my office.

Then I set out.

My first haircut was done by a very attractive Frenchman. True, I had asked a French co-worker who did her hair, and she did wax romantic about him -- this may have influenced me. He was $60, and did a lovely job telling me that my hair was very much like Jean Seberg's. Score two for him. But he lost points for being four subway stops away from my office and, actually, for being French. I felt like an outsider; I didn’t speak the language and was usually the only other person in his shop besides his assistant, who was also French.

My next try for a well-priced cut in a reasonable location was across town. The 20 blocks was an issue as it was neither easily walkable nor accessible by public transport. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. My gripe with my second contestant was that she was tentative. I like the person cutting my hair to have a vision, as it were –- a plan for how my hair will flatter me. This second stylist was lost from the moment she started and even handled my hair ever so gingerly. $40 later, I looked exactly the same, had walked too far, and had sat silently whilst she gently lifted miniscule sections of my hair with a look of wonder on her face. Not very inspiring.

Zac Posen - Front Row - Fall 2010 MBFW

Finally, I decided to try the fellow who did the woman with the crazy-short purple hair. She had boasted that he listened to what she wanted, but always had interesting ideas about how she could wear her hair. He was well priced ($50) and only four blocks from where I work. For those reasons, he had already scored points with me before I even walked in the door. And here’s the funny thing: the salon he works for has a chain of shops throughout the city. I’ve never used a stylist in such a commercial setting (and believe me, I’ve had my hair cut everywhere from in people’s apartments to the very chicest places) so this was new to me.

But that’s not all: Everyone at the salon has a stage name. Yes, that’s right -- although my stylist is really named Christopher, one must only refer to him by his pseudonym (poetic justice). Sometimes Valentine washes my hair but sometimes Breeze does it. Aphrodite asks if I’d like tea or coffee. Really, the whole thing cracks me up!

But despite the hilarity of the made-up names, from the first time I sat down and chatted with this stylist, I knew he was the guy for me. Sure, he told me I had gorgeous hair -- but even if he was blowing smoke, he said it in a way that endeared him to me. He talked about how he thought I should have it cut, and pointed out that my bangs grow to the side a little. He knew right away that I did my own color and never gave me a hard time about it or offered his services. And when he said he wanted to “Anna Wintour” me? Well, I was tickled ... and my hair looks great. He’s never tried to sell me $25 shampoo (like so many before him); he asks me about my job, gossips just enough about movie stars to be fun and is available with about 24 hours' notice.

He's a winner.

If you're beginning your own salon search, there are a few other criteria I would suggest you use to assess a salon and a stylist:

I’ve always made sure the place is clean. Really look around and check. Hair on the floor and a dirty ladies room make me wonder how clean the sinks and towels and robes are.

I like the person cutting my hair to like what they are doing. If they complain about work or coworkers, I’m turned off. (I guess this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.) It's helpful if they are up on some current hair trends and can steer you toward or away from them, depending on how appropriate they are for your face and hair and lifestyle.

Speaking of lifestyle: After a couple of cuts, I feel like my stylist should have some idea of my lifestyle. My guy knows I’m not going to spend a lot of time applying products to my hair and blow it dry with a special brush, and he doesn’t expect me to change. He asked me, early in our relationship, how much time I’m willing to spend on my hair and he plans my cuts accordingly.

Looking back at it all, I’m pretty surprised that I ended up where I did, but I’m glad I have. Now I need to figure out how to cope with the Lady Gaga music they blast through the place and get over my awkwardness with the whole fake names thing. (Which you’d think would be easy FOR ME.)

blackbird writes every single day at

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