Last updated in December 2017
Unless you’re really handy with shears (or going for a Rapunzel or clean-shaven look), you need a hairdo-over several times a year. If you’re like a whopping 70 percent of American women (and a lot of men) who color their locks too, often in salons, then you’re probably spending a ton of time (and money) at the hairdresser or barber. So how do you choose a good pro to take care of your crowning glory? And do the most expensive salons perform the best work? (Spoiler: not necessarily.) Here are strategies on finding a good stylist—and on possibly getting a good deal. To review feedback we’ve received from local consumers on salons they’ve used, click here.
See Something You Like? Say Something
Spot a friend, relative, or even a stranger with a cut or hair color you admire? Don’t be shy: Ask them where they get their tresses done. And if you’re hunting for a new dye wizard or barber, ask around for recommendations.
Stalk Stylists Online
Once you have suggestions, try to check out their work online, either via their salon’s website or the stylist’s own online portfolio or social media pages—many stylists show off their clients’ ’dos on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Does the cut or color look good, and most important, does it seem similar to what you’re aspiring toward?
Book a Blow Out or One-Time Appointment
To really know how someone is going to cut or color your tresses, you’ll likely have to go under their scissors or pots of dye. But you can also ask a particular stylist if you can meet them and have your hair washed and blown dry. It’s a no-commitment way to give them a look before you leap into a Mohawk or Marilyn Monroe bleach job.
What to Look For
Finding a good hair stylist is mostly a matter of whether you like the cut or color you get and enjoy spending time with this individual several times a year. On your first appointments, also observe whether he or she is polite, professional, timely, and gentle.
Be Aware of Huge Price Differences
Perhaps more than any other personal service, prices for haircuts and dye jobs vary tremendously from salon to salon. At national low-price chains like Hair Cuttery, a shampoo, trim, and blowout could cost less than $20; fancier salons may charge as much as $150. For men, barbershops are sometimes the cheapest option.
But because it’s all about finding an individual whose scissor and dye skills you like—whether at Fancy La Rue’s Salon or the Cut-rate Cuttery—there’s no relationship between price and quality. Some great hairdressers, salons, and barbershops charge low prices, and some charge high prices.
Get a Lower-Maintenance Cut
If you’re a guy with a simple buzz cut or a woman with a straight long mane, you can often just go to a cheap, quick barbershop or salon. And women with longer hair can usually wait longer between trims.
For Good Deals, Think Outside the Salon
You can often get cut-price cuts at hair or beauty schools. Many offer foil highlights for $50 to $75 a session; the same treatment at a mid- or high-priced salon costs three to five times that. The downside is if you’re seeking a regular shave-and-a-haircut pro schools won’t work; students quickly graduate to paying gigs. And while “I’m just learning” snafus are rare, you are taking a minor chance that you’ll get the unkindest cut of all.
An often free option is SalonApprentice.com, which lets you register and check opportunities to serve as a “hair model.” This means you offer yourself up as a guinea pig for stylists practicing new techniques in exchange for a usually gratis treatment. The upside: You usually get a topnotch up-and-coming service. The downside: You can’t specify what you’d like, and their objective may be something you won’t want (spiky cuts, bold colors, straight-from-Tokyo highlights).
At traditional salons, you might save money ($20 to $50) by doing your post-treatment blowout yourself. And some barbershops offer happy hour discount specials with, if you’re lucky, a drink while you’re in the chair.