surviving a salon with hairdresser anxiety

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Hairdresser anxiety is a real thing – I know I can’t be alone in this.

A salon visit is, at heart, a wholly unnatural experience: an array of strangers pulling and scrubbing at your head while you you try to avoid eye contact with your own reflection, and pretend to feel at ease. Your hairdresser will get closer to you than even your partner does, most days; or rather, they get just as close but actually pay attention. She’ll know about your grey hairs & neck acne long before you do. 
Glossy, scented and slightly orange, she sees all of your secret flaws.

I tried to write a genuinely helpful post on the subject.
I even spoke to my hairdresser about it, feigning journalistic interest instead of my actual first-hand understanding of the subject. I thought I could put together an action plan & try it out – & then sat down to write it, and the following came out. I’m sorry? You’re welcome? Who knows, really.

How to survive a trip to the hairdressers.

1/ Only go to hair salons which allow you to book online. It is a truth universally acknowledged that rudeness in salon staff is inversely proportional to rate of pay. The girl on the phones hates you and will leave you shivering, shameful and shy, long after you hang up. 

2/ Check you don’t have headlice before you go. Not because I think you have headlice – you almost definitely don’t – but this is the only way to shake the terror that can hit you when the possibility occurs to you as the stylist starts to comb through your wet hair. Rule it out in advance, & you’ll feel much better.

3/ Don’t take a coat – I’ll explain this later. Keep your handbag with you as you’re moved around, but be prepared to feel super awkward about it, as all the super-swish grown-up ladies around you don’t have bags of any description. You will be the only one with a leather holdall full of used tissues and black bananas at your feet, but don’t let them crush your individuality. 

4/ Don’t think about that article you once read in the Daily Mail about how the angle of the wash basins in salons can give you a stroke.

5/ Regardless of what temperature the water is, tell the stylist how ‘lovely’  it is when asked and grit your teeth – trying to change it only ever makes things worse. Close your eyes and pretend to feel ‘pampered’ instead of acutely aware of the fluorescent lighting illuminating your iron-filing eyebrow stubble.

6/ Bring pictures. The stylist will likely ignore these entirely and do what she thinks is best for your hair regardless, but it reduces the amount of awkward hair-related conversation you have to endure at the start of the consultation. Just point and say ‘like this but not blonde’, or whatever.

7/ Don’t accept the drink. You won’t know when to drink it – ‘am I allowed to move now? or now? When can I put it down??’ and it invariably ends up full of hair anyway. Plus sometimes there is fake champagne and sometimes not, and if you ask & there isn’t, you’ll sound like a total 2pm lush.

8/ Lie when asked how long it’s been since your last cut. The correct answer, it turns out, is ‘six to eight weeks ago‘, not ‘last December, but only because I had some chewing gum stuck in it & had to go to a Christmas party’. I’m as surprised as you are.

9/ Lie during the small talk. The only acceptable answer to “so are you going out after this?” is ‘yes, I’m going to a once in a lifetime red carpet event!‘. When you say ‘nah, just eating pasta in leggings on my sofa’ you are guaranteeing yourself a crap blow-dry as the stylist feels that you and your hair are a waste of her time. Equally, don’t confess to having young children or quite liking naps or visits to the garden centre. Stick to universally accessible subjects like bad Saturday night television, cats, and the lousy British weather.

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10/ Wear all of your make-up. Seriously, all of it – just pile it all on: a whole tube of concealer, dark blusher, that ill-advised purple lipstick you bought on a whim. More is more when it comes to preparing to sit staring at your reflection under bright lights for an hour without the comforting curtain of your hair to soften it all. A decent mask of cosmetics will help you to look like a happy clown instead of the living dead, which is slightly less terrifying, on balance.

11/ Lie about your haircare routine. My two favourite lines are either ‘I use the Kerastase line and I’m really happy with it‘ (it’s genuinely brilliant, so few sales folk can argue you need to buy anything different) or ‘I’m a blogger so I get all this stuff for free‘. The second has the advantage of making you seem fancy and swish, increasing your chances of receiving a decent blow-dry

12/ Agree. ‘Oh yes, you’re right – that’s made a huge difference!’. ‘Oh yes, it feels completely transformed’. These people know hair inside and out, so who are you to argue? They must be right, so just smile and nod.

13/ Pretend you like it. Yes, I know you want to cry, but hold those tears in until you get outside. Give a watery smile and say ‘oh wow, it’s lovely, you’re brilliant!‘. Resist the urge to frantically claw your fingers through in an attempt to fix it. She has scissors, and all the power. 

14/ Tip everyone. God, I don’t know – I listened to the whole Sali Hughes audiobook section on this and it still fills me with fear and trepidation. I think you’re just supposed to shove money at everyone in the salon – the girl on the till, the cleaner, that old dear getting her perm set in the corner. Press a crisp fiver into everybody’s hand as you dash out of the door (aren’t you glad you didn’t bring a coat?) into the inevitable rainstorm that trashes your blow-dry.

15/ Find a cafe and take the best selfie you can to text to your best friend, asking if she thinks it’s awful. Get a reply saying it doesn’t look any different and why didn’t you get the fringe you talked about? Begin to wonder if you need to go back again…

Do you hate the hairdresser’s too? Please tell me this experience is universal!

  • Rosie

    Well, I am lucky enough to go to the friendliest hairdressers ever, and have been going to the same one for at least 8 years on account of the warmth and care they demonstrate towards all their customers. It is in Huddersfield so not too far from where you live if you ever want the details! I never feel intimidated there or like I have to fib and, what’s more, they are lovely with my kids too and we sometimes all go together! There’s no hard sell for bits you don’t need, they advise but leave it up to you and they have loads of offers and rewards for loyal customers. And, most importantly, I always get a good cut and leave feeling better than when I walked in! Believe me, lovely hairdressers – like lovely people – do exist!!

  • jack

    LOL, this was absolutely brilliant! I’ve been putting off getting my hair [did] cut and styled because I just have 0 faith in everyone who weilds the mighty scissor. But…I feel more confident after reading this, so thank youuuu <3

  • Hate it. HATE IT. (Hairdressers, that is, not this post) I end up cutting my own hair, poorly, but still liking the result better than when I let a professional loose on my curls; I tell myself that, with curly hair, nobody can tell whether or not it’s supposed to be such a state.

    • Jake’Bad luck’Bullet-Enforcer

      Well going by your photo you’re doing a great job with your hair! I wish I could cut mine myself lol.

  • Fi Cooper

    I used to hate it until I found the hilarious bloke – mid 50s, ex army, tattoos, rides a Harley, likes gardening – who now cuts my hair in the salon he runs, and rules in a charming but completely no nonsense way. Now it’s usually done in 20 minutes, no small talk apart from gardening or how his daughter’s doing, and no tips expected, or trying to sell me ‘product’ at the end. I dread having to go anywhere else though!

  • Nicola

    I have to go to the hairdresser every 6 weeks as my hair going grey-if I procrastinate for more than a week I risk looking like Cruella Devil. My hairdresser recently sold up but discreetly slipped me her number. She said she was only approaching her nicest customers ( ‘the ones I think of as friends’) and as much as I would like to believe her, I think the amount I spend in hair dye was the attraction in my case. I thought about trying a new salon but chickened out – I walked into a couple and asked for price lists but they were so up themselves I wasn’t encouraged. so now I slink round to her house and have my hair done in her conservatory – which is inconvenient and even more excruciating than going to the salon.

  • Rebecca Harrison

    Love this! I have serious hairdresser phobia – once, a voucher for a swanky place resulted in an involuntary mullet! With access to a Tardis, I could’ve defeated Pat Sharp’s ‘Worst Haircut’ winning streak at the Smash Hits awards. *nods* Strangers were assailing me with pitying looks and snatching their children out of my path. Also, my Gran was a hairdresser, and throughout my childhood, was always threatening to chop my plaits off. (She did hair for Brit films and in prisons: don’t make eye contact, don’t leave your scissors around.)

    • I had an accidental mullet once too! It should have never happened- damn you pat sharpe!

  • Brilliant. I loathe the hairdressers. I have my hair trimmed or lopped off once every 12 months when a friend of mine is cutting her mums hair and we have the same day off. 😉

  • Oh, and Dean dyes it with Box dye late at night in the half light when we are really tired. Highly frowned upon in profesh circles but I couldn’t care less.

  • Jill Hanson

    This is so funny because it’s all true! My hairdresser describes my hair as “challenging” but he has cut it successfully (with a couple of hiccups) for 20 years. Now, as we are about to move house I am contemplating driving for several hours every few weeks so I don’t have to go through the trauma of finding someone else. I’ve convinced myself that this is the sensible option……

  • I loved this and could relate on so many levels! I definitely get hairdresser anxiety – haven’t been back in over 2 years and really need to! x

    http://www.curiouser-and-curiouser.co.uk

  • Kirsty Baker

    This is literally one of the best posts I have ever read because a) it’s hilarious and b) I can relate to all of these points. I hate going to the hairdressers but as I have incredibly unruly wavy, thick hair I HAVE to suffer this experience every 10 weeks or I end up like a triangle head.

    ARGGH xx

    http://www.kirstytalks.co.uk

  • rosenzucker

    I’m from Switzerland and totally agree. It must be universal! You totally hit the nail, um scissor with this post. And foremost you gave me good laugh. Thank you! And now I really need to make an appointment…

  • HATE going to the hairdressers! And why do yo have to tip?! And how much? Brilliant post, I’m going to read it again before I book a haircut on Friday ?

  • This is absolutely hilarious & totally totally en pointe! I used to say I preferred going to the dentist than going to the hairdresser! Hells I have even allowed my naturally artic blonde hair to win through because having it dyed every 4 weeks, taking 3 hrs & costing me a bomb was too much for me to bare any more! It’s not so bad now that I only have to go every 12 weeks or so for a trim – & I like my hairdresser!! Brilliant – just brilliant!

  • Laura

    Brilliant! I needed this sound advice last week… I failed miserably on so many of those points! Plus I don’t like my new doo, its not even long enough for a comfortable top-knot now damn it!

  • Rachel

    I’m terrified of hairdressers the way most people are of the dentist. This is timely as I just got back from an appointment (the first for 5 months) I arrived and found out I didn’t have the hairdresser I asked for and now I have a weird fringe, I may have to get the scissors out….

  • This was a seriously funny read! I’m 100% with you on lying about when you got your last cut or using specific products because, lets be honest, I do nothing style wise ever unless forced. But I actually don’t mind the hairdressers. The motto I live by is, “It’s hair. It’ll grow back.”

  • Oh God this made me laugh so much! I HATE visiting the hairdressers.. the bright lights and endless small talk is excruciating. Normally I give them the ‘book off’ and just hope for the best!

  • Haha! I’m lucky to have found a very safe small talk topic with my hairdresser. Every time I visit, we discuss tv shows. I often feel uncultured, but it works. And you are So Right about the drink! My salon has such delicious herbal tea, but I’ll have to drink it scalding hot before sat in the chair or not at all.

    Also, “fancy and swish?” I’ve never heard that before (American here), and it’s to to be the most delightful thing I’ve read all day. ^_^

    P.s. I had to kind of do your #13 tip on my wedding day. I’m very glad to see on Twitter that you’re testing out things ahead of time!

  • illya

    HUM? I don’t go through any of this. I just let my hair grow,trim my own!I go for a break a nice wash and blow out when I need a treat and i’m too lazy to dry my own hair!let it grow! DEBRA/Nantucket

  • Jake’Bad luck’Bullet-Enforcer

    All 100% true and great tips!!.. I can relate to 99% of this haha.

    Sadly, as a guy, who has quite severe anxiety I can’t do a lot of these :'(. Last time I took a photo in the guy looked at me and said “A photo.. haha.. How old are you? Haha.” Then spent the next 20mins laughing at me with his fellow hair dresser mates about a fully grown man taking in a photo. -_-. Not all hair dressers are like this of course, spesh when a woman takes in a photo. But when it does happen..it’s hard to forget >_< Lol.

    Also, a small tip on the lying (about what yu're doing later, in general) side.. If you plan on going back remember what you've said! I don't think i've ever told the truth to my hair dresser once! Haha. I'm too embarrassed to look up and say "no, i'm not going out this weekend. I'm staying in and raiding on World of Warcraft with 29 other people i've never met..You?" Haha.

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  • Laura Torninoja

    Haha YES I love this – thank god I’m not alone! For me the worst part is the feeling that I have to do small talk. I hate small talk! I’d much rather just get a magazine or look at my phone, but then that feels awkward too… I actually need to go to hairdressers soon – help!

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

  • Tracey

    I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who hates going to the hairdressers. I laughed at so many of these points and have thought the same things. I often think about the chance of stroke and how awkward I am with my handbag.

  • Yes, yes, yes. You’ve done it again. I loathe going to the hairdressers to the point I now dye my own hair to cover the grey and have been working out how to trim the ends by dangling my hair in front of my face. I hate looking in the mirror for even a minute and I can’t do small talk. I’ve resorted to taking my own tea bags with me because its asker than trying to explain that I’m lactose intolerant over the sound of a hairdryer. I always end up washing my hair when I get home to restore my wavy hair that they always insist on blow drying so straight I don’t recognise myself in the mirror that I’m trying not to look in and I’m not interested in seeing what the back of my head looks like because I can’t see it! I often dream of a salon where you can read Gardens Illustrated and listen to jazz or classical music and can discuss poetry!