The Do's and Don'ts of Ditching Your Hairdresser

Rachel Pomerance

Ask a man about his hairdresser, and you may well get a befuddled look and a question like, "You mean whoever cuts my hair?" But a woman and her hairdresser? There's a good chance she has her stylist on speed dial.

That's because, for many women, their hairdresser represents much more than a routine service provider - she's their armchair psychologist, beacon of hope (the idea being that if your hair's manageable, life seems that much more so) or comrade in the rare occasion to Zen out. Often, a woman rejoices in the ritual - a place to plop down for a while and vent to a caretaker tending her tresses. But when her hair color starts to look a little off or the service gets shoddy, what's a woman to do - sacrifice her style, or her stylist?

Etiquette experts admit breaking up with a hairdresser can be tricky territory, but the experience need not be so painful.

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Jodyne Speyer, author of "Dump 'Em: How To Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser," says she learned the right way the hard way. Now based in Los Angeles, Speyer was living in New York when she patronized a hairdresser who continually clipped her hair too short. "I went for two years, and then I just completely whimped out," she says. "I told some grandiose lie about traveling." The fib made her feel so bad that whenever she passed the salon, she raced by, praying her hairdresser wouldn't see her. "In hindsight, I think it would've been so much easier if I just said something," she muses over the needless worry. "How much stress did I put myself through by sprinting across 7th Avenue in traffic?"

Sure, breaking up with a hairdresser can be a challenge - there's the fear of confrontation and hurting someone, especially someone a woman has confided in for years.

And yet, Speyer learned, through dozens of interviews for her book, that stylists are really OK about it. They want their clients to be happy. But they do want to know whether or not they're coming back.

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With that in mind, here are some tips on the proper protocol when it's time for you and your hairdresser to part waves.

1. Don't Lie.

As indicated by Speyer's example (and about a million French farces) extravagant lies tend to backfire. Because Speyer's friend continued to frequent her former hairdresser, she then worried whether her friend might out her. A white lie, however, like saying you've chosen a salon closer to your office, is OK by Speyer.

2. Don't avoid the situation.

"You want to take care of it right there, when you're in the shop," says Diane Gotttsman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Tell your stylist what's bothering you - if the bangs seem too short, or you've noticed that the layers seem different lately, she suggests. "If you're upfront, you feel better because you've said something. You don't leave upset."

Still, it's not easy. Crystal Bailey, director of The Etiquette Institute of Washington, calls for the same approach Gottsman recommends. And yet, she's struggling to execute it. Bailey appreciates her stylist's talent but not the salon's excessive waits. Although she aims to address the issue with her stylist, who she has seen for three years. "I've never directly had that conversation with her," she says. "I don't want to ruin the relationship."

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3. Don't avoid the hairdresser.

If you do decide to break up with your hairdresser, don't duck into a different aisle if you see her in the grocery store, Gottsman says. Instead, say hello. "It puts everybody at ease," she says. "There is power in addressing a situation positively." Plus, you'll feel good about doing the right thing. "All we can do is be responsible for our own behavior."

4. Do give your stylist a second chance. Don't give much more.

Holding out hope while holding your tongue doesn't pay off, experts say. What happens instead is women are "unhappy over and over and over again," Gottsman says. It's like the sensibility that strikes in Vegas, where people "keep going, going, going, because you think you're gonna win, win, win," she says.

For starters, the hairdresser may not know you don't like what she or he is doing. Secondly, your feedback gives the stylist an opportunity to address your concerns. And that way, if the concerns aren't met, you've given notice. "It helps to have that heads up already, so it's not coming out of left field," Speyer says.

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5. Do consider your delivery.

"You don't have to do it in person," Speyer says. But you do have to do it with class. You are ending a relationship after all, albeit a business one.

Speyer recommends snail mailing your hairdresser a card that wishes her well. And if the relationship requires more than that, you might up the parting gift. For example, when Speyer was asked how to handle breaking up with a hairdresser someone had seen for 60 years, she suggested sending flowers.

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