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Hairstylists see more than just your hair
“Hairstylists can tell far more about what is going on with your life than you might expect,” says Alex Keville, an award-winning hairdresser and the owner of Alan Keville for Hair Salons in Ireland. “We can even tell certain things just by the way you walk in, like if you’re someone who likes to stand out in a crowd or if you’re a more laid-back type.”
Your stylist isn’t being nosy or presumptuous—all of these observations are important. They can help a professional determine what kind of haircut you need, as well as how best to work with you, what recommendations to make, how to avoid hair mistakes and how to tailor the experience for you.
This also helps build a stronger relationship between a hairstylist and their client. “I think the main thing hairstylists have to remember is that people come to us to make them feel better,” says Keville. “That’s a massive part of our job.”
Read on to find out more things your hairstylist knows, from what your hair says about your stress level and your health to what your method of booking reveals about you. And before your next visit, learn exactly how much to tip a hairdresser to make your visit even smoother.
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How you treat “the little people”
Just the way a client walks in and greets the front-desk staff can say a lot about their kindness, empathy and politeness, says Kristy, a hairstylist at a chain salon in Minneapolis who asked that we not use her last name. “People who are rude right off the bat will be difficult to work with, even if they’re nice to me,” she explains, “because how you treat the little people shows the kind of person you really are.” That extends to how clients treat the stylist’s assistant, janitor and even other clients. How you treat those around you is one of the things a flight attendant notices about you as well.
People who come in five minutes late in flip-flops and fall into the chair are often low-maintenance types who want a hairstyle to match their vibe, says Keville. Similarly, those who show up in a sharply tailored suit generally want a sharply tailored haircut, like a steep bob. This is important to know because your stylist can give you the perfect style in the salon, but if you don’t have the time, supplies or will to replicate it at home, you won’t be happy with it, she adds.
Pro tip: Choosing the most flattering hair part for your face shape can make an even bigger difference than opting for the fanciest haircut.
If you have “stressed-out” hair
Hair pulling (called trichotillomania), tugging, fidgeting or even chewing is a common response to stress—and a tipoff to your hairstylist that you may be dealing with some chronic anxiety, says Keville. Stress can also affect your hair directly, causing it to fall out or even triggering alopecia, an autoimmune dis order that causes hair loss. Your stylist isn’t your therapist, but it is helpful to let them know if you’re under a lot of stress. They can give you a cut to camouflage trouble areas and recommend products to rebuild and strengthen your hair.
When Kristy notices a client with this issue, she’ll tweak the normal session a tiny bit. For example, she might provide an extra scalp massage with relaxing essential oils, as well as take a few extra minutes to chat with clients to help them feel more at ease.
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Who comes in with you
Men and women often bring a partner, friend or even a parent with them to the salon for support and advice—which gives your stylist important intel. If your loved one’s opinions are important to you, then they should be important to your stylist as well. “Whether we want to admit it or not,” says Kristy, “a lot of our hair decisions are made based on who will see it and what others think of us—and there’s nothing wrong with taking that into consideration.”
That said, sometimes the relationship with your loved one is more revealing than you may think. “I’m a barber, so I primarily work with men, and you’d be amazed at how many guys will come in with their partner, who will then tell me what the client wants,” says Colin S., a barber in San Diego who asked that we not use his last name. “I also have guys tell me the haircut is fine only to have their wife or—I’m not even kidding—their mom call me later to complain. I think it says a lot about their relationship.”
How chatty you are
Your conversational style—including how you first greet your stylist, how much you want to talk (or if you want to talk at all) and what you like to talk about—is a big indicator of a client’s personality. More specifically, it shows how extroverted or introverted you are. A professional can use these conversational clues to refine your hairstyle. For instance, extroverted clients often want something eye-catching and head-turning since they like to stand out or create a presence. In that case, the stylist may suggest an ultra-trendy cut or a bold hair color, says Keville. On the other hand, a more introverted client might prefer a cut and style that looks beautiful and put-together but doesn’t call attention to them.
Plus, your chattiness indicates the type of bond you have (or want to have) with your stylist, and this affects how you work together. “I have clients who want to gossip the entire time to the point where I feel like I might be the only human contact they’ve had that week,” says Kristy. “And I have clients who will say hi and then want to sit in silence. I just try to go with their flow.”
How organized you are
According to Colin, clients generally fall into two main groups: those who arrive 15 minutes early and those who rush in five minutes late. “Some people see lateness as a sign of disrespect, but in my experience, it is more a sign of how good your organizational and time-management skills are,” he says. “There are some people who desperately want to be on time but are just too scattered to do it.” Your preferred hairstyle often reflects this innate tendency—or should. For instance, people who are chronically late may need a wash-and-go style. They’re the type of people who may have great intentions (like blowing out their hair regularly), but at the last minute, something always seems to get in the way. As a result, they’d do better with a more low-maintenance cut.
Still, try to arrive on time since your stylist may have a tight schedule. Being prompt is one of the most important etiquette rules when it comes to salon appointments and so much more.
Your relationship status
When a client suddenly shows up after months of missed appointments and wants a fancy cut or totally different style, Colin says it’s a telltale sign that they are in a new relationship and want to look extra good or are hoping to attract a special someone. Similarly, Kristy says that women will often book special appointments—say, to get a blowout before a big date or a smoothing treatment before a vacation with a new love. These extras often decline once someone is in a long-term relationship because they don’t have to work as hard to impress their partner, she adds.
Your physical health
From your posture to your skin to the current state of your hair, your appearance can reveal a lot about your health. That’s because your hair health is directly tied to your physical health. Nutrition, sleep, exercise and certain illnesses or conditions can all change your hair. And because hair takes months to grow, it can show changes to your health over time that you might not otherwise notice.
“I had a client whose normally thick, shiny hair turned dry and brittle and started falling out,” says Audie, a top-tier stylist at a private salon in New York City. “It turns out she had a thyroid disorder, and that was the first sign.”
How trendy your hair color is
Your shoes, clothes and handbags aren’t the only things that show how trendy you are—and what you value. “People have a complicated relationship with their hair color because it says things about their youth, ethnicity, culture, sexuality and social status,” says Audie. “I have clients who would rather be caught dead than with the hair color they were born with. They’ll move hell and high water to keep their dye appointments.” She adds that there is a certain “balayage blonde” (that routinely costs more than $1,000) that has become a signature among New York City socialites, and simply having the right hair color can mark you as part of the “in” crowd without you having to say a word.
On the other hand, clients who come in with several inches of gray roots usually care less about what other people think of them or may be on a budget, trying to stretch out the time between dye appointments. If this is the case, be sure to tell your stylist, as there are types of dye and methods of hair dyeing (like doing highlights and lowlights that blend with your natural color) that can help you need fewer appointments, Audie says.
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Self-care is one of the first things to go when someone is in a deep state of depression, and your stylist can see immediately when you’ve let things go. Here are some common signs, according to Kristy:
- Unusually long times between appointments
- Longer-than-normal hair (for that particular client)
- Slightly matted or tangled hair, particularly in curly-haired clients
- Breakage from being in a permanent bun
- Hair that just seems uncared for
Your stylist may also notice changes to your posture, the type of clothes you’re wearing and your overall hygiene, all of which could also indicate you’re struggling with depression. Helping someone get their hair back to a healthy and beautiful state can do wonders for a client’s mood and confidence, Kristy adds. “It’s an instant pick-me-up!”
If you’re pregnant or recently had a baby
Big hormone swings, like those that happen during and after pregnancy, can significantly change the texture, thickness and overall appearance of a woman’s hair. “I have a regular client who didn’t even have to tell me she was pregnant,” says Kristy. “I could tell just from how thick and shiny her hair had become!”
Expectant or new mothers often want easy-to-manage hairstyles and may prefer to avoid chemical dyes or treatments, she adds. Similarly, after childbirth, many women lose hair, especially along their hairline, and want to cut their hair short or get bangs to cover the uneven hairline as it grows back in.
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How you book the appointment
“My clients over age 40 almost always call to schedule appointments, cancel or ask questions,” says Audie. “But my younger clients, especially those under 20, are much more comfortable booking appointments online and hate calling for any reason. They’ll text me—or, I swear, they’d even use smoke signals—before they’ll voice call.”
While this may not say much about your hairstyle, it certainly impacts your ability to make appointments and your stylist’s ability to accommodate you. Audie adds that this sometimes means her younger clients don’t get what they need because they try to book online at the last minute, miss appointment reminders or don’t get important questions answered. On the other hand, she does appreciate their comfort with technology when it comes to using the electronic payment system—which her older clients sometimes struggle with. This is similar to what waiters first notice about you.
- Alex Keville, owner of Alan Keville for Hair Salons Ireland
- Kristy, a hairstylist at a chain salon in Minneapolis
- Colin S., a barber in San Diego
- Audie, a stylist at a private salon in New York City
Originally Published: November 18, 2022