Hair Speak: How To Communicate A Small Change

One of the biggest complaints that we’ve ever heard from both stylists and clients is that an inch is not an inch, when you’re sitting in a hair salon. You would think that by giving a precise level of measurement (like 1 inch) would assure that you are both in agreement on the amount of hair to be removed or preserved. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Most of us have different ideas on how big an inch actually is. Try it for yourself with your thumb and forefinger; let’s see what happens.

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How to request a small change from your hairstylist

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Now grab a ruler (or a tape measure) and compare. Depending on where you landed with our finger/thumb exercise, this could be quite a bit larger or smaller than you originally thought.

If you are trying to communicate a small change in hair, descriptive terms can be tricky. Short of pulling out a tape measure at every appointment, there are a few ways to make sure that the client and the stylist are on the same page, before any cuts are made or color is applied.

“Just take off a little bit. I only need a trim.”

A “little bit” and a “trim” are not units of measurement. As such, trim amounts are completely individual to each client. The amount of hair that needs to be removed during a trim is dependent on the amount of damage to the hair. Trimming removes split ends, preventing the split from travelling further up the hair shaft and causing the entire strand to weaken, and there is no one size fits all when it comes to split ends. If the hair is well maintained and trimmed regularly, you could get away with as little as ¼ of an inch removed.

A clearer way of communicating hair length is to demonstrate, either by using your hands to show whether the hair should ideally fall, or with the hair itself. Pull it up to the point that you would like it to lay and it should eliminate all confusion in regards to amounts. This is also a great way to visualize what the end result will be, not on a celebrity or model in a magazine, but on the hair of the person who will actually be wearing the cut.

“I just want a couple of layers.”

This is a tough one, so sit down, because we are going to try to let you down gently. There is no such thing as a “couple of layers.” Having two layers cut into your hair does not give you a hairstyle; it gives you two odd looking pieces of hair. Usually, this type of request can be translated to mean more movement and less bulk, without looking choppy. In this instance, a photo of the desired cut can come in handy. Layering techniques vary with different hair types and cuts, but both razor and point cutting can accomplish the main objectives of layers without being too noticeable. “Invisible layers” are often a good choice for those who want the benefits of layering, without being able to see the layers themselves. Essentially, the invisible layering technique uses a high elevation and razor cutting to achieve layers that blend together that are also difficult to spot.

And its sister request…

“I just need one or two highlights.”

Basically what this translates to be is more dimension without a lot of application. Most of the time the proper amount of dimension and “skin brightening” requires at least a full set of highlights placed around the crown. However, this completely depends on the starting level of the hair, and whether or not it has been previously highlighted. In some cases, where there is already quite a bit of existing dimension, you can get away with applying 4-6 highlights around the face, and it will still have a noticeable effect.

If a little brightening and still looking natural is what is actually being requested, try balayage. This hair painting technique produces beautiful, bright, colors that are more blended into the natural color, making it less noticeable. The upkeep on balayage is also a little less intense, due to the blending technique, which could help offset any cost concerns as well. While the upfront costs of a balayage service are considerably more than a few face-framing highlights, the time between maintenance appointments is longer, which is a savings in the long run.

The take away from the small change requests is that it’s often not about the actual look, but more about understanding the desired end result and working backwards to find a solution. A dramatic change doesn’t always require a major overhaul, but in order to deliver on what a client is truly looking for, a thorough consultation is needed. No matter what side of the chair you are on, by paying close attention to subtle clues like body language, visual examples and trigger words used during explanations, it’s easy to cut down on potential miscommunications, leaving both parties perfectly satisfied.