Letters From Your HairdresserSpeaking Hairdresser: The Terms You Need To KnowKate Allen

Have you ever sat down in a stylist’s chair and tried to explain exactly what you want? With photos and your Pinterest page and anything you can think of to break the communication barrier and ensure you get what you want, right? And before the shampoo that starts the service, your stylist just rattles off a series of sentences filled with words you’ve probably heard but likely don’t know what they mean. And then promptly says, “Don’t worry, I know exactly what you want.”

This is a problem for several reasons. One, because you have no idea if she gets what you’re saying. You could want a shoulder length, shaggy cut and end up with a chin length blunt bob. Because she hasn’t explained in “civilian” terms what she will do for you. And two, you could end up with something you completely loooooove. But because you didn’t even understand how you asked for it, it will be very hard to explain to another hairdresser what you loved so much about it and how they can recreate it. And that becomes a problem for everyone.

Today, we will focus on general terminology and what it all means, beginning with the basics. For some more in depth information on haircut specific terminology, head here.

Hair Strand- The hair strand is the name for the piece of hair that grows out of the follicle. It represents one single piece of hair and all that comprises it, including the outermost layer called the cuticle, the middle layer called the cortex and the inner layer (which isn’t always present) called the medulla. It’s important to know the anatomy of a hair strand to fully understand your texture and density, which we’ll discuss below.

Follicle- The hair follicle is the root in the scalp that the actual hair strand grows out of. It is also the same opening that sebum from the sebaceous gland secretes oil from, naturally cleansing the hair.

Texture- Texture means a few different things. In this case, texture will refer to the most common definition, which is the state of each individual hair strand. A strand that has a very small circumference, meaning that it is very “skinny”, has a fine texture. And the opposite, a strand that is very large in circumference has a coarse texture. Knowing what your texture is will help immensely when speaking with your hairdresser and deciding on what will and won’t work for you.

Density- Density refers to the amount of hair on the head as opposed to the actual thickness of each hair strand.. this gets confused all the time. For example, thick hair would mean having a head with little to no scalp showing due to the amount of hair on the scalp. And thin hair would refer to the opposite, more scalp showing and less hair on the head. The easiest way to see density is to pull your hair back into a ponytail and see how thick it is. But note that is is entirely possible to have very fine hair strands and high density of those strands or the opposite.

Volume- Volume simply refers to the amount of height or width in a given section of your hair. You might like volume just on top at the crown, just through your curls at the end of your hair or throughout the whole style. In an updo, volume placement becomes critical and can make or break the style. A lot of women get extensions solely for the purpose of having more volume on their head, not necessarily just length. And a complete lack of volume would just be called a flat or sleek style.

Curl- Curl can refer to anything from a large wave to a tight, spiral curl. At the heart of the definition, curl is full of movement. Adding curl is a great tool for adding volume to fine hair, which tends to be more flat.

Beveled- This can simply be translated as a slight bend under on the ends. Think of the politician’s wife look… a short bob with each section turned under. Creating this effect actually comes from the way your stylist cuts the ends and the way it’s styled. But say the word “beveled” instead of explaining “I just hate how it flips up sometimes and won’t stay curled the direction I want it to curl” and your stylist will know exactly what you’re looking for.

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  1. I have a question; how would one explain the back of Audrey Tautou’s hair in ‘Amelie’?

  2. This article wasn’t very helpful. How about some terms for current styles or techniques?

  3. Like when I went to a new salon, asked the stylist to take off 3 inches and she cut my hair up above my shoulders? I thought I was pretty specific about how much I wanted cut. This happens to me a lot. Are they even listening or just doing whatever they want? At least it will grow back! :D

    • I think some do what ever they want. I asked for chin length and received cheekbone length! Those inches make a huge difference!