I know I’ve been away for a while but I was on vacation. I’m back and don’t anticipate anymore hiatuses for a while this year. Let’s get started!
In The Chair: Choosing The Right Hairstylist For You
One of the things that I quickly developed after returning to natural hair almost 12 years ago was a phobia towards professional hairstylists. Back then, the concept of natural hair was so foreign to many people that trying to find someone who wasn’t immediately trying to get me to relax, “texlax”, hot comb, or get extensions was hard. Admittedly, to this day, the only hairstylists that have done my hair have been my dear sweet grandmother and a local stylist with a small home set-up.
Let’s face it, finding a hairstylist that you can trust with your particular hair needs can be hard when you’re a natural. This is especially so when the past 3 decades of Black hair have centered around either straightening methods or hair installments and frankly working from a base of inappropriate and/or inadequate information about the nature and needs of ethnic hair.
So, in this blog, I am going to offer my musings on what one should look for in a stylist.
1) Education. Quick story: I went to a high school that offered clusters and one of those clusters was cosmetology. The students in the cosmetology cluster had the opportunity to learn for four years and at the end of the senior year, sit for the licensing exam. What I noticed was that when the students in the cosmetology cluster would bring their heads (dolls that they would work on) into other classes with them, they all had straight Barbie-ish hair. Even though I never asked, it perplexed me because most of the students in that cluster were Black and I didn’t understand how they could have a true knowledge of working with Black hair if their training didn’t involve using dolls with ethnic hair.
Am I saying that you need to do a background check on the school they graduated from? Not necessarily. But, I would advise that caution be exercised before you sit down in front of a friend of a friend’s cousin’s step-sibling whose claim to fame is that they do everyone in the community’s hair but has yet to get any formal education or training.
2) Experience. Experience differs from education because it separates the learners from the doers. Even in my permed days, the stylists that I chose had at least ten years of experience and had worked with all types of hair. They were able to offer consultations and evaluations based on their years of experience and didn’t immediately default to the popular styles of the time. They were multidimensional so every client didn’t walk out of the salon looking the same and could give advice on between-appointment maintenance.
If you notice that a stylist has a disproportionate reaction to you hair (uncertainty, anxiety, grimacing, or spends more time picking at it with curiosity than actually working on it), you may want to re-evaluate if that stylist is right for you. If you notice that almost every client they have has an almost identical hair type or walks out of the salon with virtually the same hairstyle, perhaps more research is needed before you settle on him/her. I would add that even if the common style is attractive, you have to question why everyone walks out with the same style.
3) Humility. Although referred to as a client, you are a customer and should be treated as such. I recall the last salon visit I had before I had the BC (big chop). I went in for a retouch after several months of not having had one and asked for a very specific style. The stylist, whom I had never been to but was recommended, popped her gum, looked at my hair in a ponytail and said my hair wouldn’t be long enough to pull off that style. After washing out the relaxer, her statement was, “Oh, it didn’t look that long when you first came in here.” She than began to “trim my ends” and I left with a mushroom-style haircut with bangs that went back 2 inches farther on my left side than on my right.
I don’t know why she did it but if I had to guess, I think that she was embarrassed by her rushed judgment of my hair and to keep her ego intact, she had to make my hair “not long enough” for the style I requested. Another theory is that she had no idea how to do the style I requested and used a default style that she thought would suffice. Your hairstlyist has to realize that they are there to serve you to the best of their ability. They should be humble enough to listen to you and admit it when what you want or need is outside of their scope of knowledge or ability.
4) Professionalism. So, okay, I know we’ve all been there. We had a 2:00 appointment and at 4:00, we’re still in the waiting area. Sometimes the stylist was late. Sometimes the stylist “worked in” a friend or relative who didn’t have an appointment and we got pushed further down the roster. Sometimes the stylist took an extra long lunch break.
I have to postulate that the reason this practice has happened so long in Black salons is simply because clients quietly acquiesce. The willingness to wait an inordinate amount of time past the appointment time has served as a sort of “pass” to stylists who have a hard time honoring their clients’ appointment times. We can call it many things but I choose to call it a lack of professionalism based on a lack of respect.
These days, if I were to find myself in that situation, I would leave at 30 minutes past the appointment time and likely never return to that stylist. However, the decision to wait is a personal one that each client has to make for themselves. With that said, make sure that your client-stylist relationship is one under-girded by mutual respect. If you have entrusted them with the health of your hair and been responsible enough to show up on time, they should at least be respectful of your time.
Beyond their actions, professionalism can also be seen in how they interact with fellow stylists, how they keep their salon, equipment sanitation practices and even their own appearance and hygiene (I know what it’s like to silently suffer with the person shampooing me having forgotten to deodorize themselves).
Hopefully, those of you who need a stylist will be able to find one that suits you well. Whether you are looking for regular maintenance or only need someone you can call on for special occasions, it is imperative that you see evidence of these four traits in your stylist. Lastly, please remember that you should never be too afraid to switch stylists in a timely manner for any reason you choose. It’s your hair and you don’t have to explain your decision to leave to anyone. Your hair could depend on it.
Until next time, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.