Legal Law

What is a master stylist? How the hair industry secretly defines the master

Are you getting your money’s worth for your hair services?

The hair industry is littered with names for hairdressers. Stylist, esthetician and stylist are terms used for the same profession, and that is simply a hairdresser. There are definitely different skill sets with hairdressers, and most of the time, those with vast experience in the hair industry do a good job with hair. However, we are about to expose some truths about what a “Master Stylist” is. Think about it. If you plan on paying for a master stylist, you probably want a bit of experience to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, right?

Very common: The master stylist “Sales”

In many conventional salons, you will be surprised to learn that the different levels of achievement have nothing to do with skill, but rather with salesmanship. As a stylist brings more money to a salon week after week, he can begin to advance in the title. It is similar to a salesperson reaching and exceeding sales quotas. The line of thinking is that if more and more clients are coming to see a particular stylist then they must be doing a great job, so give them a promotion!

Promotions based on money brought into a salon do not equal great services. It can mean that the stylist has a great personality, connects well with guests, or can just be a fantastic salesperson (fluent speakers can do well to promote themselves).

Don’t fall into the trap of falling in love with these so-called “teachers.” The good news is that you will eventually discover that there are constant errors in your cut and color. The unintended ragged cuts, the holes in the hairstyle, and the green or orange color are “witnesses” of a master who really shouldn’t have this title.

Common: The master stylist of “dinosaurs”

The other teacher has “earned” the title for years of service in the industry (6+). Let me warn you, just because someone has done their hair for 30 years doesn’t mean they have done it right for 30 years. If someone does not receive any formal education outside of beauty school, they have probably set their path and could have done it wrong for the past 30 years, hence the term dinosaur. It’s like buying a 20-year-old PC and never getting an upgrade.

The fact is, beauty schools only teach students how to pass the cosmetology exam. It fits perfectly into what is wrong with our educational system in this country. We teach our children to take an exam and they become excellent candidates, but they never really learn the material. The same goes for cosmetology schools and their graduate students. Once a cosmetology student graduates and passes the exam, they cut the client’s hair. Would you hire an attorney to handle your important case right after passing the bar, or would you have a doctor perform surgery before your internship? Of course, no! But that’s the thing with most stylists.

These newly graduated stylists who continue their work improve over the years, albeit by trial and error. They cover up their mistakes with flamboyant movements and flowery language. Has a stylist ever cut your hair aggressively and expertly pulled it off?

Now many stylists have embraced a new trend to cover up their inability to be precise and that is to use a razor to sculpt your hair. If you’ve had your hair styled with a razor, then you know better than anyone that it takes forever to get your hair done in the morning while trying to look decent before you leave the house. Tons of gels, sprays, powders, bobby pins, and clips are used to hold it in place. I’m sure if I had a choice, I would use glue and tape if I could.

The fact is, if you learn to do something wrong and never know it is wrong, you will do it wrong for the rest of your life until someone proves you otherwise. The solution to this is education outside of beauty school. Learning how to cut hair correctly is only taught in the most famous salons. But there is a catch. These advanced education classes are only 1, 3, or 5 day seminars. Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? Well this means that of those who can actually afford to take the classes or take the time to travel to Chicago, New York, or California for these seminars, only 20% will catch up and the other 80% will not (but they will). they still put their training on their resume). Even then, a 5-day seminar will not produce an expert, but it will at least bring the stylist closer to his goal.

Less common: The master of the “template”

Template masters are the most cunning of fake experts. The reason they are crafty is because these teachers have taken classes over the years for formal education, giving the impression of a true master stylist. However, the additional classes and training were about learning specific haircuts, not about methods and techniques. One of the most notable successes in the hair industry is that of a popular national chain. They created a system where specifics haircuts they are taught and passed on to your stylists. Each haircut is given a different name within their community and each graduate returns to their salon and gives their clients the cut they just learned. The problem is that the typical hairdresser jumps from salon to salon every 6 months or a year. They only get to know certain cuts, but they never learned to design their own cut. In reality, some of these salons will not allow creativity because they want to maintain a standard level of service at all brand locations. Therefore, they force all their clients to fit into the same template.

RARE: The “real” master stylist

Very difficult to find are the true master stylists who can be identified as part of the design teams of Vidal Sasson, Arrojo Studios, Ted Gibson and Jos Eber. You will find that regardless of the team, many of the teachers on these teams were largely trained by Vidal Sasson teachers or trained by those who come from a Vidal Sasson trained teacher. One indication of a true master is that HE DOES NOT USE CUTTERS. Whether it’s a men’s or women’s cut, pruning shears are a “dirty word” for the true craftsman. Unfortunately, in some states like Texas, pruning shears must be used on the neck instead of a straight razor due to state laws. This would be the only exception to the use of razors.

ALMOST EXTINCT: The Grand Master and his protégé

The creme de la creme are considered “Grand Masters”. A Grandmaster is one who has won the prestigious Venus of Long Beach Medallion (1), which designates him as a world champion designer. Rarely, and only if you are lucky, can you find a protégé of a Grand Master. A protégé is someone who has done more than take a 5-day course, but has studied and trained intensively every day with a Venus Medallion winner for 6 months to a year or more. Venus Winners and their protégés are extremely rare gems that are hard to find. If you find one, grab it with awe and respect, because the level of training and skill you’ve acquired is second to none.

In a world full of namesake and celebrated experts, interviewing your stylist is your best bet to find the real master. It may take time and work to sift through the dark to identify vendors, dinosaurs, and institutionalized cronies, but your efforts will pay off when you finally find that rare gem. In the next article, we’ll go into more detail on what to ask a stylist and how to properly vet their work to determine if you should give them a chance to work on their hair. Thereafter, you can be sure that you are getting your money’s worth for your services.


(1) International Salon and Spa Exhibition (2012). ISSE Long Beach Special Events Contest. Retrieved on April 17, 2012 from

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