1. Choose a stylist based on who they do, not who they are.
To ensure that a stylist is talented at cutting your type of hair, ask friends (or strangers on the street!) with hair similar to yours - and a style you desire - where they go, says Eva Scrivo, who owns her own salon in New York City. Not every stylist can "bat a thousand," warns Scrivo, and one who's a master with fine hair may be just mediocre when it comes to curls.
2. Bring along pictures.
Nearly all stylists agree that bringing in photos is a must. "It helps to bridge the gap between the way most stylists talk about hair, and the way the rest of the world does," says Rodney Cutler, owner of the Cutler/Redken Salon in New York. He recommends bringing in photos of both cuts you like and cuts you don't; the more visuals you have, the less likely you and your stylist are to suffer a miscommunication.
3. Wash, dry, and style your hair before heading to the salon.
Showing up with your hair "done" gives the stylist crucial information about you: Do you blowdry your hair every day? Use a flatiron? Set it in rollers? All of this helps him determine what cut is best suited to your styling-skill level, says Cutler. For instance, if it's obvious you're not so handy with the dryer, a stylist may steer you toward a cut that looks just as presentable air-dried.
4. Consult with the stylist sans robe.
Ask to meet the stylist in your street clothes first, says celebrity stylist Ken Paves, who coifs Jessica Simpson. This relays your personal style and gives him a better sense of your body's proportions - both important details lost the second you don a cutting cape.
5. Be honest.
During the consultation, open up about your hair insecurities. If you are really attached to your long hair, say so. If you hate your waves, mention it. If your fine hair falls flat five seconds after you style it, fess up. The more information a stylist can gather about your likes and dislikes - and your ability to maintain a style - the better he can tailor a 'do to you, says Paves.
6. Pay attention.
Once the stylist pulls out the scissors, stay alert, says Paves. This is not a time to start e-mailing friends on your Blackberry or to take a cat nap. And if the cut starts going in a direction that makes you nervous, speak up - or ask to go to the bathroom, evaluate your hair in there, then go back and communicate what you don't like before allowing the cut to continue.
7. Never leave unhappy.
If, at the end of it all, you still don't have the cut of your dreams, don't just sit there sulking, says Scrivo. Tell the stylist what you don't like ("I wish the ends were less layered and more blunt," or "I prefer the back to be a bit shorter"). In many cases, the stylist will oblige you right away. If, however, you notice that the waiting area is packed - or that the stylist acts prickly when you voice your apprehension - say you want to go home and live with your new cut for a day. Then, if you're still unhappy, call to schedule a "fix-it" appointment (note: a fix-it appointment is always free, says Paves). This keeps a rushed - or defensive - stylist away from your hair, and it allows you to go home and play with it before deciding you definitely want a 'do-over.