Hair Speak: How To Describe A Haircut

There are few things more frustrating to a stylist or client than walking out of the doors of a salon with a less than perfect haircut. The client goes in expecting to come out feeling beautiful with exactly the look they were going for and the stylist goes into the same situation wanting to give their client just that. Each and every client is essential to a stylist’s business as they are a walking billboard that advertises the stylists talent and skill level. So, it’s in a stylist’s best interest to give you a cut that makes you feel (and look) fantastic. Not only will you keep coming back to them again and again, but you are also proud to tell all of your friends where you got your fabulous haircut and encourage them to go to the salon as well.

So let’s be really clear on that point: Word of mouth is one of the absolute most important things to a stylist’s business.

Keeping with that theme, clear and effective communication is the foundation of any good client/stylist relationship. Going to see your stylist and saying “Just make me look good” is a lot like going to see your doctor and saying “Just make me feel better.” You’re not going to get very far, very fast.  Having a basic idea of what you want and how your stylist may make it happen can only help to get you the cut that you want and leave both you and your stylist satisfied.

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A haircut is just like a couture gown; handcrafted to suit the individual wearer perfectly.

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Tip 1: Take a Picture (with a grain of salt)

Many people will tell you to bring a picture of a cut that you like, to show your stylist. While stylists are visual artists and a picture can go a long way to helping you get your point across, it doesn’t automatically get you Gisele’s luxurious layers or Halle’s perfect pixie. Many clients walking in armed with pinterest boards or magazine tear outs don’t consider that the style they’ve deemed is “just perfect” may not work for them at all. A haircut is just like a couture gown; handcrafted, to suit the individual wearer perfectly. Which means, all of those lovely images that you’ve selected were made for the people wearing the hair in that picture, not you. Face shape, neck length, natural texture, growth pattern, density, overall hair health, lifestyle, styling prowess, personality—all factors that come into play when your stylist crafts a haircut for you. So, we’re sorry to tell you, but it’s next to impossible for you to have the same cut that’s in the picture AND have it work for you. That being said, there are a number of tweaks and techniques that a stylist can employ to take that picture and customize the style to you. Just be open to hearing their ideas.

Hair Speak: To cut down on confusion, here are a few of the more common cutting terms used in salons, and what they are used for:

  1. Graduation: This term refers to a cut that is used to build weight into the hair, typically creating a “stacked” wedge look. Hair is elevated to help create body and volume. Graduation works by creating different lengths in the upper and lower layers of a section of hair.  The term “graduation” refers to the angle used to build a difference in length between the long ends of the hair and the short ends. These types of cuts typically work well for most hair types, and long graduated layers are an excellent way to create movement while keeping the length.
  2. Point Cutting: This technique looks exactly how it sounds: a stylist uses the point of their shears to cut into the hair at the ends, holding the shear parallel to the hair. Point cutting removes excess weight from the hair and can help create body in heavy, straight tresses. It is also used to soften downlines, so the hair has a more blended look. While point cutting works wonders on those with little to no natural bend, it should never be used on naturally curly clients. Removing weight at the ends of curly hair will promote expansion and therefore, frizz.
  3. Texturizing or “Thinning”: Ever seen those funny looking things that look like a pair of shears met a comb in the drawer and popped out a baby? Those are texturizing shears. While there is a variety of internal cutting techniques that can remove bulk (weaving, slicing, chipping) the most common way to achieve “de-bulking” is with texturizing shears. These shears reduce a percentage of the hair section without reducing overall length. By staggering how many strands lay on top of one another at a given point and it gives the overall effect of “less poufy” silhouette. Be careful that not too much hair is removed or cut too close to the roots of the hair. You may end up with stubble that will stick out!
  4. Dry Cutting: This is a somewhat controversial cutting technique. When dry cutting began catching on, many stylists thought that it could lead to further damage and split ends (much like razoring). However, the biggest benefit of dry cutting is that it gives a stylist a clear picture of how your finished cut will look. Wet hair and dry hair are two entirely different animals depending on your curl pattern, the differences can be pretty dramatic. While you may have seen your stylist give a final snip or two after your blow dry, more and more pros are being won over into the dry cutting a total cut camp. Be warned – dry cutting requires a particular attention to detail and specific training, so if your stylist isn’t familiar with it, don’t push the issue. The key to achieving a quality dry cut lies in quality shears (which should be kept razor sharp at all times) and the knowledge of not only how the hair will lay at the time, but how the style will grow, over time.

Tip 2: Ask Questions

If you’re unsure of your hair type or density, face shape or how healthy your hair is, just ask. Your stylist went to cosmetology school for a reason and a big part of that includes being able to educate their clients. Knowing all about your hair will not only help you to choose styles more likely to work for you (cutting down your styling time and number of bad hair days), but it also plays a big part in choosing which products will work best for said style. The right care and styling products go a long way in keeping your perfect haircut looking, well, perfect, in-between appointments.

Tip 3: Pay Attention

It may be tempting to scroll through your social media feed, or send out a few emails or text while your stylist is blow drying and finishing your new cut, but put the phone down. Put. It. Down. Pay close attention to how your stylist holds the brush, what type of brush they are using, what products they are putting in your hair, and how the dryer is pointed. If you want to earn an “A” in styling your new cut, ask your stylist to only finish one side of your head and walk you through doing the other side yourself. The best way to keep your new cut looking flawless is to learn how to use it from the one who knows it best – your stylist!

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Have a term or technique that has you stumped? Email us at and we will add it to the list!