how to find the hairstylist of your dreams

don't give up

Photo by Nina Westervelt

While people often say that your hair is your most important accessory, I feel that your hair should be an invaluable asset that fits neatly into all of the other factors that equal the sum total of your personal style. And finding a person to work with you and your hair in a way that honors that can be a daunting and costly endeavor.

So, you've done your homework. You’ve scoured reviews and scrolled through endless salon website pictures—which has incidentally drained you of all hope: Usually those images are super dated, highly editorial, or clearly purchased stock photos. Not exactly what most of us are looking for in a hair change. 

Whether you use online reviews, respond to good press, or rely on a friend’s recommendation (still the best method in our digital world!) I suggest booking three consultations with different stylists. Going into your consultation, remember this: Although in America and parts of Europe, hairstylists have been canonized as artists and visionaries, all of us still went to a vocational school and this is still a service industry. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If you walk into a salon and feel inadequate, turn around and walk out. It’s not you, it’s them.

Here’s what you should look for. 

Get a consultation. 

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: You’re entitled to a consultation. The stylist will get paid when the work is complete and you should leave the consultation with a quote of how much that work will cost. If a salon does not offer free consultations, skip them. 

A consultation should be booked in advance and is generally a fifteen minute appointment. During your consultation the stylist or colorist should be forthcoming. They should have pictures at the ready to compare to the ones you bring in (and you must bring them in! We don’t hate it). They might even have a physical picture book like at a tattoo parlor.

Colorists should pull swatches of color for you to look at as examples that are suitable for you. The first thing I always look at is what color of clothing a client is wearing closest to their face. This is a strong indicator of what color they will feel comfortable sporting on the daily. 

Though stylists in reputable salons are theoretically equal in skill, we all have our unique passions and strengths. If you and your stylist are both excited by the same stuff, it’s going be an awesome match.

Take mental notes and document.  

Watch your stylist’s body language and listen closely to what they say. If you are uncomfortable talking in the mirror, the stylist should notice and turn you to talk face-to-face. We are incredibly adept at mirror talk but some people aren’t. When discussing ideas be wary of statements that lack conviction, like, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna be a gorgeous blonde” or “I’ve been doing this for years.” Though great temporary reassurances, they are not indicators that you are being heard unless you’ve already come to a full agreement.

At a certain point people often say to me, “I trust you.” In my head, I think, “But why? You don’t know me.” Maybe it’s my soothing tone or because I’m a good stylist intent on making my clients happy. But often people say “I trust you” because they are overwhelmed with information. 

You should document the names, numbers, and letters of the colors the colorist shows you. Keep a mental note of the pictures they refer to, then go home to see if your ideas match up.

Once you have interviewed three stylists, choose one. 

Go home and recap the info you’ve acquired. Cross-check it via review sites, press they may have, an online portfolio, Tumblr, Pinterest, or Instagram. Check their website for pricing and make sure the prices quoted to you during your consultation match up, give or take around 10%. If the pricing is confusing, call the salon and ask if there are additional, unforeseen blow-dry fees. Specialized colors like pastels, vibrant, or otherwise unnatural colors usually cost more. This is not a problem for the front desk staff to answer but don’t keep them on the phone forever. 

Now that you’ve found a stylist or colorist that you feel totally confident working with, take the plunge and make the appointment. Definitely make an effort to be there on time. You may have to wait a few minutes. Even though you have to be on time, your stylist may run a little late, which is unfortunately just how it goes. Hair timing is not an exact science. If you are waiting a few minutes, understand that the stylist being mindful of their work and not cutting corners (just hair). Rest assured knowing that you will be afforded the same attention. 

As long as you’ve followed these rules, you will almost surely have avoided any disasters and walk out feeling like you found a million dollar bill in the street. 

Shaun SureThing is the Lead Stylist and Owner of Seagull Hair Salon NYC.