Women and Their Hairdressers: Guilt is Always in Style

It all started with a chance comment to another soccer mom.

Lisa had her hair pulled back in a banana clip. (Guys, that’s one of those curvy, claw-like contraptions that women stick on the back of their heads to hold their hair back).  She usually wore it loose (quite flattering) so this was a different look for her, but attractive as well. Being a woman and noticing such things, I complimented her on the new look.

“Well, I usually keep my hair short, like yours, but,” she lowered her head and looked from side to side before whispering, “I broke up with my hairdresser.” She looked relieved. There, she’d admitted it.

“She’s in Alexandria, I’m out here.  I’m not working right now, so why spend the money, so…” Her voice trailed off with the justifications, but it was clear: although it was time to move on, she felt guilty.  A second later, she confessed. “I feel so bad.”

Changing hairdressers is a real, often secret, pain point for women. In fact, it’s such a big deal that, Lisa tells me, Oprah actually did a whole show on the subject. Now guys just don’t seem to have this problem. Maybe because they only get their hair “cut” while we get ours “done.” Maybe because it’s hard to have an intimate conversation over the sound of buzz clippers or while your nostril hairs are being trimmed.  (There are some benefits to being a woman.) Maybe it’s because they more easily view the hairdresser as a business relationship, rather than as a friendship.  I don’t know.  But the fact remains: for women, breaking up with a hairdresser is hard to do.

We women bond with our stylists. They have us “in the chair” on a regular basis, surpassed in frequency only by therapists and confessors (at least for the good Catholic sort).  We rely not only on their styling skill but also on their personality judgments (”Is this ‘me’?”).

When our hair—or mood–demands a change, however, our loyalty is tested.   Hairdressers tend to get in a rut—cutting the same-old, same-old. For many women, “new hair” comes only with a new hairstylist.

And guilt follows.  Like Lisa, most women seem to feel guilty less about the “break up” itself, and more because, “I didn’t tell her. I just haven’t been back.  She was my hairdresser for so long…13 years.”

What’s the right way to break up with your hairdresser?  OK, I agree, it’s not one of the weightier moral issues of the day.  But, hey, over at Oprah.com, they call it an ethical dilemma and summon the experts.  Two male ethicists, reflecting the “business relationship” approach to the question, said women should definitely tell their hairdresser that “it’s over,” rather than leaving her to wonder what happened, not only to your roots, but also to your family, friends, and all the other “issues” in your life.

The lone female expert thought differently.  After all, she points out, how do you say, “”I started seeing someone I love more than you”?

Most of us, I suspect, would side with her. Instead of the male, business-like approach, we start the process indirectly by “neglecting” to make our next appointment. Then, sealing the deal, we slink across town to find more excitement, leaving our “ex” to ask, like a jilted lover, what she did wrong and if we’ll ever call again.

Now it’s my turn to confess. It’s been five years since I broke up with my old hairdresser, Martha. It got too expensive and I simply stopped going to her. And I still feel guilty every time I drive past the strip mall that’s home to her very own salon—her pride and joy after 30 years of working for someone else.  In fact, I always crane my neck to make sure she’s still in business—to my great relief, she seems to be thriving even without my every-six-weeks-cut-and-color.  It’s bad enough to desert your hairdresser for someone else, but who wants the added guilt of feeling like you put her out of business? Oh, the baggage that comes along with beauty.

Maybe now’s the time to make up for my cowardice of five years past.  So I’ll say it: “Martha, wherever you are, I’ll come clean.  I’m seeing someone else for my hair. Lucinda’s her name. I hope you understand.”

There.  It’s over.

But why, like Lisa, do I still feel guilty?


51 thoughts on “Women and Their Hairdressers: Guilt is Always in Style

  1. I actually work at a spa/salon, I’m not a hair dresser, rather a massage therapist, but surprisingly what I’ve noticed is that male clients do tend to be extremely faithful to their hairdressers. When they find someone they like, they never, ever really change. While, with women, they are more likely to try one hairdresser one time at where I work or another one a another time. So, actually, guys can be pretty devoted to their hair girls too, and I rarely, if ever, see them change hair stylists while lots of women will maybe switch it around. (At least where I work that’s how it seems to be).
    For me, personally, when I have a client who sees me often and then suddenly is gone I definitely still think about them. I had one lady I’d see every month, and she’s been gone for awhile now. I wonder what happened to her, though I probably know it’s a situation like yours where she found someplace else and “broke up” with me. I wish all of my clients the best though and just really hope that they’re happy and doing well.

  2. I appreciate you explaining what a banana clip is, after all, I am a guy…:-) I will say that it’s interesting the amount of stress that goes into “breaking up” with your hair dresser. My girlfriend felt so bad when she left her hair dresser. She moved and was way too far for her to travel, but she would do it because she didn’t want to end the relationship. When she finally did it she felt horrible. I was like, “Really, it’s that big of a deal.” Now I understand it a bit more. Thanks!! I may tell my girlfriend to wear a banana clip today, after all, I know what it is now…lol jk…but seriously 🙂


  3. Oh wow! I had no idea it was this hard for everyone … I just thought I was a weirdo.

    I had to stop going to mine last year. She got too comfortable which leads to sloppy (like you said “in a rut”). That and the fact I had to drive almost 45 minutes to get to her pretty much killed it. The cost was a lot, but I really loved her coloring skills.

    I wonder if it’s too late to go back? :/

    • No, it’s not! Speaking as a hairdresser, if I had a client that wanted to come back. They would always be welcome. It’s just as hard for us to lose a client. We feel like we failed and lost a friend, not not just a client.
      Call her or him!

  4. Seems like the guilt would have more to do with the way in which you broke up than just in the breaking up itself. Maybe it’s more about an abandoned relationship than it is business or hair. I’m just speculating here.

    I think that not coming back effectively sends the message that “it’s over,” but that may not be the way you feel most comfortable sending that message.

    I work in a business where it is common for people to “break up” with me by never contacting me again. It doesn’t bother me because I accept it as part of the business.

    If the relationship doesn’t matter, don’t feel bad about leaving without saying goodbye. If it does matter, find a way that you can be comfortable saying goodbye.

  5. Loved this! If I jump hairdressers, I am a coward and slink off in the night, never to be heard from again. But, hairdressers have all kinds of names for different types of clients. Don’t feel bad about Martha – she probably called you one of those names and forgot all about you.

  6. Great post and for the record, I wouldn’t dare jump hairdressers because I just know that I would feel way too guilty! I’ve been having my hair done by the same colourist and stylist for about nine years now and when they both left Vidal Sassoon about five years ago to go it alone, I felt that I *had* to go with them to their new salon – it’s madness – I know!!
    Great post btw and huge kudos for making it on to Freshly Pressed : ) x

  7. When money got tight last year, I dropped into a local beauty school where the student hairdresser, 30 years my junior and lisping because of a tongue stud, drawled, “Hmm. Sounds like you want a cut just like mine.”

    “I do?!” I nearly bolted from the chair, but then I looked closely at her coiffe and realized that yes, that’s what I was looking for.

    “Yes,” I admitted. “But please don’t make me look like I’m trying to look 17.”

    She did a great job, and actually gave me the cut I had been coveting for for years, but never got from my beloved regular hairdresser for some reason. So I went back, and back again, and yet again — all the time feeling bad because I was cheating on my regular hairdresser.

    Thank you for your article. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do about telling my regular hairdresser (this is a VERY small town), but at least I don’t feel so alone . . .

  8. I moved 5 years ago and had a hard time finding a good hairdresser. So jumping around before they really knew me worked well. I found out a mom of one of my son’s teammates is a hairdresser and she gave me her business card. I’m thinking of steering clear, because I see her all the time. Talk about if it didn’t work, it would be both embarrassing and guilt all wrapped up in one.

    Great post by the way!

    • I agree with your instinct….could be really awkward if she didn’t do a great job (or you just didn’t like her style). Maybe one of the other team moms will be the guinea pig 🙂

  9. I agree with the first Sarah commenter. I currently live in Chile and my boyfriend (who is not particularly concerned with his appearance) will drive an hour and a half to go back to the city he was born and raised in to get his hair cut by the same little old guy who has been doing it most of his life. When we were in the US in February and I suggested that he like go to a Great Clips or something he looked shocked, hurt even that I dare suggest something like that. haha…Oh men are a lot more similar to us than we realize.

  10. I’ve never felt guilty about leaving a hairdresser. One salon was populated by a catty group that badmouthed its clients incessantly. Another, the hairdresser put too much ash in my hair, coloring it green (sigh). The last one added a service to my bill and she didn’t tell me how pricey it would be. The bill came to $400, and I was on unemployment at the time. I fear I will wind up having to color my own hair at the rate I’m going. It’s too bad that my original hairdresser moved out of town, or I’d still be with her. 😦

  11. I am in an odd situation where I kind of want to leave my stylist for a different stylist at the same salon! I think this would be incredibly uncomfortable but my stylist sometimes butchers my bangs when I come in for trims. It strange because sometimes she’ll make them look very cute. For now I think I’ll give her another chance.

    • I have been a hairdresser for over 17 years, I am in a chair rental salon and I will tell you in the salon where I work there are customers that see other people in the salon all the time. I and the other stylists there would rather see the customer stay in the same shop rather than go to another shop. I had one of my customers come into the shop at the same time I was working on another client with one of my associates. I personally would rather have a stylist I know will do a great job on them rather than have someone I don’t know their work do a terrible job.
      In my career I have seen customers that come and go, some you lose to location, others to price, and some to convenience. Everyone can have a bad day and I have had days that my “game” was off so I am sure I lost customers to the mistakes I have made as well. I have quite a few clients that for whatever reason were going to me and left for a while and maybe a year or two later came back. As a stylist you understand that is the nature of the business and usually don’t take it personally.

    • If you are having trouble getting her to understand how you want something, show her a pic of what you want. If that dont work, tell her you saw the other stylist do bangs on someone and could she show you what she did on that client. I own a salon and am a hairdresser, that shouldn’t offend her, because you aee giving her every chance for her to do it. If not, then you should be able to switch,even if it’s in the same salon. Trust me the salon would rather you stay than go to another salon.

  12. I only see ‘my’ stylist a couple times a year, but I’ve never found anyone who can manage my hair like she can. I’ve got super-thick hair with just enough of a wave to be uncooperative. No one else has the skill and patience to do the job right, and over the years I’ve tried dozens of other people. The only time I got a cut from her that wasn’t exactly what I wanted was my own fault – she warned me that the style wouldn’t work with my hair, and she was right!

    She’s been my mother’s stylist since I was 10, which is how I ended up going to her (when I was 12 and wanting something cooler than my mother was able to do herself). I’ve since moved away several times, but when I visit my parents for Christmas, I always make an appointment with her.

    I guess I’m one of those rare lucky ones. I’ve been able to change my look several times, some of them pretty radical changes from what went before, and she always leaves my hair looking great.


  13. Congrats on being featured on the front page of wordpress!!

    I’ve only jumped on the faithful-to-your-hair-stylist wagon in the past five years, and have yet to “break up” with him. I thought about it, especially after moving an 8-hour drive away last year. But now we have a long-distance relationship. Instead of getting cut every 4 months, I’ve decided to sacrifice the frequency of my cuts and see him only twice a year when I visit my parents.

    I hope we can make it!

  14. I’ve never had a good stylist. Ever. I have thin, mousy hair that needs more than a cut and blow dry to get it to stand up and do anything. I don’t want a therapist, I don’t want conversation. I want to sink in a chair, have my head massaged and scratched and washed, given a good cut and let me go home with wet hair. It never looks good when they try to style it, it looks flat and awful and when I suggest a curling iron they look at me like I’ve got 3 heads. I’ve been to some good salons, too. I can get a good cut – but never a good styling job. Consequently, I don’t feel too guilty when I move on in my quest to find someone who will cut my hair and not bother me with insipid gossip in the process!

  15. Great post! You’re absolutely right about the guilt and shame for being so cowardice. But we’re women and we’re trained to be nice and to avoid hurting others feelings. So really, how do you nicely break up with someone who knows you so well without feeling wretched after? It seems despite what we tell our hair dresser, and ourselves, we’ll be left with the guilt until it’s washed away.

  16. The next hair cut appointments are made before leaving the salon. We all go to the same stylist, he’s a cousin. We love him & if I ever had to cheat on him, I would tell him & he would understand. I’d tell him all about it durning our next session, while he was fixing the mess.

    Another thing men (at least the ones around me) come to understand is that the hair appointment is sacred. We do not rebook that one.

    great post!

  17. lol.. I can definitely vouch for a hairstylist-client relationship, my mother went to the same hairdresser for nearly 30 years, complained every single time about her haircut, and still went back again, and again and again…year after year. I think in the end it was like a slightly dysfunctional marriage…lol!

  18. Hairdressers scare me. So many stylists I’ve met want to be on the same pedestal as artists. I walk in and someone mistakes the writing on my forehead to be ‘pet project’ so being faithful is awfully hard when you’ve got wisps of feathers instead of hair. I haven’t had a steady hairdresser… ever. The most faithful I’ve ever been is three cuts. I dont like getting intimate because I feel that trusting someone with your hair is an awfully big responsibility to entrust someone with.

  19. I’m new here, just started my very first blog and came across yours @ wordpress’ front page. Interesting.. as I just wrote a small piece about hair!
    Totally got what you wrote, yes it’s hard to break up with your hairdresser, I’ve done so about 2 years ago, while stayed with the previous one for around a decade! And I did actually call up the old guy and said, “hey listening, I’m feeling so bad but believe should be letting you know… that I’m seeing another guy…” hahahaha. My former guy laughed so hard, then told me it’s perfectly fine, as long as I’m looking pretty. So girls out there, don’t be afraid of the change, hairdressers are not taking it as hard as we thought. Afterall, don’t over-estimate yourself, we are are just another client! Btw, I changed as my former one was too reluctant to do drastic changes on me, which I LOVE!

  20. I totally understand this struggle. For years, I was afraid to ‘commit’ to a stylist and bounced around from salon to hair cuttery to wherever to cutting it myself. However, having known hair care professionals, they do wonder why someone doesn’t come back. My mom has been to the same hairdresser for probably 30+ years, my aunt goes to the same one and so do many of her friends. It becomes community–something that many seem to crave these days.

  21. LOL your post made me laugh! I moved 230 miles from my old home to my new, yet I still drive for 4 1/2 hours to visit the same stylist every 6 weeks for my cut and colour! Although this seems mad, fortunately, the rest of my family also live 4 hours away so I combine it with a weekend visit back to see them!

    I was with Mark the senior stylist when I first started going to Saks however, Andrew (my current stylist) was the junior at the time and ended up doing most of the hairdressing work despite me paying top stylist prices!! As soon as Mark left for another salon, I grabbed Andrew and haven’t let him go since.

    Having been with Andrew for the last 16 years, he knows me and my colours inside and out plus, gives me 20% discount on every visit for being such a long-term customer!

    I can’t ever imagine breaking up with him!!! :o)

  22. Well, this post is great timing because I broke up with my last hairdresser about four years ago. I moved thirty minutes away and felt it was too far plus she had reduced her days to three times a week. It just wasn’t convenient anymore.

    And now I’m in the processing of breaking up with my current hairdresser of three years. I loved him, at first, but then we started having creative differences. So I canceled my appointment last Saturday even though my hair was in dire straights. I told him “something” came up and I wouldn’t be able to make it. I just didn’t feel like “disagreeing” with him anymore. I feel sad and guilty, but I also feel relieved that I can move on…sort of…

    • I like your description of “creative differences.” Sometimes what it comes down to exactly that. And, as some of the other women commented, sometimes it’s that they just don’t seem to get it right anymore. Definitely prompts a lot of mixed feelings, though, doesn’t it? Good luck…and hope you find “the right one.”

  23. I actually moved across the country, and did not tell my hairdresser – it took me two years to gather up the courage to find someone that could live up to my hairdresser of ten years – and when I found her (on the first venture out, amazing luck and a TON of research), I realized I liked her even better than my last one.
    Double guilt! I never told him, and now, although 2,500 miles away, I like someone better.

    Now I have to find a shrink, but what if I like my new one more than my last one? That would just be cruel, lol. I’ll just stick with the double guilt and not take the chance.

  24. Wow, I didn’t know that “Breaking up” with hairdressers was such a big deal with women. Thank you for enlightening me.

    Why don’t you try to reconcile the two opinions revealed on Oprah? How about cordially telling the person that you’ll be going “Somewhere else,” (rather than “Someone else,”) but you’d still like to catch up with them every now and then? Maybe?

    Or perhaps end your confession of abandonment by stating “Hey look lady, you’ve got less style than a granite monolith,” obviously in nicer terms? That way, she will have something to work with rather than being left hopelessly repeating the same style over and over on the remaining victimized customers, while wondering for the next few centuries WHATEVER HAPPENED to MARY?!?!?!

    -J. P. Cabit
    Editor-In-Chief, Fedwick Agency

  25. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  26. I am the first time on this site and am really enthusiastic about and so many good articles.
    I think it’s just very good.


  27. I believe the guilt comes from what you stated in the article, the hairdresser not only cuts hair..she is a confidant.

    She is not in your social circle so youcan talk about anything, everything and everyone.

    Women are also built on the basis of our relationships. A hairdresser is stylist/confidant/relationship…

    Hence the guilt…

  28. I feel this way when I go to another spa to get waxed. I sometimes go to another place, because they have spa specials and equal quality service. Who doesn’t want extra perks?! But, the guilt is there.

    btw, I just got an amazing haircut and the compliments have been so nice! Let’s see how long I can be faithful to Gary. My husband introduced me to him when we got married a few months ago; he has been going to Gary for 8 years!

  29. I managed to break away from this! I was going to the same stylist for over 5 years when I got bored. Since then, I’m particular about the salon/parlour I go to, but do not make an appointment with any particular stylist. It is completely liberating. But I do understand the guilt – I still think about my old stylist every time I get my hair cut.

  30. I love the honesty, and how the concept of breaking-up with your hairdresser has been put into words. All of us ladies know that it is I giant struggle, and a giant issue, and one you only tend to tell girlfriends who live far far away from your ex to ensure that they will have no likelihood of knowing her or seeing her by accident.

    I had a recent break-up (within the last few years) and I do still feel guilty about it. Worse so I think because she used to come to our home to tend to our every hair need. I don’t think you ever bounce back from that, mutual friends even become tainted by the once-relationship you had with your hairdresser. It is a sad state of affairs and I wish there was an easy way to deal with this.

  31. Great article! I’ve been a stylist for about 6 years now. I can tell you that I’ve had two different clients contact me to explain why they needed to move on. There has been a couple other clients that have “broken up” with me that saw me every 6 to 9 weeks for years then I just didn’t see them again. For me, I not only care 100 % about my clients as friends and enjoy seeing them but I also try to take pride in making sure they look and feel their best when they leave. The two clients wrote me to tell me that they feel horrible but one couldn’t afford me anymore because of her new baby girl an the other moved. Reading their messages gave me so much respect for them and I genuinely felt like “wow what great people I’ve worked with.” I still look at their face books and enjoy seeing their new locations and families I still will always wish them the best and their is no guilt from them because they made it right. As for the others I still think about them and hope they are looking and feeling fabulous but it’s like when a friend all of the sudden disappears, I can’t help but think…what did I do? This just comes with the business though and it’s expected. When I do see a client that hadn’t seen me for years then comes back I welcome them back and they shouldn’t feel bad at all, life takes us new directions sometimes and as a stylist we understand that. Just be honest, it’ll make you feel better 🙂

  32. Pingback: Consumer Guilt « Piscean Blogger

  33. As a straight male hairstylist dealing w/both male & female clients I understand your views. There’s no easy way to leave or seperate & in offering my services to a guy recently_i found the perfect solution. He’s been seeing the same girl to do his hair for about 12 years_he drives 45 mins & does a pretty good job. The problem is she got lazy & monotonous & took him for granted-he’s a stickler for time & she’s always 10-15mins late when he drives 45 mins (in la traffic) to her. He decided he’d come see me-but only after he made his final appt w/her determined to tell her what all he was fed up with & wouldn’t stand for. His visit to me is eminent pendiing no major improvements to be more accomodating. Wouldn’t we all want this oppty at our own jobs. Tell us ur issue & give us a chance to fix it_if not satisfied, godspeed. Its only fair & as a hairstylist I respect his loyalty & hope all the more to attain this super picky client, as he’s clearly open & honest.

  34. I “cheat” on mine when I feel I need a new look…I usually do it when we are on vacation or out of town, and the next time I see him, I just tell him that I had messed up my bangs and that I had an event or something, so he doesn’t feel bad, but after almost 3 years with him, I just noticed that he always does the same look…

  35. I broke up with my hairdresser today. I was getting my hair cut by her for 9 years and one day she died my moms hair green by accident and she wouldn’t admit that she made a mistake, and she did not handle it professionally. I also realized later that she was dying my whole head of hair unnecessarily which would cost me an extra 50 dollars every time for over a year. The last time she did my hair was her birthday so I still felt bad. Today I went back and I liked how my new hairdresser cut it so I had to explain I her that I just don’t like the old hairdresser’s style anymore since they work in the same salon…. She was the one to ask me if I wanted my next appointment with the old one. It all makes me feel horrible, but I my view she was taking advantage for a long time.

  36. I really like this blog. So many interesting scenarios & stories. I had been going to the same hairdresser for about 15 yrs. I have fine, thin hair & I don’t get too wild with styles but I like my sides angled (shorter at the front & angled down). The opposite of that is now in style but that’s not for me. What I always ended up with was a version of the Dutch boy paint kid minus the bangs. I would think that the style looked OK in the chair but once I was home, I’d see that it was not angled like I wanted. I started taking scissors in hand & chopping off the sides. I realized that that was ridiculous & that I lived in a town that had well over 20 beauty shops & many other stylists. A friend’s cousin cut it for a while & my friend used to go to the same hairdresser that I went to. I know she assumes I’m going to the friend’s cousin but I’ve gone to a couple different people (even went to someone out of town). I think I was afraid to speak up more as to what I wanted but I also think that what I wanted fell on deaf ears. I did try to make it plain that I wanted the sides angled. I’m not sorry for changing hairdressers. Sometimes you need a change.

  37. I hate that I feel guilty. I like my stylist for color but not cut and style. I go to her every two weeks for a root touch up and when i show up with a fresh haircut she totally guilts me. She really looks hurt. Give me a break! I don’t buy all of my clothes at one store. I like one store for jeans, another is my favorite for dresses..etc. I hate possessive immature hairdressers. Best thing is from the get go to let them know that you want freedom and this is not a monogamous relationship. If I want to come in to her shop and have someone else do my hair because our schedules don’t match than that should be my perrogative. Good grief!

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