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5 Assistant "Hairstylist" Horror Stories

Last week I wrote the article 6 Hairstylist “Assistant” Horror Stories. If you haven't had the chance to read that one me, you will want to. As a 35-year veteran of being a Hairstylist, I have had my share of Assistants that I hired, didn’t work out, and that were absolute nightmares. Well, today we are going to flip this subject and hit it from the other side; Assistants that had horror stories working for Hairstylists. Of course, it goes both ways!

For the majority of my career, the Master Hairstylists I worked with had assistants.

To clarify, as a Hairstylist, by the time you work with an Assistant, you have reached a “level” of expertise and experience.

You have built a clientele, you have mastered haircuts, color, blow dries, and the business side of our industry. Typically Hairstylists at this level have worked and achieved a lot. To be frank, and incredibly transparent, although I have tremendous respect for the artistic creativity and drive of Master Hairstylists, many of them can be difficult and tend to be temperamental.

“Some of the best Hairdressers are the ones that remember the hair business a people business first.”

Eric Fisher

One of the biggest problems I see working around other Master Hairstylists is that they get selfish. They forget what it was like being a new and inexperienced Hairstylist. (EVERYONE was a new and inexperienced Hairstylist at one time!) Many Master Hairstylists believe that they “paid their dues" and that it is now their Assistant who needs to pay their dues. Personally, I think this is sh**y, but I see it happen all the time.

Although it was jolting to see Master Hairstylists treat their Assistants this way, it was the very thing that made me dedicate my career to training and teaching New Talent Hairstylists. I had the honored position in the salon, of creating and running the training program for all the Assistants. Teaching, training and mentoring Assistants meant that I heard the stories of what was going on during their week with the Master Hairstylists that they were working for.

So here are a few of the... Assistant “Hairstylist” Horror Stories:

1. Tawnya - The biggest and most glaring Horror Story is about an Assistant named Tawnya. She worked for a Master Hairstylist named Kelsey. Kelsey positioned herself with high-end clientele. When she found out someone had money, she turned on the charm and soon enough she had that wealthy person as a client in her chair. The other Master Hairstylists in her salon knew that when she started circling one of their clients, she had figured out they had money, and she was trying to poach them for herself. She was a manipulator. She used her clients, coworkers, front desk and Assistants to get what she wanted for herself.

Tawnya opened up to me, and I became aware that Kelsey was predatory with her Assistants. She took advantage of them, and didn’t suffer any guilt. Her voice went from syrupy sweet to condescending depending on what she wanted. Her Assistants were cheap labor for her, she didn’t teach them, or mentor them, she just used them. I caught on to her when Tawnya told me she had to run and pick up Kelsey’s daughter from school. I said, “what?” in disbelief, and when I asked more, Tawnya told me Kelsy had her cleaning her house, prepping for a party she was hosting, and running her errands. I realized Kelsey had been using all of her salon Assistants as “help”, Tawnya was just the first one to speak up about it. When I was running the training program, I put a stop to that type of abuse.

"If being a Hairstylist was easy, everyone would do it."

2. Amanda - Amanda worked for Jonathan as his Assistant. Jonathan was a good-hearted guy, his clients and Assistants loved him. He was also a recovering drug addict. The season I worked with him he was on and off the wagon. When he was struggling we all struggled. He was unpredictable, erratic, and presented more challenges than I can even write down. Although we all tried to help, Amanda took the brunt of it when he would no-show for his clientele, or show up high and out of his mind.

3. Shannon - Shannon was hired as a “salon Assistant”. That meant she worked for multiple Hairstylists. That wasn’t the problem, it was an opportunity that allowed her to grow quickly and learn from multiple Hairstylists. Her horror story was the salon itself. She quickly realized that when she went to cash her work check, it bounced. The salon didn’t have enough money to pay all of the salon employees. Luckily Shannon knew enough to quit, right before the salon closed its doors.

4. Brianna - Brianna came to me right after being hired. She was Taylor’s Assistant, but quickly knew it was not the right fit for her. Taylor was ALWAYS right. 100% always right. His clientele consisted of women that loved to be bossed around and told what to do. He was great until you questioned him or his opinion, and then he flipped into a rabid dog. When he was a young and handsome Hairstylist, he was able to get away with his arrogance, as he aged it just became disturbing. Over the years he didn’t address his immaturity and anger. That, along with his unwillingness to grow and learn as a Hairstylist, meant he got left behind when new trends, and new techniques in hair came out. Brianna was the beginning of a long line of Assistants that soon figured out Taylor’s limitations, temper, his tendency to bully, and didn’t stay long.

“In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”

Albert Einstein

5. Tom - The Master Hairstylist Jaquelyn was fancy. She liked fancy cars, fancy clothes, fancy restaurants, and fancy vacations. She was abrupt, had wildly high standards, and an image to uphold. I was there for the day that she yelled at her Assistant Tom from across the salon, and then belittled that same Assistant in front of clients when he tried to respond. Tom was an older Assistant and had more life experience, and for that reason, he wasn’t easily intimidated. Tom finished out the day, came to me, said it was unfortunate, because he was learning so much from Jacelyn, however he would not be talked to or treated in such a disrespectful manner, and quit.

I’m sorry to say, it is typically a crap shoot when you get a job as an Assistant. Usually, you are working for one Hairstylist and that particular Hairstylist might be in desperate need of therapy!

My advice is what it always is: Assisting must be viewed as a TEMPORARY position.

Do not snuggle down and get comfortable as an Assistant. An Assistant position is to become familiar with the tempo, culture and business of being a Hairstylist. It is to watch very closely how the Master Hairstylist communicates with their clients, how they approach color, haircutting, styling and how they run their business.

"Since there is always another level to learn mastery actually means you're a master of what you know and an apprentice of what you don't. We become masters of what is behind us and apprentices for what is ahead"

Gary Keller

Whether you are a brand New Hairstylist or a Master Hairstylist, we are all artists and entrepreneurs, which means we will all do our work differently. Assisting is your opportunity to learn from someone who has years of skills and experience beyond you. The common mistake I see is that no one seems to know when to “call it”; when to say that your time is done assisting.

So many New Hairstylists get amazingly good at assisting and forget that the reason they started as an Assistant was to learn the business and move on to their own artistic, creative, entrepreneurial business.

If you are lucky enough to snag a job with a Master Hairstylist and assist, do not forget the end goal: to build your own clientele, cutting, coloring, styling and business skills and become an Amazing, Successful Hairstylist!

"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. "

Stephen R. Covey

Do you have an Assistant Hairstylist Horror Story? I would love to hear it!

Elevating The Industry,

Karen Spinelli


Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists My intention with every post is to give New Hairstylists all over the world the tips, shortcuts, and tools they need to quickly achieve success. I would love to hear from you! You can reach out here, on my site, Instagram, or Facebook. Sign up for my newsletter to receive my weekly blog sent to your inbox.

Cosmetology Schools and Teachers I would love to talk to your students! To book Karen as a speaker at your Cosmetology School, click here.

Karen Spinelli is from Pasadena, California. She was behind the chair for thirty-five years, as well as Salon Director of Education for New Hairstylists for the last twenty years. Karen loves Hairstylists! She loves to be a part of “AHA” moments and to watch New Hairstylists grow in their confidence and skills.

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