Get the Haircut You Want
Your Great-Hair Handbook
It's like a bad dream. You know how you want to look -- but as soon as you sit in the hairdresser's chair, you somehow can't find the right words. You're talking, but he doesn't seem to be getting the message -- and once you see the finished product, you know he didn't.
Now you'll never have to live that nightmare again. Whether you're trying to telegraph "straight but not flat but not frizzy" or "curly but nicer than my natural curls," you can get what you really want. The secret: Learn to speak stylist. We consulted top pros to find out the right words to say and, even better, we got them to spill the steps for re-creating the looks at home. Bonus: All these styles work on a range of hair lengths and textures.
Plus: Get advice for your hair type, and find out which products really work.
Ask Your Hairstylist for "Bend"
You want: Hair that's smooth but not stick straight -- you like a little volume
The cut to ask for: Shoulder-length or longer works best
The styling to ask for: "A blowout with bend"
DIY directions: While hair is wet, apply mousse for body and hold, says Gretchen Monahan, owner of the Grettacole chain of salons in Boston. Next, for additional fullness, blow-dry just the roots as follows: With the dryer two inches away from your head, point the nozzle right at the roots, directing the air upward. This will focus the air exactly where you want it and will create lots of lift. Then move on to the rest of your hair. Working with one small, manageable section at a time (pin the rest up with a plastic clip if you need to keep it out of the way), wrap each piece around a round brush, moving the brush slowly from root to end with the dryer following slightly behind it. "The right brush is really important," says Monahan. "Use a medium round one to create the bend -- a smaller one will give you too much of a curl." The type of bristle also makes the job harder or easier, and affects the final result. "Look for a mix of boar and synthetic bristles," she says. "They're best for really grabbing on to the hair." Once locks are completely dry, smooth on a dab of lightweight anti-frizz finishing cream, which will seal in the look without weighing hair down.
Ask Your Hairstylist for "Sleek"
You want: Glossy, super-straight hair
The cut to ask for: Chin-length or longer is ideal
The styling to ask for: "Straight and sleek"
DIY directions "Silicone is what gives you that light-reflective, patent-leather shine," says New York City hairstylist Nathaniel Hawkins. "So start there." Apply silicone serum or straightening gel to towel-dried hair. Next, using a powerful dryer, do a quick blow-dry to get most of the moisture out. Then, with the nozzle attachment on to concentrate the air, and a brush, flatten strands and soften any wave. (Paddle brushes work best. Flat, wide, and shaped like, well, a paddle, they're ideal for smoothing.) Once hair is completely dry, it's time to really de-pouf and amp up the sheen. Divide the hair into small sections and use a flat iron to smooth the pieces out. "Don't hold the iron in one spot," says Paul DeArmas, creative director of Fred Segal Beauty in Santa Monica, CA. "Keep it moving at all times to minimize damage." Once you're through with the iron, finish off with a spritz of silicone spray to repel moisture and frizz while adding lots of shine. As the day goes on, you may end up with annoying flyaways, which instantly destroy the "sleek" effect. To tame them, use aerosol hairspray, says Hawkins. Spray where needed, then use a brush to gently coax the stray hairs back into place.
Ask Your Hairstylist for "Polished"
You want: Perfect (not messy) curls
The cut to ask for: Just about anything -- but not a super-close crop
The styling to ask for: "Polished"
DIY directions: "You're going for hydrated and healthy-looking," says Monahan, "so start with shampoo and conditioner that are very moisturizing." Once you're out of the shower, apply a leave-in conditioner for additional moisture and follow up with a silicone serum for shine. If your hair is straight, blow it dry as you normally would and then create curls with a curling iron. If you already have natural curls but want to eliminate frizz and add smoothness, Hawkins recommends letting hair air-dry, then wrapping your natural waves around the barrel of an iron to "seal the cuticle and perfect the curls." Whichever way you do it, DeArmas suggests locking in the style with an aerosol hairspray (which goes on drier than nonaerosol versions).
Ask Your Hairstylist for "Undone"
You want: An easy style that looks soft and touchable -- put-together but not fussy
The cut to ask for: Anything that's long enough to be pulled back
The styling to ask for: "An undone ponytail"
Do-it-yourself directions: "This works best with slightly dirty, second- or third-day hair," says Hawkins. "So if you don't have time to shampoo one morning, that's the day to try it." (If you're starting out with clean hair, just use a few spritzes of saltwater spray to rough it up a little.) What makes this version "undone": Instead of working with a brush, you use your fingers. Rake them through to gather hair back into a ponytail, then secure with a simple elastic. But since undone means casual, not messy, comb your hair carefully with your fingers so the effect looks groomed rather than "whatever." (It's OK if a few strands escape -- that's part of the appeal.)
Ask Your Hairstylist for "Piecey"
You want: Spunky definition
The cut to ask for: All lengths work, but short, layered hair is the perfect starting point
The styling to ask for: "Piecey"
DIY directions Shampoo and condition, then apply a product with hold to wet hair, says DeArmas. Use gel for shorter hair; mousse for longer. Next, dry as you normally would. It's the finishing product that matters most: Look for pomades, waxes, or putties -- any of these will really bind the strands together. Whichever you choose, says Monahan, rub it between your hands, then grab random bits of hair and smooth the product from mid-shaft to end. Then pull it in different directions to create the chunky effect. (For a subtler version, apply the product to your hands, then just run them through your hair instead of pulling out the individual bits.)