Chop Talk
Five Area Stylists Dish on Hair Do's and Don'ts

By Rachel Machacek
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Some fear the dentist. Some fear the reaper. Me, I fear the hair stylist. A little melodramatic? Sure. Unwarranted phobia? Well, let's just say I've had more chop jobs than a slab of beef at Benihana. My latest slice-and-dice was no exception: The stylist-who-shall-not-be-named gave me a cartoonish coif straight out of Whoville, which looked nothing like the Kirsten Dunst bob I'd asked for.

We've all been there at least once. Either you stomp right back to the salon for a fix, or (if you're like me) you go out and buy a pack of bobby pins, a box of tissues and a bottle of cabernet for the painful grow-out phase.

Tired of the post-op sob sessions, I asked scissor sculptors from around the D.C. area how to avoid tress trauma and achieve mane magnificence.

Not surprisingly, they said communication was essential. And while knowing what you want is certainly important, many stylists say they work best with clients who listen to their professional advice. "Sometimes people have too much say about their hair, and it may not work for them," says Diego Paez, owner of Art & Chemistry in Rockville.

Planning is also key. "If you want to get a good haircut and you're going to a new stylist, make time for it," says Alisha Bengtson, a stylist at Bubbles in Reston. "Don't try to squeeze it in on your lunch hour or Saturday afternoon. Take the time for it as you would a doctor appointment."

If in the end, the cut or style isn't working for you, it's okay to speak up -- just do it nicely. "You don't want to be mean to someone with scissors in their hand," points out Demian stylist Vivian Cooper. And be sure to find out the salon's policy on fixes. Some stylists allow you up to two weeks to send out an SOS, while others, just a day.


Reporter Rachel Machacek quizzed the following pros from local salons.

Alisha Bengtson, stylist for 10 years, 9 1/2 at Bubbles, first in Fairfax, now in Reston.

Andre Chreky, stylist for 30 years; owner of Andre Chreky, the Salon Spa, in the District for almost nine years.

Vivian Cooper, stylist for six years, the last 1 1/2 at Demian in Adams Morgan.

Ilenia Ottaviani, stylist for 10 years, 6 1/2 years at Hair Cuttery, first in McLean, now in Ballston.

Diego Paez, stylist for 26 years; owner of Art & Chemistry in Rockville for 15 years.


What style works best on you? It depends -- on your age, your hair and how much time you're willing to spend in front of the mirror every morning.

Bengtson : Rather than basing your style on your face shape, base it on your hair texture. Generally speaking, if you have very fine, thin hair you want to go with shorter styles. If you have long, thick, coarse hair, you're going to want to go for a longer style.

Cooper: There are some things to avoid: People with curly hair shouldn't have short bangs. Softer fringe is more flattering than straight-across-the-forehead fringe. For body types, if someone is really thin, I'd avoid stick-straight styles. For rounder frames, a U- or V-shape in the back helps create a waistline.

Paez : Long hair works best on the younger set. I don't recommend it for older clients -- for them, classic, softer looks with bangs to cover forehead wrinkles work best.

Chreky : Maintenance is a big factor, too. The bolder you go, the more maintenance your hair requires.


So you want to look just like Charlize Theron at the Golden Globes and have her photo to prove it. Will you get what you want? Maybe.

Cooper : Visual aids are important because hairdresser's terms and layman's terms can be totally different. Pictures are really good, even if it's a sketch drawing. And knowing what you don't want helps quite a bit.

Bengtson : Pictures are a good tool, but it's more important to know the overall look you're going for, whether it's funky or pretty. I look at a client's personality, clothing, appearance, how they talk, celebrities that they find attractive -- I'll get a vibe about what they're into and then I can make suggestions based on that.

Chreky: If someone comes in with long hair and wants to go short, then show me what short is. It can be a couple inches to one person and 10 to someone else.


The relationship with your stylist can be as tough as any marriage. Communication is essential, so hash things out until you're so comfortable, you could get your cut while blindfolded.

Chreky : It's very important that your stylist explain to you what they're going to do before they do it. And be honest if you don't like your cut or color, because everything can be changed.

Bengtson : Give any new hairstylist a couple tries. If after that, they don't get it, move on and find someone you mesh better with.

Cooper : Clients will tell me if they don't like something by asking questions, which is a nice way. They ask if it's going to be shaped up toward the end. Sometimes people will freak out, but it's best to be clear about what the problem is. Being vague is confusing.

Ottaviani : If you feel uncomfortable with something, ask your stylist to stop. I would if it were my hair.


A bright red mullet may be a no-go in most offices, but rest assured: There's room for stylish coifs in any workplace.

Bengtson : In this area, there's such a wide range of people. But I would say professionals should keep their hair no longer than collarbone length. Super-long hair generally doesn't work in the workplace, because it's hard to make it look "done."

Cooper : You want to avoid extremes, so rather than going platinum blond or black, try a color that's somewhere in the middle. Same goes for length, although things have loosened up, and a lot of woman who work on the Hill are wearing longer styles that are softer and sexier. I haven't seen the anchor-woman bob in a long time.

Ottaviani: Really short hair was popular for professional men for a while, but right now, they're wearing their hair a little longer.

Chreky : I love silver hair and think it's acceptable anywhere. You just need to make sure you have a modern haircut, or it will look frumpy.

Paez : People come in the salon and love the hairdressers' funkier styles. They want that look but they're a little afraid of it, so we modify it and tone it down to make it work for them.


A spritz of this, a spray of that. These are the products the experts rely on -- day in, day out.

Bengtson : Bubbles has a line called Cibu. My personal favorite is Mousse Lee. It gives hair light body and a little oomph.

Cooper: I generally use a texturizer that conditions hair and protects it from the elements. MOP C-System Texture Lotion work well.

Ottaviani: Super Skinny Serum by Paul Mitchell leaves hair really shiny, and you can use it on all hair types.

Paez : The Schwarzkopf line of shampoos and conditioners is great for African American hair that has been relaxed. Also, there's a Tigi Bed Head product called Superstar that works wonders for people with thin hair.

Chreky: For frizzy, curly, flyaway hair, Phyto's Phytodefrisant is a great relaxing balm -- especially during Washington's humid summers. Mizani has a great product line specifically for ethnic hair. We can't keep the Rose H2O Conditioning Hairdress in stock, and its Shyne Bodifying Sheen Spray is wonderful for a final shine and gloss once your hair is in place.

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