Hair stylists use a range of techniques to provide clients with the desired colour, texture and shape that they want for their hair. A hair stylist may also work in specialist areas, such as styling afro-Caribbean hair or wig fitting.
Hair stylists are an important part of the health and beauty industry, as they are responsible for cutting and styling clients’ hair. They are highly skilled in their ability to handle hair, and also have an extensive knowledge of the appropriate products for different hair types. In their work, the client’s comfort during their haircut is as important as the end result.
Hair stylists are considered the ‘happiest at work’ out of all the professions, topping the City and Guilds Happiness Index in 2005. This is not suprising given the focus of their work in forming and maintaining good relationships with their many varied clients.
Being a hair stylist is not a profession dominated by men or women. Most hair stylists work in salons, where they will spend most of their working day on their feet, moving around the salon as they wash, dry and style clients’ hair in different areas. During a single haircut, hair stylists must choose appropriately from the many different brushes, products and pairs of scissors that they have to hand to create the effect they want.
Salaries for junior and trainee hair stylists are approximately minimum wage, increasing to £11,000 – £16,000 a year for fully trained hair stylists. At the top of the profession, hair stylists can earn in excess of £30,000 a year.
A hair stylist must:
- Greet clients and make them feel welcome and at ease.
- Make appointments and avoid making clients wait.
- Find out exactly what the client wants from their appointment and giving advice.
- Wash and condition hair.
- Cut and style hair.
- Colour, perm or straighten hair, working safely with chemical products.
- Advise on treatment of minor problems with the hair or scalp.
- Handle payments.
- Keep up to date with new trends.
- Train continuously to achieve Continuing Personal Development (CPD).
- Stay aware of new products, sometimes attending manufacturers’ short courses which will introduce them.
- Work towards developing advanced skills in colouring, perming, assessing and remedial techniques.
Junior or trainee stylists must also:
- Sort out gowns and towels for laundering after use.
- Keep the salon clean and tidy.
- Help clients with their coats and bags when they enter and leave the salon.
- Make tea or coffee for clients.
- Assist stylists by handing them equipment.
- Observe and learn from experienced stylists at work.
There are no formal minimum entry requirements for a hair stylist. GCSEs in English, Maths and Art are useful to show you are comfortable with reading and working with numbers and that you are creative.
Trainee stylists may work towards National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in hairdressing at a college. Courses can be taken part-time or full-time, and Levels 1 and 2 cover the essential skills to become a qualified hair stylist. NVQ Level 3 deals with skills necessary for taking on more senior management roles. NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in barbering are also available, covering the skills for men’s hairdressing.
An alternative is the BTEC Nationals foundation degree in hairdressing, which includes elements of salon management and is comparable to the NVQ Level 3 in hairdressing.
Experienced hairdressers are expected to pursue CPD, and may choose to train with the FHBF (Freelance Hair and Beauty Federation). At the FHBF, they may work towards the City and Guilds Level 4 Higher Professional Diploma in Salon Management, or the NVQ Level 4 Salon Management, which is designed for stylists wishing to manage a salon of their own or become self-employed.
Hair stylists must complete many diverse tasks and always need to be friendly and professional with customers. Key skills and qualities include:
- Good teamwork.
- Maintaining a tactful, friendly manner.
- Communication skills.
- Openness to learning new ideas and techniques.
- Attention to detail.
- Cleanliness and good personal grooming.
Working hours for hair stylists vary depending on the salon. In high-street salons, working hours are usually from 9am to 5pm. Hair stylists working full time will usually work up to 40 hours per week. This will usually include working on Saturday, with one day off during the week. Part-time work is frequently available.
Self-employment is common for hair stylists, and there are several ways of arranging this. Self-employed hair stylists may decide to work from their own home, or make visits to clients’ homes. In some salons, it is possible to ‘rent a chair’ and work independently.
Every salon is different, but in general hair stylists have to spend a lot of time on their feet whilst they style clients’ hair. The priority of the job is client satisfaction and hair stylists have to be helpful and enthusiastic towards clients even when they are tired and the salon is busy. Hair stylists must work as a team within the salon to make sure that all the clients there are being taken care of.
There are salons of varying size in every town and city, so it is unlikely that you would have to relocate to find a job.
There are many opportunities for trainee hair stylists who have no previous experience or qualifications. Gaining work experience by helping out in a salon is a good way of entering the profession, and structured apprenticeship schemes exist (see the Apprenticeships link below).
When applying for a position as a trainee hair stylist, it is useful to be able to show some experience of dealing with the public. This could include experience as a shop assistant, or work in bars and restaurants. As a junior within the salon you will be shown what is expected of you. To learn more about the profession and progress as a hair stylist, you will benefit from working towards qualifications.
Some salons will only accept hair stylists who have certain qualifications. This is largely true of the commercial chain salons.
Hair stylists work across the country in salons of varying size. This can range from large chains such as Toni&Guy to smaller independent salons.
Hair stylists are also employed in health farms, hospitals, prisons, cruise liners and armed forces bases. They are heavily involved in the fashion and entertainment industries. Hair stylists may also work as teachers in colleges.
Hair stylists may progress to roles that give them more responsibility in their salon, such as senior stylist or salon manager. Alternatively, they may choose to become self-employed and work independently, or even buy their own salon. Other career paths open to hair stylists include becoming a teacher or an NVQ assessor.
Also known as…
- Hair technician
- Style director
What’s it really like?
Philip Todd is Company Director and Salon Manager of Associates Hairdressing, Durham.
I have been in the profession for 22 years, and I have owned my own salon for the last 14 years.
Being the owner of the salon, I am the first in and last out every day, and I manage the stock of hair care products that we use and sell here. As salon manager, I co-ordinate everything that happens in the salon and keep things running smoothly. I have an assistant manager, and we both deal with our own clients whilst keeping an eye on clients coming in for appointments as well as the other stylists. Any problems that come up are brought straight to me.
Each week I organise a weekly training session for the team. Everyone, from the most junior stylist to myself, has to keep developing their skills. We’ll stay after the working day for the session and there’s usually a theme. For example, we’ve recently done a session called ‘the perfect chocolate’ for our colouring abilities.
I am entirely self-taught in hair styling and the management side of things. I was apprenticed in a salon after leaving school and I have worked upwards from there. Juniors are essential to the profession. You are not only learning the craft, but also a high level of discipline. You have to learn how to behave like a professional and perform to a professional standard at all times. Trainees here in the salon are trained up to NVQ Level 2, and Level 3 is optional for them.
As stylists, we constantly need to be responding to others, including what’s going on around us in the salon, what’s going on in the industry and what the client is asking us. Listening well to the client is crucial. That means closed questions, such as whether someone is going out that night or whether someone is going on holiday this year, are banned. People are alienated by questions like that.
It is a very satisfying job. It is tiring to stand on your feet all day, and frustrating when clients don’t turn up for their appointments. However, a difficult aspect of the job is missing clients when they leave. You know that you can’t keep clients forever, but it is still sad when you have built up a relationship with them and then you don’t see them anymore.
One piece of advice I have for anyone thinking of being a hair stylist is that you will get out what you put in. If you love the job and the clients, then you will be one of the many hair stylists who absolutely loves doing what they do.
Stylists in the salon can expect to earn about £250 a week, but also bear in mind that it is a tipping profession – and there’s always someone around who wants their hair done.