A bad haircut is like a bad relationship — we’ve all experienced at least one and we know we don’t want to go there again. No doubt, you’ve learned not to jump into a relationship with someone you don’t know. So why would you hop in the chair of a stylist without a clue — and then expect a great haircut — especially if you have curls or kinks?
Finding the right stylist (just like finding that significant other!) is a slow, steady process that requires work, patience and a whole lot of communication. Here, we turn to the experts for the best clues to finding the right match for your curly mane.
Expert stylists, such as Christo, spend lots of time with each client.
Clients should never feel bullied into radical changes, says Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute.
Curl Clue #1 Find a matchmaker
You know how it’s a safer bet to date someone when at least one friend knows him? Well, word of mouth also holds true when searching for a stylist. Go find a matchmaker!
“If you see a curly girl and you love her hair, don’t hesitate to run up to her and ask her where she gets her hair cut,” says "Curly Girl" author Lorraine Massey of New York’s Devachan Salon.
“She’ll be more than happy to tell you because she likes to spread the curl love.”
Curlies also spread the word on the CurlSalons section of NaturallyCurly.com, where you can read (and post) reviews of salons and stylists across the world.
Curl Clue #2: The phone call
Once you’ve tracked down your leads, pick up the phone and crank up your curl instincts.
“If you call a salon and ask who specializes in curly hair, and their response is that everybody at the salon is a curl specialist, that is likely a red flag,” says stylist Ethan Shaw, of Anne Kelso Salon in Austin, Texas. “In reality, there may be one or two people at a salon who have really studied curly hair.”
Massey says the salon will likely always say yes because they want the business.
“What I hear is that when the client gets there, there’s a girl there that definitely says she has curly hair but prefers to blow it straight,” Massey says. “That’s a red flag. Do not let anyone into your garden unless they love it as much as you do.”
And don’t be discouraged if you don’t like what you’re hearing. You wouldn’t give up dating because of a few duds, so look for more leads and make some more calls.
Curl Clue #3: The first date
Once you’ve found what seems to be a curl-savvy salon, set an appointment — but only for a consultation. Think of it as a first date: short and sweet. You wouldn’t want to commit an entire night to someone you just met, so don’t rush in and book a cut, color and style on your first visit!
“It shouldn’t cost anything to just speak with a stylist for 10 to 15 minutes or maybe all of $10 to $20 for somebody who charges because they do a lot of consultations,” says Beth Abroms, owner of Fiddelheads Salon in Washington.
“And when you sit in that chair for a consultation, you have no obligation to get a haircut the same day,” adds Christo, curl expert and Global Artistic Director of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue salon.
Curl Clue #4: Survey the scene
Once you’re in a salon, take a good look at the products it carries and the tools the stylists use. A lack of a diffuser in the salon is a definite red flag. And yes, surveying the stylist is a smart move, too.
“That’s a big consideration — looking at the hairdresser’s hair who’s cutting your hair,” Massey says. “It’s mandatory that every day their hair looks good. How else do you teach people to look after their hair, if you’re not going to be looking after your own hair?”
The stylist should also have the sharpest, finest tools. “You can always ask what type of scissor the hairdresser uses,” Massey says. “Is it Japanese or German? They’re always the best quality.”
And wherever you go, stay away from the razor. “A razor in naturally curly hair is the equivalent of taking a match to the ends of your hair,” Massey warns.
As for the products on a salon’s shelf, they can speak volumes.
“Ask about the curly products they have,” Shaw says. “If there’s only one or two, that’s a bad sign.”
Curl Clue #5: Never assume
At some point, we’ve all made assumptions (good or bad) on a first date, only to learn that we were off base — sometimes way off! It probably happened because we just didn’t have enough information to go by. So hold off on making snap judgments about a salon or its hairdressers. For example, don’t panic if you spot a flat iron. It’s not necessarily a red flag, unless they try to use it on you.
“You’re going to see [the flat iron] because it’s rampant in our industry," Massey says. "They’re almost surgically attached to their hands. But what the curly girl has to understand is that the hairdresser is seeing her, not the lady next to her, not the lady in the magazine. You just tell them ‘This is what my hair does, and I don’t want to be anything other than myself.’ You can make that clear and see how the hair dresser reacts. It is your hair, after all!”
Be careful when judging a stylist based on the salon, too. “The salon can be odd, but the stylist can be amazing,” Massey explains. “Some work individually and they can just have their own little bubble.”
And although you may feel comfortable with stylists who mirror your curly locks, think twice before measuring their talent by their tresses.
“Unfortunately, a lot of stylists with curly hair don’t know curly hair,” Christo says, recalling a curly girl who had to have her ringlets rescued after ending up with a mullet cut at another salon. “I asked her what happened and she said she went to a stylist and thought he knew what he was doing because he had curly hair.”
Then, there are stylists who have naturally straight hair, but a curly heart.
“Many have been trained [in curly hair] and have a lot of curly hair clients,” Abroms adds.