Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting a Haircut in Paris

"A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." Coco Chanel

There is something iconic about a French haircut, something distinguishable. Something even, if you'll permit me, magical. If you've seen enough Hollywood romcoms, you know that a girl's haircut means the dream job or dream guy or dream whatever is only a scene away. It's what transformed a frumpy little chauffeur's daughter into the bell of the ball--and the prize sparred for by billionaire brothers--in my favorite film, Sabrina. So you can imagine all the hype that I had built into my first French haircut.

Then real life hits. I couldn't speak French when I arrived, so how the heck was I supposed to make an appointment? Let alone explain how my hair has three cowlicks <here, here, and here> which need to be carefully catered to so they don't take over my head, thank you. So I waited until I could speak a little French. Then it was winter, and who wants less hair in the winter? It's like a free scarf, all the time. And then it was spring, and it had been a year since I cut my hair. And I was fully settled into my au pair budget habits, which did not include springing 50€ on a decent coiffurier.

Then I read about how one of the hair salon houses in Paris, which has a training center where a girl can get a haircut for 7€. SEVEN EUROS. Still not trusting my French over the phone, I went in person to the little salon/training center right outside the rue Cambon exit at Concord, ironically a few floors down from the Chanel flagship store (see quote above). Jean Louis David was a reputable name in French hair circles, so what could go wrong? I managed to struggle through explaining to the terribly chic receptionist what I wanted a coupe (cut), versus a technique (color), and we booked an appointment for Monday morning.

Come this morning, I was frantically looking up hair terms on my iTranslate app as I barreled through the metro halls trying to not be late for my first appointment for anything in months. Why is it always the day of your hair appointment that your hair seems to behave, pleading with you that it won't play the fuzzy forest trick one more time, if you'll just not cut it. Too late! This mane was due for a change!

When I arrived, the receptionist happily greeted me and hung my coat for which I was given a coat check ticket. Then I laid down the big bucks, all precious seven euros, as she checked my name off the list. I guess they want their money upfront in case one of their trainees miffs it. I was outfitted in a white cape that made me feel more like a lab rat than a salon client. I would soon find out that I was, in fact, the rat.

I was told to go upstairs and wait, along with a small army of other women also in starchy white capes, and with every sort and shape and color of hair you might imagine. The hairdressers came in and looked over our hair, and then decided amongst themselves who got what hair, like picking teams in gym class. A girl who couldn't have been more than 17 with a lip ring and baby bangs pointed to me and said "On y va!" Let's go! Very proud of myself and my hair for being picked first (I never got picked first in gym class!), I preened over to the hair cutting station, ready to begin my magical transformation. Little did I know, she got first pick because she was the least experienced.

First I was given a style book from the salon to peruse of that season's looks. I got to choose one of the styles for her to learn the technique (but remember, this is a coupe, not a technique. Ugh, French.). I saw a glamourous 1940s look that would take two inches off my length, so I proudly presented my choice to my hairdresser. "Mais non," she said. "You're here for a cut not a style, you can either choose this cut, or that one." I looked from the overgrown faux-hawk to the blunt rocker chic cut. Blunt rocker chic it was. But! I protested, I really would prefer her to keep it long. "Of course," she smiled sweetly, and we were off to shampoo. After my hair was squeaky clean (and shoulders drenched), we returned and she set up shop.

The first thing she pulled out was a gigantic electronic shaver. Excuse me, what is that for. I am not a man, so you can put that thing away. Where are your scissors, woman? I swallowed down panic and reminded myself that the women in this training center were already licensed professionals who came to be trained in the season's technique, not fresh meat from cosmetology school. I kept repeating that in my head until she picked up that beastly shaver and proceeded to shear off my hair! Clenched fists tactfully hidden beneath that starchy white robe that had begun to itch, I watched wide-eyed as she lopped off 5 months of growth into a clean line around my shoulders. I gulped down another wave of panic, telling myself the worst was behind me. And hey, it didn't look too bad....

But I hadn't faced the d├ęgrader, the layering.The instructor came over to show her how to shear off my hair against a comb at an angle to create these layers. I had warned them profusely that the shorter my hair, the curlier, so it was imperative to keep it all below my chin. I was answered with sugary nods as they whacked away inches. The instructor moved on, and my young hairdresser, gnawing at her lip ring, tried to mirror the instructor's technique. When she began to shear my hair at every odd angle, I wanted to scream, "No! Didn't you see how she did it?! You anchor your hand at the shoulder and sweep straight down with the blasted razor, not towards you! I could do it, and I don't even speak your native language!" But she continued to hack, the instructor coming over from time to time to correct her and tell her to try again... Shorter. Shorter. By the end, I was out a good seven inches.

"Les whips! You forget les whips!" I cringed. Whatever the whips are, they sounded the worst yet. She took the razor and began to run it vertically through what was left of my hair. No, no, no, God please. Anything but that. If there is one thing I have learned from years of tirelessly caring for this insane mane of mine, it is never to do les whips, or thinning, as American hairdressers call it. Basically taking random cuts through the already cut hair to make it thinner, but it really turns out bad for us curly-haired girls once humidity sets in: frizz galore.

I subtlety wiped one crocodile tear away, as she discussed any final butchery––er, touches––to be made. I was sure my hair is ruined. Here's to one more year of bad haircut repair. As she blew it dry, something changed. Something, if you'll permit me, magical. My hair somehow turned into this charming blunt spring cut that falls just so by my face. No weird chunks in weird places. In fact, it almost made me feel a little more chic, a little more Parisienne. Maybe it's all in my head. But somehow... somehow a 7€ haircut from a dastardly electronic shearer (I never did see a pair of scissors) may be just what I needed for my swing into spring. A spring in Paris, no less. And maybe, with a bit of hairspray, and a lot of prayer, I may be one step closer to changing my life, Chanel style.


  1. OMG! Your hair is gorgeous! You are gorgeous. This morning, when I woke up, I thought that I should get a haircut. I've been thinking about it a lot lately but I just can't decide. I thought that I should get a haircut in Paris since I'm visiting by the 3rd week of this month. I googled where I can get a haircut and I found your blog. Thanks so much!

    Now, I'm thinking that I should set up an appointment for the day that I'm in arriving in Paris. Would you recommend this salon?

    Thanks a bunch beautiful! :*

  2. Thanks for this I will try this after my new hair transplant because I will get my new natural hairs :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece of information. For good haircut you need to have best quality and professional hair cutting shears. Professional hair cutting shears help a lot in every way.

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