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There are lots of souvenirs to bring home from Paris ranging from postcards to Tour Eiffels on a keychain, but the best souvenirs are the personal experiences. These range from laughing with a nice waiter at a restaurant to a sunrise morning walk along the Seine to getting your hair cut and colored using classic French techniques and style at a Paris hair salon.
Getting a haircut (se faire coiffer) and/or hair colored (se faire une couleur de cheveux) in Paris? Oui, it can be a fun and special experience and the results will probably make you want to only have your hair done in France. In famous films, Audrey Hepburn twice went to Paris and changed her hairstyle. The first was in Roman Holiday and the second was in Sabrina. Both salon visits changed the character’s self-confidence and style.
In 1954’s Sabrina, Hepburn starts the movie with a long ponytail which was a common style of the time. In Paris, she is told by Baron St. Fontanel, “To begin with, you must stop looking like a horse.” A salon stylist cuts her hair into a pixyish, chic bob and Hepburn returns to New York where she attracts two wealthy brothers with much intrigue and plot twists. The youngest brother doesn’t even recognize Hepburn at first, but is taken by the pretty, elegant woman with a great haircut.
While Hepburn’s experience was just about the haircut, the color techniques used in French salons result in an elegant color style. A French favorite is le balayage which is basically painting color throughout sections of the hair. The result is a blended look that is more natural than the common U.S. highlights technique of dying wide hair sections wrapped in foil. Although it’s getting more popular in the U.S., stylists with good balayage skills are difficult to find. French stylists typically have learned balayage techniques in depth.
Choose a salon nearby your hotel or apartment or one that you have noticed on your explorations around Paris. The look and feel of any salon as seen through the window is often telling about how comfortable you’ll feel there. There are salon chains which are often good, such as Dessange and Jean Louis David, but there are lots of local ones with independent salon owners who are building a business that attract high-level stylist talent.
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Don’t be scared. Go for the special French cultural experience. You can communicate what you want to the stylists (la coiffeuse, le coiffeur) with words and using your hands to show how much and where to cut. Many speak English but this can also be a French language lesson and successful communication is often about vocabulary and a friendly smile.
Here’ a list of sentences and vocabulary that can be helpful when making a hair appointment and describing what you want in a cut (une coupe) and/or color (une couleur.) If you need more vocabulary in French, Google Translate or an AI search like Bing are helpful.
- I’d like to make an appointment for a haircut, please Je voudrais un rendez-vous pour une coupe de cheveux, s’il vous plaît.
- I would like to dye my hair too Je voudrais me teindre les cheveux aussi.
- I’d like Je voudrais
- a balayage un balayage
- color my roots colorer de mes racines
- color rinse une coloration
- layered en dégradé
- highlights des mèches
- just a small trim juste une petite coupe
When you show up for your appointment you can be very specific about and show the stylists what you want but it’s more fun to let the experts suggest what haircut or color would look best for you. It’s typical to have both the colorist and the hairdresser discuss the plan and you can be specific or let them make suggestions.
- I would just like a trim Je voudrais juste un rafraîchissement
- Not too short Pas trop court
- Follow my hairstyle please Suivez ma coiffure s’il vous plait
- Take a little off the ___ Dégagez un peu plus ___
- back derrière
- neck la nuque
- top le haut de la tete
- side les côtés
- bangs fringe or frange
- You are the expert. What do you suggest? Vous êtes les experts. Que suggérez-vous?
Other important vocabulary words are:
- a shampoo le shampooing
- conditioner les soins, une crème or après-shampoing
- hairdo une coiffure
- hair dryer un sèche cheveux
- hair ends des pointes (f)
- hair treatments les traitements de cheveux
- overhead hairdryer un casque
- part une raie
- set or styling une mise en pli
- short hair les cheveux courts
- long hair les cheveux longs
A friend had her chin-length hair trimmed in Paris and her instructions to la coiffeuse was that she prefers her hair messy. “Je préfère mes cheveux en désordre.” It worked. She had a lovely, layered haircut that when windblown or after she ran her hand through the front bangs and top it looked great en désordre.
Cutting hair can be different in France. While clippers (une tondeuse) are used, a razor (un rasoir) is also sometimes used which can add texture, movement and a soft edge to haircuts. Le rasoirs are often used when cutting men’s hair but can be part of the process for shorter women’s cuts too.
The result will be a typical French cut with a natural, relaxed look. Most Parisian women style their hair naturally and don’t worry about stray locks falling out of a clip holding hair back or wind that whips loose hair around. A good French cut means hair looks good when en désordre or freshly brushed.
Men can have the same salon experience. There are lots of salons catering to men and most focus on both hair and beard trims. Same process – choose a salon, set up an appointment, discuss with the cutter what you want, but let them make style suggestions. The result will be a beard trim with sharp edges and style that most men don’t have the patience or experience to do well. Haircuts are the same – natural and stylish. Typical vocabulary for beard trims includes:
- Could you trim my Pourriez-vous me tailler…
- beard la barbe
- moustache la moustache
- sideburns …les favoris, les pattes
Tipping is personal. Many French don’t tip their stylists or only do a one or two euro pourboire tip. However, there’s a growing trend to tip 10% to each stylist, so if the resulting hairstyle and time spent with the stylists was an amazing French adventure, tip 10% or more based on your enjoyment and satisfaction with your haircut and color.
Perhaps the best result is the experience of talking French (or English) with hair salon experts, getting a cut and color that is hard to replicate elsewhere and returning home with a new hairstyle or beard trim that friends will admire. It’s the best Paris souvenir.
Lead photo credit : Image from Shutterstock