April 24, 2009

When you hit the salon for a trim, beauty salon etiquette is probably the last thing on your mind. Right?

Plus, chances are good that when you approach the cosmetics counter you're thinking about makeup -- not protocol. But getting primped and primed comes with its own set of social expectations, and in the end what you get most definitely reflects what you give. Here's how to stay on your best beauty behavior.

Tipping at a beauty salon: The rule of thumb at most salons: Tip the shampoo person $2 or so; give $5-$10 to the assistant (if he or she brought you coffee and blow-dried your hair); and give 15-20 percent of the total cost to your stylist/colorist. "That may seem like a lot, but a waiter at a restaurant gets roughly the same percentage, and they're not standing at your side providing personalized service for an hour or more," says one industry insider. Of course, when tipping at a beauty salon that is low-cost and high-turnaround, you're not expected to give a $10 tip for a $20 haircut.

More beauty salon etiquette: Speaking to your stylist one-on-one either minutes or days before a cut or color job is key for optimal results, especially if you're going to that person for the first time.

Watch out for use of business jargon: "Always underestimate your knowledge of business jargon," says Connie Voines, manager of New York City's Bumble and bumble salon. "Talk body parts instead of inches -- 'no shorter than my collarbone' -- and describe a look instead of a technique -- 'like Meg Ryan's hair' rather than 'layered' or 'graduated.'"

"Do voice some kind of opinion," adds stylist John Kovac of NYC's trendy Space salon. "Clients will often come in and say 'do anything you want,' and then when I suggest something new -- say an ultrashort cut -- they're horrified. Giving some initial direction is easier on both stylist and client."

[header = Beauty salon etiquette questions: more answers to your tricky questions.]

What do you do when faced with a beauty disaster? We answer your toughest beauty salon etiquette questions.

How do I handle a botched job? Accidents do happen. If you're unhappy with your salon results, communicate this to your hair stylist as diplomatically as possible. See the manager only if you get a bad attitude in return. Any dissatisfied client can expect a complete redo free of charge, but patience and flexibility are key; hair needs time to grow, and color reversals may require multiple treatments over time.

How do I switch my hair stylist without hurting feelings? The days of monogamy are behind us. "People often want to try out someone new once in a while, and most stylists understand that," says Space's Kovacs. "If you run into your 'ex,' be calm and pleasant. You don't have to hide or make excuses. There's nothing wrong with explaining that you liked her work but wanted to try a change."

When could there be extra fees or purchase requirements involved? You're much better off knowing what you're expected to spend, rather than squirming through a department-store makeover session unclear about your purchasing obligations. Like many department-store brands, Clinique provides complimentary makeovers, but common courtesy applies, says Clinique vice president of marketing Nance Dickinson. "Don't ask for a makeover when customers are three-deep at the counter, such as during special promotions," Dickinson says. Find out when a better time would be, or if you want a sure thing, call ahead -- you will always be accommodated if you make an appointment.

Thank the help: "If you do decide to buy any of the makeup you try during a department-store or beauty-boutique makeover, it's a nice gesture of thanks to buy from the consultant who helped you," says Dickinson.

What else do I need to know? Don't out-shout the blow-dryer. You may not hear yourself dishing with your stylist, but be aware that your voice can be heard throughout the salon if you try to talk over the blow-dryer.

Do you have etiquette questions about the weight room? Find out everything you need to know!