Haircuts Around the World

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Shortly after arriving in Florence for my semester abroad, I met a guy wearing a gold belt buckle shaped like a lion’s head, a pair of boot-cut jeans tight enough to cut off circulation on top, a shirt unbuttoned almost to his navel, and the trendiest near-mullet I’ve ever seen.

And he was American.

This guy was just a 20-year-old guy from Wisconsin studying abroad with the rest of us.  He wanted to pass as Italian, hence going slightly overboard with his clothing.

But what I found most interesting was his hair.  He deliberately grew his hair long all summer, then on his first day in Florence, went into a salon and said, “Make me look Italian.”  It worked.  His hair was long on top, shorter on the sides, and flared out at the nape of his neck.  The haircut alone allowed him to pass as Italian.

I always think of him when I get my hair cut in another country.  Every time I travel, I love to live like a local — and getting your hair cut by a local stylist is a great way to live as the locals do!

I don’t take the best care of my hair.  It’s naturally thin and curly, and I usually let it get into a long, tangled mess before I do anything about it.  I’ve gone as long as 19 months without a haircut.

So by the time I actually do get my hair cut, it’s not only an emergency operation, it’s a transformation.  Here are my favorite haircuts abroad.

In Florence

My hair was in terrible shape — waist-length, fried and tangled with orange ends — when I arrived in Florence as part of a concert tour with the Fairfield University Glee Club during my senior year.

After seeing some of the early photos, I knew I had to do something about it.  Though I had never had a haircut during my semester in Florence, I marched up to the salon across the street from my old apartment and spoke my limited Italian to the receptionist.

The result was the best haircut I’ve ever had.  It doesn’t look that amazing in the above picture, but she gave me a cut that flopped absolutely perfectly and curled exactly where it should — and she didn’t use any product but a hint of hairspray.

Proof that the Italians know what they’re doing, always, when it comes to style.

In Hanoi

By the end of my far-too-long stay in Vang Vieng, Laos, I realized that my hair was a mess and needed to be cut, but I would wait until I got to a city with nice salons.  Luckily, my next stop was Hanoi, Vietnam, where the locals had more style — and better haircuts — than anywhere else I had seen in Southeast Asia so far!

After a few days of battling illness and being too tired to stand, let alone walk, I made it to the Old Quarter and found a chic-looking salon.  Nobody spoke English, and I liked it that way.

Getting a haircut in Asia is an odd experience.  Stylists are used to thick, straight hair and they cut each hair meticulously, measuring and measuring again to make sure everything is cut to the same exact length.  It took nearly two hours!

Strangely, after the cut was done, my stylist curled everything under.  I hadn’t had my hair styled like that since I was about six years old.  After a few days, it shook out into a perfect medium-length mop of curls.

In Chester

As usual, I waited until I could barely drag a wide-tooth comb through the ends to get it cut.  On Dave’s recommendation, I went to Headmasters — which gives a 50% discount to first-time clients.

As I chatted with my stylist, Gemma, I realized what I missed when you get haircuts abroad — the banter.  In America, at least, talking with your stylist is such a big part of the experience, and you miss that when you’re abroad!

Not surprisingly, we got talking about travel.  I told her all about Las Vegas, including the secret that girls hold all the power when it comes to nightlife.  She suggested getting a group of friends together to book Lake District cottages in the winter (seriously, she did!), sitting around the fireplace and drinking wine.  While my original plan for visiting the Lake District didn’t work out this fall, maybe booking Ambleside cottages or Grasmere cottages this winter would be a nice (not to mention cheaper) weekend getaway.

And the haircut?  I didn’t expect to come out wearing Angelina Jolie’s wig from Salt — but I liked it!  Bangs — or fringe, as the Brits say — were long overdue.  (Don’t expect to see it like this often — I’m still curly!)

Have you ever had your hair cut abroad?

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19 thoughts on “Haircuts Around the World”

  1. It’s so funny you posted this because I was just thinking about my own international haircut experience the other day! While I was studying in Aix-en-Provence, France in autumn 2005, there was the most amazing salon on the corner of my street – every time I looked in there, I was overcome with “I wish I was a super-stylish French girl” type envy. Their prices were way out of my league, so I had my roommate attempt a similar cut to the ones we saw, which unfortunately was aided by a bottle of vodka and a rather dull pair of scissors. The end result was a “choppy bob” (a.k.a. odd pieces of hair sticking straight up out of my head) but I rocked it nonetheless.

  2. I’ve never had my hair cut abroad, but I did have it cut away from home once. My junior year of college, I went to Washington, D.C. for a journalism/media conference. Some friends and I decided to wander around the neighborhood where we were staying one afternoon and happened upon a really trendy, chic hair salon that was having a special. We decided, hey, why not? We all walked out with awesome haircuts. In fact, mine was one of my favorite haircuts ever! (It also involved bangs.)

  3. The new haircut is cute! I have not had experiences like yours…the mullet is popular in Chile too, and when I got my hair cut here during study abroad they gave me a girl mullet, despite the fact that I took a picture of myself with the same hair cut I wanted and really only needed a trim. A friend had to cut off the longest layer. I’ve had awful layers here from several stylists, and only recently have I found someone who doesn’t make me look awful. I still always get a cut from the stylist I’ve been going to for 18 years when I go home though – no one can beat her!

  4. Hey Kate!,

    Great article – I had my haircut in Sydney once for about £1-£2. I tried to tell them what i wanted but at that price realised everyone got the same haircut (clippered very short) to be honest it looked awful but it meant I didn’t need a haircut for a few months!!

    I also got my hair done once in Singapore – it was great I got an arm, hand, leg and foot massage included too plus the haircut was wicked. I must admit it took ages though like you say in asia they are so meticulous and precise!

  5. I hadn’t been to a barber shop in a very long time.

    In Auckland’s CBD, I found a barber shop: one guy, one main “chair”, and a couple of small chairs by the entrance, and a small striped barber pole outside by the door. It was late afternoon, so the one and only customer was just leaving as I walked in the front door. It was the best cut I’d had in awhile.

    The gentleman who owned the small barber shop was in his late-40s, early-50s, and we had a great conversation: from where did I come, what was I doing in Auckland, any must-see things which were out of the way. As my preferred cut is usually very simple, the best part I took away was the conversation and this was all taking place in a barber shop. Seemed like an anachronism, but it’s one of those things: I’ll miss it if they’re all gone. (However, I wish to high heaven I’d made a photo of the place!)

  6. Seriously can relate to this – as a person with naturally thick and wavy almost frizzy hair I struggled living overseas with finding the right place to get my hair cut. In London I began at the Vidal Sasoon Salon and let students cut my hair. It never worked well to be honest. Then I found a cute little place I could afford near Baker Street tube stop and stayed there for years because the shampoo guy was awesome! He then graduated to cutting hair and the love fest was over….let it grow out again until I moved to Boston. Newbury Street charged me a fortune but they knew how to handle the fro and now ironically I have found a “hair home” in Texas where I let my stylist take me from waist length to Halle Barry short and back! Why? Well, he was trained in Paris at Dessange so I knew it would be great!
    As I have matured and have needed more “maintenance” I have also become more adventurous and allow my stylist do what he likes knowing that it will eventually grow back – it grows like a weed! Lucky for that and happy that I am in the US for my French haircuts…irony at its best!
    P.S. Just noticed you are a Fairfield alum. My niece is a freshman this year and playing Division I soccer for them. Small world indeed!

  7. This is a great idea for an article! I’ve had a few haircuts abroad but I really should have indulged in more, especially in SE Asia. I just finished an eight-month trip through the area and had near dreadlocks upon my return – sun and sand and wind and ocean + thick, curly hair = disaster!

  8. I’ve had my hair cut more in the 8 months I’ve lived in Seoul than I have in any other 8 month period of my life because the service and results are amazing. Seriously. My stylist is so nice and I’m pampered with food, drink and American gossip magazines, scalp massages, and 2 people blowdrying my thick mane all for about $25. And no tipping!

    This was my first cut abroad. The whole time I lived in Italy I was too scared of what sort of crazy ‘do I’d end up with, but apparently I missed out as it worked so well for you 🙂

  9. I haven’t cut my hair since last year, and I think I might wait until I start traveling to do so. I also usually wait until it’s a long mess and I come out looking like the girl from the ring before I get it cut (and my hair won’t hold a curl for anything)

  10. Hey Kate!
    I’ve had my hair cut in Rome last year and it was an amazing cut.
    I’m in Florence now, would you give me the address of your beauty salon?

  11. We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done an impressive process and
    our whole group shall be grateful to you.

  12. I stumbled across this post-love your site! I live in Korea and waited 7 months before finally getting a haircut in Seoul. I have thin curly hair as well and I was so nervous to get it cut here. I had to use gestures to show him what I wanted. 16,000 won later ($14) I couldn’t believe I had waited so long – I had just gotten the best haircut of my life! Then, I moved to a small town and meant to get a haircut the next time I visited Seoul, but it never worked out. Two weeks ago when visiting a bigger city I got up early and passed a cute salon on my way to breakfast. It was the only thing open that time of day and it had been 9 months since the last cut. I used gestures again and it took less than 20 minutes – he cut it dry. I left with a decent cut for 13,000 won – about $12. It’s funny how wonderfully liberating it is to get your hair cut in foreign country.

  13. I’ve cut my hair twice while in Italy… Once in Roma.. The guy was awesome. And my hair looked great and actually growed faster than I’ve ever seen before. So, I get back there, one year later… But could not find him again… So… I went to Firenze and got the 2nd best haircut ever. I recommend cutting your hair while you’re traveling…this site really helped me to find lots of cool places in Firenze.

  14. This should be against my interest, since I’m italian and I should defend the tri-color everytime and in every way, but in the second pic you’re stunning. I would say: italian haircut for grand soirèè or main events, and the other haircut for daily seduction 😛

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