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How to break up with your hairdresser

March 10, 2008 |  9:19 am

36509023 Q:Here is a question that will stir up a hornet's nest: How does one gracefully leave her hairdresser to try someone else? I asked several of my friends, and one said she just couldn't do it. (She really should -- bad hair day every day.) Another said she doesn't make a return appointment and claims she is "moving out of the country."

I have been with my hairdresser for years, and she just hasn't been getting it for some time. I want to try someone new -- even though it's scary -- and I have someone in mind. Now, how to tell my current hairdresser? And how to do it so I don't have to eat crow if I do want to go back? My 22-year-old son can't believe this kind of fear goes on with women and their hairdressers.

-- P.R., Los Angeles

You too? For me, visiting my last salon was so heady at first. The scent of my stylist's defrizz serum became almost Proustian. He never dared to keep me waiting or multi-tasked with his BlackBerry. His chair felt like a cockpit -- the possibilities infinite, when he asked: "Where are we going with this hair today, honey?" Barbados or blunt cut? Laos or layers?

Then, after a year of post-coiffal bliss, we nose-dived. He began to run 10 to 15 minutes late and glower at my split ends, as if I had summoned them myself. His taunting "Just a trim?" sounded like "Newark again?" In the end, I deplaned for good without a parting word.

Did I do the right thing?

Depends on whom you ask. Los Angeles celebrity colorist Kim Vo -- whose B2V salon empire has recently expanded to Las Vegas -- suggests you write a "Dear John" note to your soon-to-be ex-hairdresser only if you two have a personal relationship outside of the salon. Otherwise, he approves of moving on without warning.

But be advised that it's likely that you will run into your stylist in the neighborhood anyway. According to American Salon magazine, the majority of us visit a salon that is within one to two miles from our home.

"Saying, 'I just got a great job offer and I'm moving to another state' could be dangerous," notes the editor in chief, Marianne Dougherty, who believes that you should employ the same breakup strategy you would use in a romantic relationship. "If you have been seeing a stylist for 10 years, you're married. You need to say something before you leave."

And what if you plan to switch stylists but stay loyal to a salon? Dougherty likens such behavior to "dating an ex-husband's brother" and calls it a no-no. (For the record, I have been intimate with almost every colorist at Frédéric Fekkai, which makes me a peroxide polygamist.)

Vo says it happens all the time and recommends you casually greet your old stylist, rather than skulk behind his back: "It's not like he doesn't know that you're still a client."

Since you hope to see someone new without alienating your current stylist, it's best to, well, lie. Tell her that your co-workers gave you a gift certificate for a makeover at another salon. But you should be more forthright about your dissatisfaction with your hair if you do slink back. Just be sure to stipple the dark, brassy truth with some upbeat, honey highlights.

Dr. Jenn Berman, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist, suggests that you sandwich your criticism between two compliments. Here's her approach: "I love the way you do my hair, but I noticed lately that the color doesn't really match my complexion. Since there's no better hairdresser than you, I know you can fix it."

But if you don't go back, be sure to voice any concerns with your new hairdresser before you get complacent again. Hair is a lot like sex: You're never too old to noodle with new configurations. In hindsight, I should have asked my stylist to take me further with my look. Maybe Hoboken?

Do you have a social woe or an etiquette issue? Send questions to the Mannerist at monica.corcoran @latimes.com

photo: Columbia Pictures

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