New Haircut? How to Get One You Won't Hate

10 tips to ensure you don't leave the salon disappointed

Hairdresser preparing to cut customers long hair in salon
Caiaimage / Gianni Diliberto / Getty Images

We've all left the salon with a cut that's too short or a color that's just a bit off. Here, I share how to get a haircut you won't hate. 

Why You Leave the Salon Disappointed

As a beauty writer, I've heard relatively few hair salon horror stories. What I hear a lot of is what I'll call "Hair Disappointment Stories." This is when a woman leaves the salon underwhelmed. Perhaps she expected to feel sexier, or she wanted brighter highlights or an edgier cut.

Maybe the stylist went too short or no one at work or even home noticed she did anything to her hair, despite spending a lot of time and a lot of money at the salon.

Most of the time I find the problem is in communication. She didn't properly communicate with her stylist what she wanted before the haircut, during it or after it. Sometimes it's because she didn't pick the right stylist. 

Here's how to ensure that doesn't happen again to you. 

Choosing the Right Cut or Color

If you're making a big change to your haircut or color, you'll want an idea of where you'd like to go before you hit the salon. After all, you risk major disappointment if you sit down and tell your stylist, "Cut it all off." Or, "make me blonde."

The best haircut for you will work with your natural hair texture while flattering your face shape. I always recommend perusing magazines (or this Website) for hairstyles you like that seem to match your hair texture.

You should also consider your personality and the upkeep involved in a new 'do. 

Get the full scoop on finding your perfect cut in these articles:

  • 6 Things to Consider Before You Hit the Salon
  • How to Choose the Perfect Haircut for Your Hair Texture & Face Shape

Pick the Right Stylist

The right stylist is key to a great hairstyle or color.

If you already have a great stylist, skip this section. If you haven’t, read on.

I find the very, very best way to find a good stylist is to ask someone with great hair who does her hair. If I see someone with a great haircut or color, I won't hesitate to ask where she gets her hair done. My friends do the same and we're all happy with our various stylists. Until we aren't and we find someone new.

This isn't a hard and fast rule, but I believe if you have curly hair, you'll get the best results from someone who cuts a lot of curly hair. In fact, in big cities there are salons dedicated to curly hair, like Devachan Salon in New York. Call ahead to a large salon and ask for someone who specializes in curls or at least cuts a lot of curly hair (keep in mind that a stylist WITH curly hair will know exactly where you're coming from).

This also works for:

  • Coloring your hair red (ask for someone who does lots of new redheads)
  • Getting an edgy short hairstyle (aim for the salons known for their edge and select a stylist with funky hair herself)
  • Getting hair straightened (you want someone who specializes in Japanese or Brazilian treatments)
  • Getting a perm (you want someone who does a lot of them)

Schedule a Consultation

Anyone who reads a lot of women’s magazines has likely had it drilled into her head that she should always sit down for a chat with a new stylist before a cut or color.

But a shocking 42 percent of women say they've never had a consultation before a dye-job, according to a study by P&G Beauty & Grooming.

Bravo reality star Tabatha Coffey tells Allure Magazine, "The consultation is the most important part of a haircut. I don't care if I've cut your hair 100 times, I'm still going to talk to you, touch your hair, find out what you want."

When booking your appointment, schedule a 10-15 minute consultation with both the person cutting your hair and the one coloring it (unless, of course, they are the same person or you are getting only one service).

When you arrive for your consultation, wear your hair as you do every day. This tells the stylist a lot:

  • What it looks like dry and how it naturally dries.
  • How healthy it is: has it been damaged from coloring or are the ends frayed?
  • Its true texture. Fine hair falls flat and limp, dry, coarse hair has more natural body, but also frizz.
  • How much styling you put into your hair each day

Even if you're meeting with the same stylist you've used before, a consultation is important if you're making a drastic change. The goal is to make sure you and your stylist are on the same page. Would you not consult with an architect or contractor before tearing down walls?

Bring Pictures

Always show, never tell, when it comes to your hair. Instead of telling your stylist you want a bob or a shag, bring in pictures of what you want your hair to look like. Chances are the image in your head does not match the image in your stylist's head.

As for color, never rely on salon-speak. "Ash blonde" to your stylist may mean butter blonde to you. Show a picture of what you like and it might be good to also bring along a picture showing what YOU DON'T want. 

Ready for a new cut? Here are some hairstyle photo galleries for inspiration.

Prepare Questions & Listen to Your Stylist

If you write down questions before the cut, you won't forget them during the consultation. (This rule applies to doctor's visits as well).

"What type of color best suits me?"
"Do you think my hair can look like this picture of Cameron Diaz with short hair?"
"How long will this haircut take me to style in the morning?"

If you sense your stylist isn't listening or isn't giving you his or her full attention during the consultation, Allure suggests you politely repeat yourself until you're sure you've been heard.

What if Your Stylist Doesn't Agree With You?

There you are, photo in hand and your stylist tells you she can't make you look like the woman in the photo, what do you do?

It matters. Always consider a professional opinion, but you know your hair and how much work you'll put into it best. Here are some examples of how to handle a stylist's dissent.

  • She tells you the cut won't work with your face shape. While face shape matters, there are many other factors to consider when getting a cut, including your personality and your desires (see How to Choose Your Perfect Hairstyle, The 6 Most Important Things to Consider). Thank her for her professional opinion and then tell her, "But I really want to try this and I trust you to do it. If it doesn't look good on my face, we'll blame me, not you."
  • She tells you your hair texture won't work well with the cut. Ask her if products and styling tools could make a difference. If your hair is too curly, would it work if you committed to blow drying it. If your hair is too straight, would volumizing spray and a curling iron help?

If your stylist won't listen to you, then maybe you should find a new stylist. But remember also, that a stylist is the trained professional and she is trained to know what she can do and what would work best for a client.

Show With Your Hands

One of the most common disappointments I hear about from those with "Hair Horror Stories," is the "I Told Her 3 Inches and She Lopped Off 8" stories.

When it comes to length, stylists tell me it's better to show it rather than say it. Instead of saying you want 3 inches off, actually take your hand and karate chop it right where you want her/him to go. Also, don't be afraid to speak up during your haircut if you feel it's too long or even short.

Think Before Saying, "Do Whatever You Want"

The beauty editor of 'O' magazine tells of the time a world-renowned hairstylist offered to do her hair and she let him do whatever he wanted since the cut was free.  Oops. She ended up with a cut she hated and that took months to grow out.

If you trust your stylist 100 percent, you can give your hair completely over to him or her to work their magic. But it's rarely a good idea. After all, you don't want to be the practice mannequin for a new look the stylist is dying to try out.

Be Honest With Your Stylist

Yes, you'd love your stylist to think you'll love your new hairstyle enough to baby it every morning with 10 products, 20 minutes drying time and 15 minutes styling time. However, the truth is, if your morning routine for the past 20 years includes a quick wash followed by a towel dry and ending with a soppy wet ponytail, you’re better off telling your stylist. You don’t want  to end up with a fancy, layered, curling-ironed and hairsprayed 'do that takes hours to replicate. Trust me, I've been there.

"You must make it perfectly clear to your stylist how far you're willing to go. Otherwise, someone will end up in tears," says NY stylist Erin Anderson in Marie Claire.

It's also important to tell your hair colorist about any chemical procedures you've done to your hair in the past year or so. If you don't tell your stylist you had a Brazilian straightening treatment 4 months ago, you risk damaging your hair if your stylist decides to do a dual-process color.

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up

If you are nervous about the direction the cut or color is going, don't be afraid to speak up and share your concern. And if you are unhappy with the cut or color once it's done, you should be able to say so in a polite way. Stylists appreciate honesty. Plus, there's nothing worse than a regular customer who never returns to your salon and you have no idea why.

More on hair:

  • The Most Flattering Styles By Face Shape
  • Hair Secrets Your Stylist Won't Tell You (But Told Us)