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Hair salon salon-poster-800-wideSome hairdressers belong in one of the nine circles of Hell.

There are many unsung heroes of the hair world out there, but, from what I see, they are increasingly harder to find.

Why would I care about hairdressers? Only because I’ve seen so many bad highlights, cuts and styles emanating from our local salons over the past few years. None of them is cheap. The barber — not the professional stylist — seems to be the best bet for a proper haircut. Go figure.

Cardinal hairdressing sins

1/ From my observations, highlighting today often reveals lack of attention and apathy when it comes to a woman’s hairline. No hairdresser should need to be told that colour must be carefully applied to and around the hairline. A ‘senior stylist’ — as they insist on being called — should be a dab hand at applying foils or a little root touch-up to every woman purchasing highlights. Yet, I often see lines by the temples where it is clear colour has been applied but not blended in. It looks like … hell. It also makes it impossible for that woman to change her hairdo; sweeping back one side is out of the question. Yet, she will have paid £100 for a poor job.

2/ Today’s haircuts are abysmal, especially for ‘older’ women. It used to be that a hairdresser didn’t consider a female customer old until she went in one day asking for a blue rinse and a perm. Nowadays, a woman is old in a hairdresser’s eyes when she hits 50. She can be assured that her hairdresser does not have a vision of beauty in mind for her, even when she describes what she would like. She will give that woman a granny haircut, often one with fringe (bangs) that is too short and blunt. The customer then emerges from the salon looking no younger or prettier.

Francoise Hardy francoise-hardy-elle-jpg_9967Francoise Hardy francoise_hardy_01On the other hand, the French singer Françoise Hardy has been blessed with a lifetime of great hairdressers (see photos — decades old dos which are still stylish). Furthermore, she — and her hairdresser — demonstrate that une femme d’un certain age can look chic and beautiful. Hardy’s haircuts are not complicated. Any hairdresser should know a basic cut which can be modified: longer fringe, layering around the ears and tapering the lower third of the head.

On the other side of the spectrum, the other atrocity I often see are young women with very long hair leaving a salon all gussied up with three inches of dry, frizzy ends. A good hairdresser should have broken the news months before: ‘I’m sorry, but the longer we let those ends go, the worse it will be for your hair.’ They must be cut. No deep conditioner can save them.

3/ The styling is basic, flat and boring. Why? It isn’t free of charge. I can tell when some women have been to the salon because they emerge with helmet head or a bob with a crown that has been blowdried into a square. It’s hard to imagine a professional being guilty of such a sin but I often see it here in the world capital of hairdressing. Yes, it is possible for a ‘professional’ to take a perfectly serviceable cut and totally mess up the styling. These women look so much better when they style their own hair in their own homes.

4/ The lack of interest from the hairdresser. There are some vile hairdressers out there. In researching this article, I perused a number of hair fora — some for consumers and some for ‘professionals’. I also know a few salon owners. Only one salon I know of — a husband and wife team — is worth the money. The others, men and women, say, ‘There’s nothing I can do with a hairline — that’s their problem’ or ‘The client isn’t clear about what she wants’. Does that absolve them of being interested enough in their clients to find out or suggest and make a positive difference? After all, they are the ones who insist on being recognised as ‘experts’.  Experts, my eye. The customer — again, man or woman — can pick up on this. Search online for ‘bad hairdressers UK’ and you’ll find a wealth of complaints from both sexes about the shabby treatment they have had.

5/ Because you’re not worth it. This ties in with the previous point. Customers are picking up on the fact that, after a year or two, the hairdresser is no longer that interested in their hair. Highlights are sparser. Cuts cannot be changed or improved. Cuts are butchered. Colour is clearly defined; no deviations. The hairdresser communicates boredom and a desire to be anywhere else but styling your hair. One ‘senior stylist’ told me, ‘We can do anything. It’s a question of if we can be bothered. Sometimes it’s too much effort’. And it clearly shows, even in small provincial salons with undeserved big-city prices.

My mother’s story

My mother had worn a variety of hairstyles in the 1960s for short or shoulder-length hair. When she had short hair, she was happy enough.

Once women began wearing longer bouffants — as they were called — my mother had patchier salon experiences. Ironically, she was happiest when going to the local beauty college every Friday lunchtime. I went with her a couple of times when school was not in session. The student stylist and my mother had conversations about allergic reactions and skin disease. The stylist would explain how exacting the coursework was in this area. Essentially, the cuts, colour and styling were easy; it was the physiology and dermatology courses which could make or break a future beautician, as they were called back then. The exams were rigorous.

We moved house a couple of years later. My mother really missed ‘the girls’. There was no beauty college in our area and no matter what hairdresser my mother went to, they invariably left a line of hair around the middle of her head which made no sense.

She would return home frustrated when she should have felt beautiful and happy.

Years later, I think I know what the problem was. Hairdressers are trained — or acquire a habit of — lifting a section of hair vertically from the centre of the head and trimming it. Once that hair falls to its usual position in styling, it forms a line which doesn’t blend in with the rest of the head. It happens here in the UK, too, so it must be a universal ‘technique’. Oddly, however, the young women at the beauty college did not seem to do this. They trimmed from the sides only.

Well, it wasn’t long before my mother started trimming her own hair. This was back in the 1970s. ‘Why should I pay all that money for a bad haircut?’

My mother continued trimming her own hair until she was in her mid-80s, at which point she reverted back to a skilled (this time) professional. It wasn’t that my mother’s natural talents were slipping, she just wasn’t well enough anymore.

As for colour, once my mother went significantly gray, she started buying box kits. Only one turned out a bit yellowy; the others were a beautiful ash blonde. And, no, I doubt she ever did a skin or hair test. She applied her own colour until she was in her 80s. It can be done and look professional.

How the mighty have fallen — hairdressing statistics

A marketing maxim is statistics: ‘Everyone loves looking at the numbers!’

A 2009 survey of 2,000 women in Britain showed:

  • The majority of women change their stylists before their fourth haircut
  • Less [‘Fewer’!] than 25% of clients stay with their stylist beyond a year
  • Half of women outside London prefer their own home blowdry to their stylist’s efforts
  • 40% of women avoid salons on a regular basis because of unhappy experiences and lack of trust in hairdressers’ abilities.

Those are all the things I mentioned above, and that was from my personal observation and research.

What hairdressers can do

Like every other business in a difficult economic climate, salons seek to increase footfall and revenue.

Salons are feeling the pinch as their equally pinched customers are postponing repeat appointments in an attempt to save money.

Unfortunately, most look towards marketing campaigns (local leaflet drop), periodic discounts, music selection (arrgh), product displays and redecorating. All of these are superficial and miss the point entirely.

Yet, a good hairdresser will always have customers. Build it and they will come — introductory offer or not.

However, this requires listening well, doing a professional job, treating customers as if they are valued and making sure they are truly happy with colour, cut and style.

These guidelines from Vidal Sassoon (excerpted) should be professional basics; they are to the customer. Emphases mine:

The ability to think quickly in order to process and evaluate your clients wishes is paramount to your success as a hairdresser. The consultation is your time to use your skills in gathering information in order to use your creativity in creating a style that both suits and makes your client feel great. ‘The Sassoon Way’ divides the consultation into three distinct phases. Note that ‘failure to complete any or all of these stages will be the cause of any later problems’.

Phase 1

Listening and observation – Take into account the following:

Client physique, proportions and profiles to help you choose suitable shapes and lengths.

Did they stride into the salon with confidence, nervousness or appear intimidated?

What style is their clothing (smart, fashionable, casual)?

– Use eye-contact and re-assuring gestures whilst asking open ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’)

– Be a good listener. Take time to listen not only to what is being said but also how it is being said.

– Make a mental note of their body language when your client is talking to assess their character.

– You need to be able to offer a cut/style that suits their lifestyle in term of time and skill required to maintain the style …

There are additional pointers in this article from Love Hairdressing. Again, these are — or should be — basics for the ‘professional’:

The perfect step by step consultation:

2)      Sit down next to the client at the styling position and make eye contact, NOT  standing up talking to them in the mirror.

4)      Play detective and look for clues. Observe age, body, height, style, colours, skin tone, make-up, hair growth patterns, hair type, texture, hairline.

5)      I have worked with people in the past that struggle with keeping all this info in their short term memory so don’t be afraid to write things down. Just remember to explain to your clients what you are taking notes on and ALWAYS update your record cards after the appointment with key information.

6)      Once you think you have enough information, stop and THINK. Formulate a plan of action together and clearly repeat your thoughts to your client.

‘Have you got anything in mind today or would you like me to make some suggestions?’ …

When hairdressers do all of those things, believe me, customers will come running. One person tells another. This includes men, who are increasingly likely to seek colour highlights. Twenty- and thirty-something males are a relatively new and lucrative market. Incidentally, locally, we have a traditional barber shop and a new young men’s salon, where they probably do colour.

What the consumer can do

1/ Be clear with your requests and bring a picture of what you would like for yourself.

2/ Go to the salon freshly bathed and groomed. Be polite and well mannered. (This should go without saying, but we’re in the 21st century now, when anything goes.)

3/ If you’re getting colour, do not wash your hair the day you go to the salon. The colour process requires natural oils from the hair.

4/ Avoid gossip or complaining about other stylists. Chances are they know each other and might even be friends.

5/ Take something to read. More salons are doing away with magazines — ‘clutter’ — and have nothing at all.

6/ If you are unhappy, say so objectively. You might be able to get a slight discount for that visit.

7/ Take care when paying. Some salons are a bit sly. They might charge more than you were quoted when you made your appointment. Ensure you are charged for what you are quoted (unless you had an extra treatment) and get any discount from a special offer to which you are entitled.

8/ If you’re getting dolled up for a wedding or other special occasion, try not to a) ask for anything too elaborate and b) get your hair done a week or so in advance so the do can bed in. Too many bridal cascades of hair done on the day end in tears. So does a sudden change in colour.

Finally — the ‘wrong’ kind of hair

If the hairdresser deems your hair to be ‘too thick’ or ‘too fine’, you’ll have a problem these days. They will simply not want to bother or they’ll butcher it in an effort to get you to go elsewhere.

A number of online salon reviews reveal the nastiness that some stylists — even salon owners — show towards their customers with ‘problem’ hair. Customers go home in tears.

If they are true professionals, they should have been trained in thick and fine hair. It shouldn’t ever be a problem.

Such customers might need to investigate mobile hairdressers or do their own hair. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This does require a lot of reading and watching, however.

For DIY cuts, read online and watch good YouTube videos. Start with a tiny trim of an end or two. Progress from there. Take your time and work in a quiet, unhurried atmosphere.

Colour is more complicated and will require even more research. Do not be tempted to start experimenting with professional tube colour and developer. Walk before you can run. Read a lot — including customer reviews — of temporary and permanent colour. Colour should not be placed on previously coloured hair; unexpected results may occur. Hairdressers can do it because they know how to formulate the mix of colour and developer accordingly.

Highlights are particularly tricky. The aforementioned cautions apply. It should also be noted that too much or too little colour on a cap or, if you dare, foil can be a disaster. Placement often requires another pair of hands. Read everything you can before taking the plunge.

Colour can also stain basins, shower stalls, bathtubs, walls and carpet. Have everything you need before you start, including old towels, baby wipes and, for skin around the hairline, Vaseline.

DIY home colour is a big undertaking and not one to be taken lightly. My mother and millions of other women might have been an exception, but, then, their needs were simpler.

In closing, a final word to cavalier hairdressers. You are secular priests and nonclinical therapists. Your job is to transform your clients — getting men and women to feel better about themselves by making them more attractive. Hair is a universal attribute, part of our personal identity. Treat people with the care and attention you would expect for yourselves and you’ll never want for customers. If ever the Golden Rule applied, it is to your profession.

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