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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.

Find a matchmaker

Lorraine Massey of New York’s Devachan Salon says “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. 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, where you can read (and post”> reviews of salons and stylists across the world.” 

Ask for a curl specialist

Ethan Shaw of Anne Kelso Salon in Austin tells us “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.” Lorraine Massey agrees, saying that “In reality, there may be one or two people at a salon who have really studied curly hair. What I hear is that when the client gets there, there’s a girl there that 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.”

Schedule a consultation

Beth Abroms, Owner of Fiddelheads Salon in Washington shares that “it shouldn’t cost anything to just speak with a stylist for 10 to 15 min. or maybe all of $10 to $20 for somebody who charges because they do a lot of consultations.” And don’t feel obligated to get a haircut just because you had a consultation, “When you sit in that chair for a consultation, you have no obligation to get a haircut the same day” says Christo,  Global Artistic Director of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue Salon.

Look at the stylist’s hair

“That’s a big consideration — looking at the hairdresser’s hair who’s cutting your hair. 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? You can always ask what type of scissor the hairdresser uses. Is it Japanese or German? They’re always the best quality. A razor in naturally curly hair is the equivalent of taking a match to the ends of your hair. Ask about the curly products they have” says Lorraine Massey. 

Watch out for the heat tools

If you have been to a hair salon, then it is highly likely you’ve been faced with a flat iron. If you want to straighten your hair that’s fine, but if not, feel empowered to speak up. “You’re going to see [the flat iron] because it’s rampant in our industry. 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! The salon can be odd, but the stylist can be amazing. Some work individually and they can just have their own little bubble” says Massey. And “if they bring the blow-fryer out, don’t be a shrinking violet.” Massey recommends saying “‘Excuse me, I’m naturally curly and would you mind me leaving with my hair natural today? This is how I wear it.’”

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Ask the right questions

Christo recommends asking “How can I manage my curls? How can I get my hair to feel or look healthier? How can I cut my hair without looking like it has too much volume? I would like to take some bulkiness from the bottom layer of my hair without thinning the hair out. How can I do that? Well, that can be done with the correct frame around the face.” And if you don’t know what to ask, just bring pictures. “No matter how great the style, if you are not ready for the change it will not be successful. Our experience has shown that some clients don’t know exactly what they want, but they do know what they don’t want in a style. Pictures can help bridge the gap in communication during the consultation” says Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute.

Listen for buzzwords

“If you hear the word ‘layers’ in the first sentence, then I suggest you walk out of the salon politely. Or if the stylist says, ‘I think we should thin your hair out because you have a lot of hair,’ those words will probably cause a terrible haircut at the end of the day. If you don’t understand, ask them. They may say, ‘Let’s de-volumize’ the hair.’ Then, you say, ‘It sounds very attractive. But can you explain to me how you’re going to do that?’ It’s very important for you to know what you’re getting done” says Christo.

Ask if they cut wet or dry

“It’s really important that you look at the hair at its resting point when the hairdresser sees you. When it’s wet, you would never see the different formations of each curl and they’re all completely unique — some are tiny, some are looser. If you pull them down together when they’re wet, they may look the same length. But when they dry, curls recede at different lengths. You can say, ‘Let me just point some things out. Please listen. I’m going to pull this curl right now, and see how much it springs? And these curls are looser on this side also Show them the different personalities of your hair. Cut the length dry. Cut the area around the face dry. Cut the top layer dry. You can see exactly where you’re pinpointing the length. Then, if you must, cleanse the hair and use those points of references as your landmarks. You don’t go past those points” says Lorraine Massey.

Be demanding

Massey says “It breaks my heart. A lot of people are truly ignoring the needs of the curly girl. We’re a totally misunderstood, misinterpreted hair type — still! Even if you just say, ‘Okay, maybe I won’t get a cut from you today. But if you ever do get someone who is educated in curly hair, please call me because I would love to come to her. Then the salon will think, ‘Oh, we better start getting savvy here with these curly girls because they’re becoming very demanding.’ We should be demanding. It’s time, and we can only do it as a curl-lective!” 

This post was originally published in 2006 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.

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