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The Curl Whisperer on Finding a Stylist


Curly hair care aside, one of the most frustrating problems for any girl with curls is finding a hair stylist who knows how to deal properly with curly hair. Of all the complaints I hear from clients who sit in my chair, finding a good stylist who loves, appreciates and knows the world of curls is probably at the top of the list.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, beauty schools do not really teach anything about curly hair. When I was in school, this was the sum total of the instruction I received on how to cut and style curly hair: Cut it damp, don't put a lot of tension on the subsection when you cut it, and scrunch while you diffuse (wrong!). That was it.

Frankly, the instructors themselves rarely know how to handle it, so how in the world can they teach the students how to do it? 95% of what I know about cutting, styling and maintaining curly hair was learned elsewhere. It's just not a priority in the American beauty education system right now. It's no wonder most of us look like hell when we walk out the salon door.

Second, as sad as it may seem, it takes twice as long to cut and style curly hair as it does straight hair. This industry is purely commission-based on services, so the more clients you see and the more services you perform, the more money you make. Some stylists will automatically treat you just like they do a straight-haired girl because they don't want you in their chair any longer than you need to be. If the average commission on a cut/style is $15-$25 and a stylist can do two clients with straight hair in the time it takes them to do one girl with curly hair, some of them are going to go for the money and treat a girl with curls just like a straight-haired girl.

To further complicate matters for girls with curls, some of the hair salon "chains" actually have metrics they use to measure stylist performance. In one popular chain, you have exactly 13 minutes to do a haircut. That means you stick the client in a shampoo sink for two minutes, use your shears to do a standard 45- or 90-degree layered "wet cut" in 11 minutes, then get them the hell out of your chair.

You miss your metrics often enough, you can get fired. Even if a stylist working at one of these places wanted to take their time and do a proper curly cut, they couldn't. Moral of this particular story: If you have any hope of getting a halfway decent curly cut, think about staying away from the chains. You might be lucky and find someone who can give you an acceptable wet cut in that amount of time, but you'd be pushing it.

So, what's a girl with curls to do?

First of all, one of the best ways to find a curly-friendly stylist is to walk right up to someone whose hair you love and ask who does it. Tell them you are looking for a new stylist and you think their hair rocks. They will usually be totally flattered and will be more than happy to share info about their stylist. Then get a list together of a few who really seem to appeal to you and call for a consultation.

Whatever you do, please don't just call a salon and ask if they have any stylists who know how to cut curly hair. Of course, they are going to tell you 'yes.' You need to know the right questions to ask to make sure the stylist you choose really is familiar with handling curls.

Your list of questions at the consultation should include:

  • Where did you learn to cut curly hair? (You can be sure it wasn't in beauty school, so ask them what kind of continuing education classes they took, or even if they are self-taught like I am).

  • What product lines do you carry/use in your salon that are specific/friendly to curly hair?

  • How many curly clients do you have?

  • Do you have naturally curly hair yourself?

  • Do you wear your own hair curly?

If you find one who sounds good to you, schedule a styling session with him/her to see if you like how they do your hair (Believe me, a lot of hairdressers don't know how to finish worth a damn, so this can be a good indication of how well they handle it). If you like their work and you feel comfortable, then move on to bigger and better things like haircut and color.

The most important thing to remember is that you always have the power to get up from any stylist's chair and walk out the door. There is no excuse to ever let yourself get talked into anything you don't want, whether it be a cut, color or a style ... especially if your only reason is that you are worried about what a stylist or the people in a salon will say about you if you do. Give me (and yourself) a break, please. It is never worth dealing with bad hair for the next three, six, twelve months just because you didn't want to say anything or hurt anyone's feelings.

And if you do manage to find a great stylist, it is worth thinking about posting a review on curly and natural hair sites so other girls with curls can find them, too ... especially if you live in an area where good stylists are scarce. I promise you will be a hero.



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