How to (politely) tell your hairdresser that you hate your new hair
By Alison Izzo
23rd May, 2023
Picture this; you’ve had your head in a magazine, or blissfully scrolling your phone for a few hours. Your hair’s been coloured, cut, washed and dried. You’ve been delivered hot beverages and had your scalp massaged. Finally you’re ready to look up and take in ‘the big reveal’. You steady your gaze in the mirror and… you hate it. There’s nothing like that sinking feeling when you first see your new hair, and it’s… not what you hoped for.
Maybe it’s too short, or too poofy, or too straight. Maybe where you’d imagined Julia’s Stegner’s ashy, Nordic blonde locks now sits a mop of coppery streaks. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, just that you’re disappointed. But worst of all, you know that the inevitable question is coming from your stylist… “So, do you like it?”
Some individuals have the internal fortitude to look their hairdresser square in the eye and tell them of their displeasure. I am not one of those, and never have been. Instead of telling the truth, my voice goes up three octaves and I nod enthusiastically at my reflection, lying through my teeth as I say I love it. I’d hurriedly pay and head home to have a quiet cry (pathetic, I know), then either jump in the shower to try and shampoo the sins away, or scrape my hair into a ponytail—hoping that out of sight would mean out of mind.
The solution, unsurprisingly, is honesty. And as a fully-grown, adult woman I feel like I should be able to voice my needs—but also my disappointments—in the salon chair. I’m capable of doing so in every other facet of my life but when it comes to the relationship with many of my (many!) hairdressers over the years, I’ve always felt weirdly disempowered.
They probably already know that you hate it
The unsettling fact is, my hairdressers (all of them) probably knew I was lying.
Vince Nobile, co-founder of Sydney’s Headcase Hair salon, says that a good hair stylist should always ask open-ended questions to allow clients to speak openly—so that he can remedy the problem. “I believe clients should leave the salon feeling great about themselves… so I tackle this head on, because I’m not afraid to deal with this and I know how to achieve a positive outcome at the end of it.”
John Pullitano, Nobile’s co-founder at Headcase, says that aside from a client saying it outright, hairdressers “would be able to tell by their body language or mood, especially if they’re in tune with other people’s behaviours and not too wrapped up in themselves to notice.”
I ask Pullitano what red flags he looks out for. “If you notice that they’re pulling and tugging at their hair, or trying to fix something about it, you may ask how if they’re concerned about something and the conversation will unfold from there. Or if the client feels intimidated, they may leave but then call up or email.”
They can, absolutely, handle the truth
All of the stylists I surveyed unanimously and very enthusiastically replied “absolutely” when asked if they’d want to know if their clients were unhappy. Not only because they want their customers to leave happy, but because it gives them the opportunity to fix any perceived problems—which in turn helps their client retention rate, and subsequently their reputation.
Marie Cain, a Melbourne based stylist and colourist, founder of Melbourne’s Have A Nice Day salon and ambassador for Maria Nila haircare, says the truth is always better—even if it’s not pretty. “I would much rather have my guest tell me they’re not satisfied than leave unhappy… I believe you’re only as good as your last haircut/colour… In our industry word of mouth is everything.”
Nobile echoes this, and actively seeks out any concerns because, for him “I encourage [honesty], because I know how to deal with it successfully. I know it works, because my client retention rate is over 90 per cent—which is well over industry benchmark.” So if you’re nervous about hurting your hairdresser’s feelings, reframe the truth of your feelings as a gift, of sorts, for them—and for their business.
The power of the consult
As they say, prevention is better than cure—and the best way to reduce the likelihood of you walking away unhappy with your new hair is to spend time during your initial consultation with your stylist to really communicate your hair goals—before the scissors or foils come out.
Clarity on your goals before you sit down is also key, says Pullitano. “You may just have a client that from the get go doesn’t know what they want for themselves – in that case it should be flagged in the early stages of the consultation, and then you can make a decision on what to do from there. The art of a proper consultation is very, very important.”
Cain agrees, adding that a good stylist should insist on this first step. She says, “I do an intensive consultation before starting the service, this way both my guest and I know what the expectations are and ultimately what the end result needs to be. I’m almost a bit pedantic, but [it’s] necessary.”
When I think back to my most traumatic salon experiences I always rushed the consult, hurriedly giving vague instructions because I couldn’t be bothered to detail the exact shade of ‘is she born with it’ blonde. The solution? Slow down, bring in pictures, ask questions and don’t be afraid to explain what you don’t want as much as what you do.
Here’s what to say
Even with the best of intentions, and the most detailed of consults, you can end up unhappy—which is why understanding the importance of honesty is helpful. But even handier is a script (especially for those, like me, who squeak little more than an ‘it’s great!’ as a part of them dies inside).
Here’s what to say, according to the experts, when you love your hairdresser but hate your hair:
“I think that it’s important to be specific about what it is that you do or don’t like. Try something like ‘I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but there’s something that I’m not liking about this cut/colour/bangs/the whole look. When we chatted we agreed that it was going to sit a little more like this, but I don’t feel that it does.’” —John Pullitano
“I would suggest saying “ I’m not sure about this haircut/hair colour.” That’s a good starting point. If there is a reason why, then let the hairdresser know after the response. The way that it’s handled is a good indication of whether you should keep or change your hairdresser.” – Vince Nobile
And if you still can’t muster the courage to say how you really feel when still in the chair, you absolutely can circle back with your stylist or salon after leaving, according to Pullitano.
“The client should either call or email straightaway, or between 24 to 48 hours after the service. Not one week or two weeks after the service. Just be honest with what the issue is—be specific, and detail why, for you, it doesn’t work. All salons should have a policy in place where they will take that client back and try to make things right.”