What Makes A Great Hairstylist?

What Makes a Great Hairstylist? That of course depends on what you mean by “Great”. Not every stylist can be expected to rise to the level of Vidal Sassoon, define an era and become a household name. So let’s define it in a more colloquial sense, as in: “I love my hairdresser I think she’s great!” or “I moved to a new apartment and it’s great!” In this sense it is more connected to the individual on a personal level and what motivated them in the first place: “I’ve been struggling to find a hairdresser that can give me a great color” or “I was living in a not-so- great part of town”. In our Industry “Greatness” (in this sense) can mean a great many things and I think it depends foremost on a hairdresser’s motivations and achievements of goals.

I’m no great hairdresser in the “Vidal Sassoon” sense but I have my achievements that I’m very proud of.  I don’t let the fact that I’m not a household name in hair diminish my own personal feelings of greatness. When you set a goal and you work hard (and in some cases relentlessly) to achieve success it feels great doesn’t it? It releases a big jolt of dopamine to the brain! Like a drug the euphoria of success can override the disappointment of failure. It was at about my fifth hair competition back in the day when I won my first award. It was definitely like a drug for me in the sense that I haven’t stopped competing yet even though I haven’t always won. It’s been about twenty years!

Here is a guide to hopefully get your own personal motivation and goal setting going so you too can feel that sense of greatness and get that dopamine flowing! Copy this sentence down on a piece of paper ten times:

It would be GREAT if I_________________________________________________________.

Now fill in the blank. Sounds simple but I want you to take your time and really think about what you decide to put in. I’m even going to help you cheat a little bit and give you a few examples. Feel free to steal them if you want:

  1. It would be GREAT if I could get better at color by taking that balayage class.
  2. It would be GREAT if I entered Contessas or Mirrors for the first time.
  3. It would be GREAT if I could get a few more referrals.
  4. It would be GREAT if I could get over a thousand followers on Instagram.

Your list of ten should range from easier to harder things to accomplish and should not include things that you expect someone else to do for you, like: It would be GREAT if I got a new car from my parents.

Hooray you’ve just set some goals! Sorry if I tricked you into it! Now of course you have to try to achieve them and I mean really try. We naturally have an inner sense of how difficult something is to accomplish. Scientists say it served us well in the Stone Age when resources were scarce and your life literally depended on your risk assessment. Now it’s merely a mental hurdle to get over. The upside is the dopamine that is released to give you that great feeling of achievement is also built in and is proportional to the difficulty of the task. But what’s really cool is that it can be long lasting and the euphoria of success can obliterate most of the pain of our hardships. The prime example of this is how new mothers forget about the pain of childbirth when they see their new bundle of joy!


Many years ago I had an epiphany that all great changes in hair trends start off from what at the time would have been considered “Bad Hair”. There was even considerable resistance to Vidal Sassoon’s work at the beginning and a lot of people didn’t get it at all. But soon people saw his simple but elegant geometric cuts as liberation from all the time spent under the hooded dryer with rollers and pincurls. Sometimes someone comes along and single handedly changes the world like Vidal but often it’s not any one person. As examples to make my case I give you a short list and the possible(Bad Hair) origins starting from today and moving back in time:


  • Ombré definitely started off as “Bad Hair” maybe even with Carrie Bradshaw’s bad roots in Sex and The City I suspect.
  • Chunky Highlights of the early 2000’s probably started by a student at hair school or someone trying foiling for the first time
  • Jagged cuts from the 2000’s; someone who couldn’t cut a straight line started that trend.
  • The “Rachel from Friends” Cut: even though clients loved this cut most stylists reluctantly did it because it resembled our first attempts at layering hair in hair school.
  • The’70s was a mish-mash of bad hair so something had to rise from its ashes:  Perms!
  • The Shag cut started off as simply gathering all the hair into a ponytail on top of the head and cutting it off


It’s humbling to realize that what collectively we see as beautiful can be generated so organically. There are few real trend setters. Most stylists that are considered “great” among their peers are more “Trend Perfectors” or “Trend Enhancers” really. I don’t mean to diminish their work in the slightest because this is how true classic hairstyles are created.  There usually comes a time however when the party is over for many real popular hair trends and they return to the vortex of “Bad Hair” from whence they came (think mullets, perms, the “Rachel”, the “Dorothy Hamill”). But thankfully some hairstyles, because of the greatness of hairdressers famous or not stick around and become the classics.

by Renn VanDyck

Salon Owner/Master Stylist

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