How to Really Get the Best Haircut and Color
Meet Your Match
First things first: Find a stylist whose work you love (Instagram is a great place to look). If you're clueless about the best person to book, talk to the salon manager. Explain the look you're going for and your hair type, and ask him to pair you with the right stylist. Once the date is set, "come with an idea and an open mind," says Carlina Ortega, a senior colorist at Rita Hazan in New York City. "What you want may not be flattering for your face shape or skin tone, so chat with your stylist—and listen, too."
For more complicated treatments, it might be best to talk it out with your stylist before you head to the salon, so everyone is on the same page. "When undergoing a major color change, schedule a phone consultation with your stylist prior to your appointment so you can book the right length of time and have realistic expectations of what can be achieved," says Sheenon Olson, creative director of ATMA Beauty, a salon in Miami. "If you want to go from black to platinum blond, it needs to be done gradually to maintain the integrity of your hair."
Come Clean (But Not Squeaky)
"I can't tell you how many clients come in with hair that hasn't been washed in a week because they've been waiting on me to do it," says Katelyn Bode, a colorist at Diva Salon in Oklahoma City. "If you don't come in with perfectly fresh hair, it's OK, but having a ton of product buildup can cause color to go on unevenly." But Raisa Cabrera, a colorist at Mizu in New York City, warns that you shouldn't scrub your scalp before a color service. "That can make your skin more sensitive to the dye," she notes. So gently wash your hair the night before an appointment to make nice and get the best color (or cut).
Confess Your Sins
"It's critical that you tell us about your hair's history—whether it involves a gloss, toner, Brazilian blowout, or box color, it can make a difference in how we treat it," says Miguel Angarita, a master colorist at Mizu in New York City. But don't bash your former hairstylist. "We're all artists," says Matt Fugate, a stylist at Serge Normant in New York City. "So when you talk about what you want, focus on what you like and don't like about your current hairstyle," without pointing fingers. Angarita also recommends chatting with your stylist about budget and upkeep to ensure you don't get in too deep. If your goal is a low-maintenance style, ask for a cut or color that will still look great as it grows out.
"Pictures are the easiest way to communicate to your stylist what you want," says Cristina B, a stylist at Rita Hazan in New York City. She recommends bringing along several photos, taken from different angles and in different lighting, to convey your vision clearly. Be very specific about details as well—instead of asking for a trim, say, "I want no more than a half inch off." Of course, it's good to keep in mind that "a lot of looks you see on celebrities, in commercials, or on social media contain clip-ins or hair extensions and can lead to unrealistic expectations," says Fugate. So be ready for some truth.
Up Your At-Home Hair Game
"Using good-quality, color-safe products really does matter," says Bode. "I feel like clients sometimes think I'm just trying to make more money by having them buy the products I sell, but they're going to make your color last longer and, in turn, allow you to go longer between appointments." Products that aren't specially formulated for color-treated hair can strip the color from your strands, leaving them dull and dingy way sooner than you'd expect. "You're a walking billboard for my work, so I want it looking the best it can," adds Bode. Another key product to invest in: heat protectant. "Most women have weak, fried hair because they skip this important step—and hairspray isn't the answer," says Fugate.
Watch Your Timing
"Be wary of that last appointment on a Saturday," warns Francesca D'Ascanio, a master colorist at Mizu in New York City. "If you're a new client, want a major change, or need a lot of work done to your hair, consider booking appointments earlier in the day or in the middle of the week—your stylist will have more time and energy to devote to you." Although a hair appointment may feel leisurely, treat it with the same respect you would a doctor's appointment—do your best to be prompt and patient. Says Miguel Nicolau Pires, a stylist at Salon Eva Michelle in Boston, "I stick to a tight schedule so that each client has my undivided attention and gets the max out of the appointment."