Filtered V.S. Reality,
How to Temper Your Client's Expectations


As stylists, you’ve undoubtedly dealt with it —a client walks in, happy-go-lucky, ready to take on their hair adventure, and hands you a screenshot from Insta where the model’s hair is (although super beautiful) either super fake or totally unattainable for the client standing in front of you.

It’s a rough situation.

The internet and social media are great resources for stylists —it provides all kinds of wonderful inspo, gives us the latest on styles and services we should dive into, and offers up a ton of helpful info within our industry. It’s also sometimes the bane of your existence when it comes to client’s requests because often, those gorgeous hair photos are entirely fake and manipulated.

As a stylist, you want to do your best to provide your client with everything they want —you have the skills after all, right? — but when a client hands you a filtered, photoshopped, and unrealistic photo, you have to decide whether or not to choose this battle. How do you tell a client that you are indeed skilled enough to give them a beautiful style that they’ll love but it simply can’t be that particular style?

Luckily, you’re not alone on this. Stylists everywhere deal with this situation and from these unhappy —and potentially even awkward —circumstances we’ve created this blog post.

So, what do you do if a client hands you a totally unrealistic, filtered photo that they want more than anything for you to replicate? Check out our advice!


Be as Direct as Possible, but Don’t Be Demeaning

Maybe you can spot a fake hair photo from a mile away, but your excited client might not be able to —after all, they don’t spend their days staring at hairstyles.

It’s important to be super direct with your client to manage expectations, but don’t be demeaning. 

Odds are, they’ve probably been pretty excited about that style since they found it, and if you ride into their awesome-hair-potential-party and wreck it without being authentic and real, they might not want to come back to you for hair services again.

The best thing you can do is try to be direct and transparent with your client without making them feel silly.


Explain Why It Might Not Work or Look the Same

Part of being direct is explaining why that style might not work. Maybe it’s because the picture is photoshopped and there’s no way you can rainbow-color every piece of your client’s hair for the price and time frame they want.

Maybe that hairstyle has been so, so filtered that it’s impossible to achieve. Maybe your client isn’t the best candidate in the world for the style they want that requires hours of daily upkeep to achieve that goal. Whatever it is, be direct and authentic so your client knows you’re not just blowing off their idea.

Further, if a client brings in a picture that is definitely doable but you know isn’t going to look exactly like that on them, it’s best to let them know in advance. Maybe the model in the photo has lighter hair to begin with than your client, maybe they have a different face shape and the cut might look different.

Either way, it’s always good practice to let your client know that the photo they’re showing you isn’t going to look precisely the way on them that it does in that photo. Explain why, be transparent, and be kind, too.


Help them Find Something Doable and Similar or Offer Up Alternatives

If your client is downtrodden because a style, cut, or color probably won’t look the same on them as it does on the model in the Insta photo, don’t give up.

Offering up similar styles that could look great on them, doable dos, or alternatives that can offer similar attributes is a great way to show your client that you do want to give them what they want, even if the initial want was a little impossible.


Get Down to the Root of the Style

What does your client like about this style? Is it the length, the color, the uniqueness?

If there’s a piece of that style that’s attainable for your client, you might be able to offer them something super similar, but it helps to know first-hand what it is about that style that’s attracting them to it in the first place. 

Have an open, honest dialogue about that style and try to understand the draw. Once you do, you’re on your way to offering up something that can make you both happy.


If There’s Going to be a Surge in Price to Get There, Spell it Out

There are some cases where your client shows you a photo of what they want and you can totally get there — but not without a ton of extra work that you didn’t anticipate you’d have to do. If this is the case, that’s fine, but you have to make sure you’re spelling out the process for your client.

Will this style take a few sessions to get to their goal? Make sure they know.

Will this style they’re looking to get require a ton more time and money than they (and you) previously anticipated? Tell them directly.

If the client wants it, they’ll get it. The worst situation is not being clear with a client about the process (and expense) it takes to acquire a hard-to-achieve style. The last thing you want is for your client to be stoked about the style and then in utter shock when they receive the bill.

Be direct from the get-go.


If They Insist, Make Sure They Know What They’re Getting Into

Above all, stress this point: there’s no guarantee their style is going to look exactly like the filtered, photoshopped style in the photo they showed you.

You’ll do your absolute best. You have the skill to accomplish the overall look and structure of that style, but your client’s hair isn’t the same as the model in the photo and it’s imperative that they know that. If you have hesitations about this style — maybe their hair is darker, curlier, courser, thinner, whatever it might be — tell your client. Kindly explain the difference in hair types and manage their expectations. If they still want to go for it, good — just make sure you’ve been as transparent as possible about all aspects of this style.