Hair Nightmares in Australian Salons

Three years ago, our family returned from four years in China where we were treated to the best hair salon experiences I’ve ever had in my life. No one cuts and styles like the Chinese. No one. They are freaking masters. Not only that, the 20-minute head massages, the speed, the precision, the customer service and professionalism is mind-bogglingly good. And not only that – you pay between $5 and $15 for the privilege. You heard it right.

Of course, no one’s perfect, and the Chinese are yet to master lightening, but if you’re okay to take care of that yourself, your hair will have the most incredible experience of its crowning glory life. That is, if you are willing to travel to China.

Maybe this superlative hair experience spoiled me. Maybe, when I came home to Australia and failed to find a salon that even came up to a Chinese salon’s bootstraps, I was expecting far too much. Or maybe, just maybe, Australian hair salons suck.

Let me outline my salon experiences since coming home. Most have been experienced in a different salon.

Experience One

Requested: 10 foils and trim. Production time: 3.5 hours. Run late by: 1.5 hours. Details: my ear chewed off about how the stylist smoked all the way through her pregnancy and her daughter was FINE. Result: negligible trim, zebra stripe colour, starting one inch from my scalp, and a headache caused from clenching my jaw to stop myself lambasting this idiot about her pregnancy.

Experience Two

Requested: hair cut, 4 inches off. Production time: 2 hours. Run late by: 1.25 hours. Details: more inane chatter, despite constant attempt to bury head in book, anxiety from being told, repeatedly, that my hair should be salon-coloured not home-coloured and that I need to buy $120 worth of salon hair products to get rid of appalling hair condition, post-haste. Result: average cut, blow dried well to cover averageness, which is uncovered the moment I wash it. Spend next 8 months with hair in ponytail.

Experience Three

Requested: half head of foils, blow dry. Production time: 5 hours. Run late by: 2 hours. Details: told by senior stylist, who I expressly booked, that she could no longer do my hair, and told me newbie junior would do it instead. Panicking, I said No – I wanted her. Whole salon get shirty and put on cat’s bum mouths because I don’t want junior and will wait for senior stylist. Result: long wait, blow dry average but colour actually pretty good. Alas, feel black banned for being ‘difficult’ (despite being very nice about it) so don’t go back.

Experience Four

Requested: hair cut to just below ears. Production time: 2 hours. Run late by: 1.25 hours, mainly due to interruptions by other staff and clients. Details: nice little chat with stylist who then let me read! Wahoo! Result: lop-sided cut that I went home and ‘fixed’ with kitchen scissors over bathroom sink because was too scared to say something to stylist lest I be perceived as ‘difficult’ and get the cat’s bum mouth I received at the last salon. Cried for a week. Didn’t go to another salon for 18 months.

Experience Five

Requested: full head Nordic Blonde foils, trim, blowdry. Production time: 4.5 hours. Run late by: 2.5 hours. Details: rang salon, desperate for special hair for big event. Expressed my fear over awful experiences with bad colour, cuts, blowdrying and running late. Requested senior stylist. Told senior stylist not available any time before event. Was recommended a less-senior stylist, spoke to stylist on phone, expressed my fear over awful experiences with bad colour, cuts, blowdrying and running late. Stylist reassured, reassured, reassured and PROMISED. I believed. Result: nice trim, gorgeous blowdry, but rat brown hair not anywhere in colour wheel vicinity of ‘Nordic Blonde’ despite several, very tentative ‘comments’ expressing fear over colour she was applying. So horrified at end colour, stylist said she would re-do, but not before making every excuse under the sun about why the colour had turned out wrong, including blaming the colour my hair was when I arrived (it was easily-bleached blonde, not jet black or fire engine red, for Christ’s sake). Could not have hair redone in time for special event. Cried for three days.

Experience Six

Requested: repair of rat brown mess. Production time: 2 hours. Run late by: 0 hours. Details: no one else in salon, and stylist aware of her major cock-up, so got exactly what I had originally asked for. She also chatted briefly and then let me read. Result: very happy client.

Experience Seven (final)

Requested: 10 foils, blowdry for big event. Production time: 0 hours, 1 hour wait time. Details: arrived at salon on time, was shown to seat. Was completely ignored for an hour, including by my stylist. Risking being seen as ‘difficult’, asked stylist if we would run terribly late. Stylist said no, she would get me done on time, despite only have 45 mins left to do 2 hours’ worth of work. Stylist went extra slow with other client, then proceeded to not only take her to the counter to pay (when several other employees were available to do that) but had a nice little chat at counter with client, while I waited some more. Upon finally returning to me, completely avoided eye contact, cleaned up her space and walked away. No ‘sorry’, no ‘be with you soon’, no ‘cup of tea?’. Nothing. Result: I walked out.

Experience for my Children

My son: twelve appalling, mis-shapen, dodgy, ugly haircuts that a two year old with a pair of sheep shears could have outdone. Three ‘acceptable’ cuts. One outstanding cut by Rachel, Hairhouse Warehouse, Canberra Centre.

My daughter: one negligible (ie: looks no different) trim, two layering attempts that looked like someone had taken a pair of garden shears and hacked a hole out of the back of her hair, one ‘acceptable’ cut.

Now, let me preface all of this complaining with the fact that I’m never anything less than polite, respectful and kind to any service staff, including salon stylists. I am far from ‘difficult’ and I appreciate there are many difficult salon clients (have seen them with my own eyes), which can make salon staff ‘antsy’. The thing that bothers me most about these experiences is that I HAVE been a lovely customer and I’m still treated like shit/receive sub-standard service and poor results.

But the thing that has really tipped me over the edge with this entire hair thing, is that I am not alone. Since whinging about my lot to my friends on facebook, I have been literally inundated with horror story after horror story, from both men and women. In fact, my horror stories pale in comparison to what some people have not only gone through but consistently gone through at salons. My oh my, the floodgates opened and lo – the hair horrors did flow. On and on and on, the flow went, leaving me to wonder if my solid line-up of dodgy salon experiences are pretty much industry standard. Is it just a coincidence that most people I know have just happened to have the same ongoing drama??

What about you, have you had a dodgy salon experience? Is there such thing as a consistently good outcome for the heads of Australian women? Because if there is, I’ve yet to find it and am desperate to hear about it. Do we really need to pay a week’s rent to get our hair even half way well-represented, and is that even any guarantee that we’ll leave with salon-gorgeous hair? I’ve paid for cheap cuts, I’ve paid for expensive cuts, and in my experience, the extra money seems to count for nothing. The results have all been the same. Average to very bad.

For those salon owners and stylists turning puce at reading this, please note I’m not out to get anyone and am only reporting on the facts, as I have experienced them. I’m sorry, but this is all I know. If you feel you can give me a pleasant, consistent, timely and well-executed salon experience here in Canberra, I will post about your business right there on AWO – to hundreds of thousands of potential clients. And anyone else who can recommend a brilliant salon, who does right by their clients in every way, please leave a comment here and tell us about them.

We need to spread the word. It seems I’m far from alone in the quest to find a consistent, professional hair experience.


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  1. Susan Stephenson says

    Our Chinese hair salon was fantastic. The massages!!!! It was a true pampering session, and my husband and son loved it too. Those six months spoilt us for sure.

  2. Silverdragon says

    Hmm, yes, I’m also hearing you, Tania. Tried three times to get the cut I wanted – finally resorted to Cataldos, who used to cut my hair as a teen (back when Mum was paying!). Finally got the cut I wanted (perfect) and one of the family entertained my baby too! I’ve never had a colour there (despite Emilio’s repeated urgings) but know they specialise in it (trophies galore attest and they train all their staff and apprentices very highly). It’s true that a cut costs a lot and probably the whole colour treatment might absorb the GDP of a small African nation, but I only get a “real” hair cut about once every couple of years, so it probably works out okay overall. Best stylists would be Angelo and Emilio Cataldo, but Amanda cut my hair last time and it was brilliant.

    I’ve also had a good cut at Vanity Fayre in Manuka – the guy there is a master hairdresser, trained in Germany, so he knows his craft. Will tell you about it too, if you’ll listen, but I also reckon he’d let you read your book if you wanted to. It’s a small and not-so-trendy salon, so less potential for inane chatter.

    I’ve also heard “Mest” highly recommended and “Meki” at Bruce, but have no personal experience to rate them. Not really much of a salon girl, so probably a poor resource, but hope this is helpful in some small way. Good luck with finding salon Nirvana!!!

  3. Snippit says

    Your story prompted me to sit back and ask myself – “What are the memorable haircuts in my life?” – I suppose similiar to the memorable meals one can recall. I have very fine, little volume hair and cutting skill is imperative. As I reflected I realised that my most memorable for good reasons were also ‘overseas’ not here. All were ‘walkins’ and after the first great cut in China out of necessity I chose to include a salon visit as part of travelling adventures – not for any reason other than just part of the experience. The salon selection was never chosen on “I have to go to, cos I heard”. I have included ‘fringe trim’ as this seems to be one of the most difficult things for a cutter to do ‘right’. All were random picks and a response ‘take a seat’ or almost immediate availability. Dubai Cut (and colour) – Jumeirah Beach Hotel 5*Caritas Salon (France) (Male hairdresser, ex Lebanese Civil Engineer, 40s, 4 languages, who couldn’t return home due to border closings or work as an Engineer,, so did a course Sasoon London, and was employed in Dubai. 1.5 hrs, $60 -70 AU, included massage and manicure while colour processed- with travel chipproof coating. No wait and prepared to complete if ran overtime even though religious day closing at 12.00 (didn’t go late) ; Mexico – Cancun Mexican owned 4* (not US) hotel – Cut, bikini &1/2leg wax (included as holiday package) $40AU 1hr, no wait, appt time set 30 mins after inquiry and started on time; China immediate, no wait $12 AU offered massage (body) but didn’t have time; Singapore Changi Airport Fringe trim (and they neatened the bob) no charge, immediate; Athens fringe trim $2AU , immediate. One of the better fringe trims was Sea World QLD $7.00 – appointment late in the day before closing. I have had cut and colours in nearly every State in Australia and in all types of salons from exclusive to suburban and have found that the quality of the finished product has nothing to do with the salon type. I now go to a local suburban salon – 2 person business. Sometimes a 15 min wait, and cut quality varies but never a disaster. They don’t fall into memorable, but their colouring is excellent and their prices are escalating (Cut and colour $90.00) but still cheaper than many and time is around 2 hrs. Interestingly ‘the cutter’ was more skilled (artful)4 years ago when recently arrived in Australia from Russia where she had been a hairdresser for 10 years than now. I probably not a good resource – but as someone who will never be able to hide a disaster or simply a poor cut it appears to be simple – look for the most technically well trained who approach their role as an art and a skill not a job, very sharp scissors, accurate eye for colour and shape and the cutter (stylist) is a professional with pride in their work.