How To Effectively Communicate With Your Natural Hair Stylist or Braider

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Getting your hair braided can be the ultimate time suck. But what’s even worse is sitting through those countless hours, only to realize you hate the way your hair turned out. Unfortunately, unlike returning a pair of shoes that you don’t like, you can’t undo the painstaking amount of time a hairstylist may have spent on your hair. At that point, it’s done! Finito. Her back hurts, you’re both tired and to top it off you’re unhappy. It all could’ve been avoided with a little communication.

As we’ve seen through our short film Pretty Shouldn’t Hurt and day-to-day at our mobile hairstyling service, many women are afraid to speak up when getting their hair braided. It can be awkward; you might not want to upset the stylist. But the result can not only be a hairstyle you don’t like, but a head full of pain. For that very reason, we’d like to empower you to speak up in a way that doesn’t feel awkward, so we’ve put together some tips with the help of some of our trusted mobile stylists, to help you get the style you want and avoid any literal or figurative tension.

Before the Appointment

Look for skills & personality: When looking for a stylist (usually this is done by reading reviews online or asking friends), don’t only look for a stylist with the right technique, also look at what people say about the rapport they have with the stylist and how she communicates. If you’ve been to a stylist that leaves you feeling intimidated, chances are it’s not a good fit.

If you’ve been to a stylist that leaves you feeling intimidated, chances are it’s not a good fit.

Determine if your hair can handle the style you want: A key step in coming out of an appointment with hair you love is by first determining if your hair is long enough and suitable for a braided style. 4-5 inches of length is the general rule of thumb for styles like box braids or feed-in cornrows.  You should also make sure your hair is suited for protective styles in general. We’ve created a quiz to help you do so.

Show your natural hair: If you’re using a mobile stylist, or even prior to an appointment at a salon, share photos of your hair in its natural state before your appointment, so that your stylist can get a sense of your texture and if your hair is long enough to braid.

Be specific: This is the crux of making sure your hair comes out the way you want it. Be sure to provide photos of exactly what you’d like and be sure you’re using the right terms to describe your style (i.e. Box Braids and Boxer Braids are not the same thing). Your stylist’s imagination can only stretch so far, so if you’re not sure about the style you’ve decided on, be sure to find photos that best exemplify what you’re looking for–the more examples, the better.  Additionally, it’s always best to decide on the hairstyle before the appointment. Appointments and schedules go more smoothly when your mind’s made up before sitting in your stylist’s chair.

During the Appointment

Tiffany, Yeluchi Stylist

Start with a test braid: If you’re getting a style like box braids, be sure your stylist starts with a test braid in the back, since it’ll be the longest. If you’re getting cornrows, have her do one cornrow and take a look before she continues. This way you can check for length, width and tension-level before she gets too far. In the case of box braids, you should also have your stylist do a couple in the front as well, so you can gauge the ratio of hair to the size of the parts and see how the braids will frame your face. If the test braids aren’t to your liking, this is the absolute best moment to speak up. Your stylist hasn’t gotten too far, so changes can easily be made.

If you're getting a style like box braids have your stylist do a couple test braids in the front and in the back so you can assess if the length, width and parting is to your liking. Click To Tweet

Keep a handheld mirror close by: If you’re not in a braid shop or a salon; be sure you have access to a handheld mirror, so you can check that the style is coming out exactly how you’d like it. Be open about checking in on how the hair is coming out. Good stylists prefer you give feedback during the process versus after.

An Important Word About Pain

Pain vs. Tension: There’s a thin line between tension and pain, but there’s definitely a difference! Do the smile test while your stylist is braiding. If you can smile and laugh without any pain, she’s doing a great job AND you won’t have to take a pain reliever afterwards. Also keep in mind that if you feel tension in a small part of your scalp, that tension will likely multiply once your whole head is done. So if you’re feeling any discomfort while braiding, speak up. That said, it’s normal to feel some level of tension after getting your hair done because your hair has been manipulated, but your scalp shouldn’t ache or hurt. Any mild tension should go away within 24 hours.

💡 Pro-tip: If you’re not sure how much tension is too much tension, take the time to experiment with your hair when you’re in between styles. Braid your own hair, even if it’s just a few individual braids or cornrows (but ideally your whole head if you have the time and arm strength), and note how your scalp feels during and especially after. Doing this will give you a sense of how much tension when braiding is too much for you in particular. So when you’re with a stylist, you’ll be able to recognize when that threshold is being crossed.

Feeling Comfortable Speaking Up

Be honest and speak up: One of the most eye-opening facts we’ve come to learn through the research that went into Pretty Shouldn’t Hurt is that a large portion of women getting protective styles are afraid to speak up during hair appointments. They don’t want to come off pushy or rude, or if they’re in pain, they think it’s part of the process, and at times they’re trusting that the stylist is the expert and knows what she’s doing. Sure, your stylist should be exceptional in her craft, but getting your hair done is a collaboration, kind of like working with an architect to get your home renovated. You wouldn’t give an architect free range even if she’s the expert, you’d guide them into bringing to life what you have in mind. As the person that’s ultimately going to be wearing the style for potentially weeks, you have to be happy with it, and a good stylist will be invested in you being 100% satisfied with the end result. So if you’re hesitant to speak up, changing the way you look at the stylist-client dynamic can help. Know that:

  • No good stylist wants their client to be in pain.
  • No good stylist wants their client to be unhappy with the end result.
  • A good stylist would rather you let them know that something’s wrong than see you go home unhappy or in pain.

Getting your hair done is a collaboration

Also know that, because certain aspects of the styling process are subjective, stylists rely on clients to:

  • Let them know if they’re in pain. Stylists can braid lightly, but everyone’s scalp is different and they can’t feel what you feel, so they really rely on client’s to let them know if they’re feeling too much tension.
    • Giving your stylist a head’s up before she begins that your scalp is extra sensitive helps set the stage. And if you feel pain or tension that could turn into pain at any point in the process, a simple “ouch” and “just a little lighter” can help the stylist adjust her movements.
    • In addition to speaking up, you can also use body language to let your stylist know you’re in pain, by touching the area of your head where you’re feeling tension or pain. It’s important to stay alert and in tune with what’s going on. It’s easy to get lost in conversation and not pay attention to what the stylist is doing.
  • Let them know if the style is coming out as intended. Ultimately you have an idea in your head of how you want the style to look and if during the appointment it’s not quite right, communicating with your stylist will empower her to deliver what you have in mind. Look at giving feedback not as telling someone how to do their job but as equipping them with the information they need to do the job to your liking, which is ultimately what the stylist is there for.
Dr. Kari Braiding

All that said, there are technical aspects of styling that, as an expert, the stylist will know best i.e. parting, the kind of hair to use, if your hair can handle the style, or whether or not what you’re asking for might not be feasible given the state of your hair or other constraints. Here’s where listening and evaluating options is key. Again, you and your stylist both want the same thing. And by working together you can achieve it.

Communicating with your stylist will empower her to deliver what you have in mind. Click To Tweet

Sometimes it’s Best to Stop the Appointment

If during your appointment, especially in the first few minutes of the booking, you find that your stylist is intimidating, aloof or a know-it-all, then that’s a sign she might not be the right one for you, in which case it would be better to end the appointment without the stylist getting too far into the style. Stopping the appointment might be a difficult thing to do, especially if you had plans to have your hair done for an event or just done before the week starts. But you’d honestly save more time and even money by stopping the appointment and getting a new stylist, versus going through with it and not liking it, having to take it down and then get it redone.

If you find yourself with a stylist that’s not a good fit, you can very politely say something along the lines of: “This isn’t quite working for me. I don’t think this is going to be a good fit. I’d rather end the appointment now instead of having you work for hours and this not work out.” Saying something like this will be awkward but it will be a momentary awkwardness that saves you and the stylist time.

What to Look for in a Good Stylist

On the flip side, a good stylist will:

  • Encourage dialogue
  • Ask you lots of questions before starting so she’s sure of what she wants
  • Do a few braids once she starts and have you examine them
  • Ask you to take a look at the style as she progresses
  • Check in on you throughout the appointment to make sure you’re not in pain
  • Listen attentively to any feedback given and will take it in stride
  • Look for solutions if unexpected challenges arise during the styling process
  • Not dismiss you if you say you’re in pain

Getting some of the hairstyles we wear can be a big commitment. Some black hairstyles take quite a bit of time and can cost a pretty penny. And the difference between spending 8 hours and coming away with a style you love or hate is usually communication. If you were only to take one thing away from all this it should be that your stylist, as long as she’s a good stylist, wants what you want. So you speaking up won’t be considered rude; it will only help her deliver exactly that.

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Team Unruly
Team Unruly
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