How to tell your barber you don’t like your haircut

You asked for a little bit off the top when you walked into the barber shop. “No problemo!” said the dude who’s now whacking your mane like a gardener who drank six espressos with his nose before trimming some bushes. Cold sweat cascades down your forehead and the back of your neck as your barber asks, “So, what do you think?”

Frankly, you think this man needs to retire his clippers — and possibly receive some kind of mental counseling, or at the very least, get his eyes checked — because your new haircut looks like a bird’s nest that’s been chewed on by an 80-pound rottweiler. The trouble is, it’s tough to criticize a dude who’s waving sharp scissors around next to your ears. And what if, instead of fixing it, he gets mad and makes it look even worse than it already does?

So, what do you do, and more importantly, what do you say?

Whether you’ve been unhappy with the general direction your hairstyle has been going in between cuts or are sitting white-knuckled in the chair horrified by what’s happening to your cherished barnet, speaking up is key. It’s a conversation lots of men want to have but shy away from. Rather than face it, they suffer in silence or switch to another salon and risk ending up with another haircut they loathe, now with even less confidence to bring it up – and so the cycle continues until they end up lasering it off with clippers or adopting Jesus as a trichological icon. Now, after a few months’ growing time, there’s never been a better time to take control.

“It can be a very British male thing to keep quiet for fear of looking too vain or difficult, so they choose to be quiet and live with it,” says Denis Robinson, experienced barber and brand specialist at Ruffians, which has shops in London and Edinburgh. “It’s all about communication. It’s our job as the technical expert to deliver that – however, if your needs have changed, it’s your job to explain.”

‘BRING PICTURES! CONTRARY TO URBAN MYTH, WE LOVE THEM’

It’s natural to get chair-fright and nobody wants to piss off somebody holding a very sharp pair of scissors, so plan in advance: forewarned is forearmed. Book your next appointment over the phone and mention you’re after a restyle – most decent salons and barbershops will offer extended appointments of, say, 15 minutes for extra consultation time, so ask about this. Then, when you arrive, you know what to expect; you’re empowered and immediately in the driving seat. Say you want to try something new and want to go through some ideas. If you’ve got it, bring inspiration. “Bring pictures!” says Robinson. “Contrary to urban myth, we love them.”

You might feel tearing a page out of a GQ shoot is overreaching a tad – yes, I do this! – but a decent barber will always be honest about whether something suits you and can likely offer a more workable alternative. “A good barber will always explain with tact as to why they don’t think something is achievable,” says Robinson. “Sometimes a client has a very different hair type from the image they’re using as reference. I’ve had to explain before that the hair they’re showing me is actually a wig and might be difficult to re-create.” Remember, a barber’s aim is for you to be happy so that you come back time and again – if they’re saying no, it’s for a good reason, but a good barber will always say why.

Another reason we don’t speak up in the chair? We know we want change, but don’t know what direction to go in. You might feel you’re being a pain in the arse or making your barber work harder, but this is their job! You’re asking them for creative input! They love it! “We’re there to make suggestions based on what we believe the hair can do,” says Robinson. “If a client has zero idea, we should present options. I’d usually lead with what I feel is the best option, but if a client goes for the second or third, it’s no skin off my nose.”

Remember, a stylist is a professional: you won’t hurt their feelings if you don’t like their ideas, as long as you’re polite and constructive. Reputation plays a huge part in any barber’s success; anyone worth their salt won’t want you clambering out of the chair and telling everyone what a terrible time you had. But Robinson admits not all barbers are exemplary. “I’ve come across some barbers with ridiculous egos in my time, who become arrogant and mocking with clients. I always think it doesn’t matter how good they are, if they’re not good to me, then they’re not good for me.”

REPUTATION PLAYS A HUGE PART IN ANY BARBER’S SUCCESS; ANYONE WORTH THEIR SALT WON’T WANT YOU CLAMBERING OUT OF THE CHAIR AND TELLING EVERYONE WHAT A TERRIBLE TIME YOU HAD

The ultimate nightmare, especially with stylists we don’t know very well, is sitting and staring into that unforgiving mirror watching our haircut veer off course. Remember: it’s never too late (unless they’re halfway through a buzzcut). It’s likely your barber will pick up on the signs anyway – your body language will give you away. “As a barber it’s important not to plough through but stop and ensure that we open the conversation to allow for a realignment,” says Robinson. “As a client, if you’re beginning to feel uncertain or uncomfortable, please do speak up.” In case they can’t hear you over the clippers, hold your hand up and ask if you can take a second to talk about where things are at.

If you’re worried about criticising, frame it as an innocent-sounding question: “Remind me, what will the top look like when we’re done?” or “I just want to check… Is this as short as we’re going at the sides?”

Make it clear you’re aware this is a work in progress, but that you’re in control: “Just wondering… Can we leave the top for now and concentrate on the sides so I can see how they look before making up my mind?” or, perhaps, “I’ve just been thinking… I’m not sure about what we said for the final look. Can we stop a moment?”

‘DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL SOMEONE WHEN YOU AREN’T HAPPY. WE’RE TRAINED IN HAIRCUTTING, BUT ALSO COMMUNICATION SKILLS’

Just be honest, acknowledge the barber’s experience and expertise: “I’m sure I’m worrying over nothing, but this looks a little short to me – do you still think it will work?” or, even, “Can you talk me through what you’re doing here? It doesn’t look like how I’m used to having it.”

Even if you’re furious, stay calm so things don’t escalate – storming out won’t fix your hair – and explain your worries. Remember, it’s not finished yet, so its current state may be temporary. If so, the barber will explain and, if not, they’ll be glad you stopped them. “In the main I’d like to believe the barber would be mortified that they’ve misinterpreted what you’ve asked for and would want to ensure they get it right,” says Robinson. “Always remember, it’s your hair and your money being spent. Don’t be afraid to tell someone when you aren’t happy. We’re trained in haircutting, but also communication skills, so we want to get it right on both fronts.”

Sometimes, yes, stylists get stuck in their ways or are reluctant to try new things or you may wish to ignore their advice and take control of your own hair destiny. Ultimately, the scissors are in their hands, but your fate is in yours. If things aren’t going the way you like, deal with it as you would any other relationship. As Robinson says, “If you feel it’s impossible to communicate with your barber or you don’t feel heard by them, then it’s time to find a new one.”

Main Image: Extreme Radio