Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

When your hairdresser just isn’t making the cut, why is breaking up so hard to do?

My hairdresser and I had the best relationship. Once every few months, I’d come into her salon and we’d bond like old pals. After an enthusiastic two-cheek kiss, after her friendly assistant made me an extra-frothy café au lait, I’d sit in the chair and we’d gossip while she got to work.

(snip snip)

HER: So, how’s your love life?

ME: Non-existent. It’s so hard to meet the right guy.

(snip cut cut)

HER: Yeah, tell me about it.

(cut snip comb )

ME: Well, there was this one guy, but he was so self-involved. And a few weeks ago, I caught him making out with another girl! It was terrible.

HER: That cheating bastard—You don’t need someone like that in your life.

(snip snip snip)

And she was right—I deserved better. By the time she got to work on my bangs I would be feeling pretty good about myself, and when it was all over and I had paid her the $65 plus tax (plus $7 tip, plus a $5 tip for her assistant) I felt like a million bucks ... minus about $85. We would say our goodbyes, confident that we would see each other soon—this relationship was as solid as ultra-hold hairspray.

Recently, whilst happily walking down the street on my way back from one of these occasions, I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window. I came face to face with the truth, and it was horrifying. In the reflection before me stood a girl with an asymmetrical bob and sheared micro-mini bangs. It looked like my head had been caught in a lawnmower. Panic swept over me like a hot-oil rinse. How could this have happened?! It must have been a momentary lapse of sanity on her part. Maybe it was myfault—maybe I wasn’t clear about what I wanted; I had said that I needed a change after all. Maybe she was having a bad hair day and took it out on me.

In the months that followed I gave her another chance (and another, and another) but it was no use—she had lost her hair-cutting mojo. Although I loved hanging out with her, my choice had become clear—I decided to break up with my hairdresser.

“Breaking up with my hairdresser was a pretty heart-wrenching decision,” a fellow hairdresser-dumper tells me. (We’ll call her “Ronda” as she asked that her identity be withheld) “I still feel guilty about it— I’m petrified of running into her on the street. I had been going to her for at least six years,” Ronda continues. “I had one amazing haircut in those six years. So I guess I was always hoping for the other good haircut that was always a tiny bit out of reach. One day I went in and I asked for shorter bangs—meaning a little bit shorter than what they were at that moment, not the shortest possible bangs. It was not at all what I wanted. It’s very discouraging to look in the mirror and hate the way you look. It was the summer of the worst hair of my life. I didn’t trust her judgment anymore. Basically, we grew apart.”

The short-bang incident was the last straw for Ronda. She never went back. “It was a bit like a [romantic] breakup. Our relationship never really felt like a client/merchant relationship—It felt like a social call. My hairdresser did know a lot about my life and I wouldn’t say she knew all my secrets but there was some kind of pseudo-friendship.”

For Luc Gagnon, hairstylist and owner of Montreal’s Hed Salon, the client-hairdresser relationship is a very particular kind of intimacy. “An appointment is kind of like a date,” he says. “It’s more of a date for the client than for the stylist, because the client only has one hairdresser and only sees them a few times a year. I see ten clients per day—it’s my job. If I saw every appointment like a date, it would be exhausting—imagine having ten dates every day!

“People tell me their secrets,” explains Gagnon. “It’s easy to talk to your hairstylist; you’re very close on one hand but you don’t know them very well either. I’m not really in their circle of friends—I see each client once every few months but each time I see them we’re physically very close, and all my attention is completely on them. I would say that my [emotional] presence is even more important than the haircut.”

Presence was the key issue between Ingrid, a client at another salon, and her ex-colourist.

“I do my colour every 5-6 weeks,” says Ingrid. “A few months ago my colourist had just broken up with his boyfriend. I sat down in his chair and he quickly brushed the colour into my hair and then said ‘I have to go’ and took off to meet his ex for coffee! The shampoo girl finished my hair. I was so mad—I never went back to him.”

It’s an interesting question—do hairstylists really care all that much when a client breaks up with them? Or is the client’s guilty conscience just a paranoid delusion of grandeur? According to Gagnon, most hairdressers actually do care:

“You start doubting yourself: ‘What did I do wrong? What didn’t she like?’ You start second-guessing yourself and your abilities.” But he adds that every hairdresser needs a good kick in the pants sometimes. “It’s good to be a little insecure—if you never feel that, you can become overconfident and cocky.

“The worst is when a client starts seeing a stylist in the same salon—that’s the biggest blow,” says Gagnon. It’s kind of like if your ex started seeing your best friend.

But breakups canbe handled well, Gagnon points out. “I had a client who wanted to change colourists within the same salon. She called the colourist who she was breaking up with and said, ‘I like your work but maybe I came to a point where I need other things.’ He really appreciated his client’s honesty, but something like that is rare.”

Indeed, most clients just shamefully disappear from their hairdresser’s chair, hoping to never have to face them again. Just like our friend Ronda.

“I sometimes practice thinking about what I would say if I saw her again,” says Ronda. “Part of me just wants to say that I needed some time off, because that’s the obvious truth. But some other part of me just wants to tell her that I’ve been living in London for a year or that my brother became a hairdresser and now I have to go to him. If I did run into her, it would be like running into an ex-boyfriend. We’d both probably try and say how we’re both doing really well.”

According to Gagnon, despite some hurt feelings and bruised egos, “The client does not have any responsibility toward her hairdresser. If the client wants to break up, she can offer an explanation to make herself feel better, but she’s not obliged to. In the end, the client is the one who is paying and who’s in control.” That’s good news for most of us, who can no longer go down certain streets for fear of a run-in with our ex. We can now roam freely with our freshly-cut heads of hair held high.

Still, I dothink about my ex sometimes. Maybe I’ll call her to find out how she’s doing. Well… maybe not.

Daisy Goldstein is a Montreal writer. She has successfully avoided her ex-hairdresser for about three years now. She is still hard at work thinking up a good excuse, just in case they ever run into each other on the cold hard streets.