Chez le coiffeur

Chez le coiffeurThere are almost as many beauty parlors in France as there are bakeries. Which says something about where the French have their priorities.

At this time of year, an appointment chez le coiffeur is a must for every self-respecting Frenchwoman – and man. Looking one’s best for the end-of-year holidays is as essential as uncorking a bottle of champagne and preparing a special meal on Christmas Eve.

One of my first French lessons was learning that you go ‘chez le coiffeur’ rather than ‘au coiffeur’. This applies for any shop or service that has a person behind it. For example, you go chez LeClerc but à Carrefour because there is a Leclerc family but no Monsieur or Madame Carrefour.

Another lesson is that hair is not singular in French but plural. So when you talk about your hair it’s les cheveux (not to be confused with les chevaux unless you’re grooming horses rather than hair). Which also explains why my husband will say: “Your hair are nice like that.” (Isn’t he sweet?)

I have passed many long hours chez le coiffeur, simply because my short hair with blonde highlights requires frequent ministrations from my stylist. Those hours spent waiting for the chemicals to do their magic and transform my chatain clair into shiny blonde streaks have allowed me to observe at leisure the inner workings of the French beauty parlor.

Most salons are independently owned and managed by a single hairdresser. Depending on the size of the place, they may have one or several coiffeurs working for them. Only in the bigger chains like Dessange or in high fashion haute coiffure salons do they have a dedicated receptionist. This means that in between shampooing, rinsing, coloring and snipping, your typical hairstylist is also answering the phone, greeting customers, ringing up receipts and serving coffee.

A French hair salon is never dull. Over the white noise of hairdryers and water running, the piped in radio, the hissing of the coffee machine and collective chatter of les dames (the men are usually silent), the place can work up to quite a hubbub.

Should the wait be rather long, there is always the lure of “la presse people.” All French hair salons, no matter how trendy, share the common denominator of offering customers a selection of the latest rags –Paris Match, Voici and Closer along with more fashion-forward offerings like Elle. How else to stay atop of breaking stories like Hollande’s three-wheeled sexploits, Valérie Trierweiller’s revenge lit or Carla Bruni’s desire to be left alone? If there were any doubt about the need for regular visits chez le coiffeur, the extra incentive of the gossip press seals it.

Many salons offer ‘la carte de fidelité’ or customer loyalty cards that give you a reduction or a freebie of some kind after several services. I suppose this is intended keep people coming back, but I never really understood the need. If you have a good hairdresser, one who understands you and doesn’t talk too much, why go anywhere else?

My dad once commented during a visit to France that he had never seen so many bad dye jobs. I think this is because a lot of French women tend to go for more pronounced colors than are typical for North Americans. This was a few years ago when bright henna was all the rage and also the dip-dye craze with a lot of dark root showing beneath blonde tips.

This year I am wondering: where have all the blondes gone? From the TV screens to the fashion pages, brown hair seems to rule the day. Have you noticed this?

I’m not much of one for changing my hairstyle. Aside from a few kinky perms back in the early 80s, I’ve been pretty faithful to my highlighted short cut for the better part of 30 years.

It hasn’t always been easy to find a coiffeur willing to coiffe to my taste. French stylists tend to prefer longer, looser styles. I like these too, on other people. Just not on me.

And just as it’s chic in English to use French words, hair salons here often play with anglais to sound cutting edge. Sometimes with disastrous double entendres in English, like one in our parts called ‘Hair Mess.’ Oops. Think I’ll give that one a miss.

How about you? What’s your latest scoop from the hair salon?


  1. davidprosser · December 17, 2014

    Alas, I miss out on all the treats to be found in going chez LeClerk as I have a personal coiffeur who calls on me at home. This is otherwise known as Mike and his strimmer ready to perform a grade 3, or when I’m brave and the wind is in the right direction a grade 2.
    The only glimmer of excitement is when he asks “Would sir be needing anything for the weekend”( even on a Monday) and I remember the days when I did.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx
    Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.Mel.

    • MELewis · December 17, 2014

      Alas, I have no Mike…. Enjoy your grade 3, Davide, and wishing you and yours a wonderful week into Christmas. Biggest bises xxx

  2. Suzanne et Pierre · December 17, 2014

    Great post. I have never understood why it was expected by hairdressers that I would tell them my life story. I prefer my hairdresser to be silent once he or she has understood what I want. And no, I don’t want to dye my grey hair. As I started greying when I was 28, my hairdresser at the time kept after me to hide the grey. Many years later, she agreed with me that my grey hair was nice and that I had been right not to hide it. And, by the way, I still make the same mistake as your husband…difficult for me to get it that hair is singular in English…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · December 17, 2014

      I am envious of people with grey hair – it can look so chic if nicely coiffed. My late mother-in-law had beautiful black hair with a lovely silver streak in front for meany years and it looked great on her. Unfortunately mine is just plain dull without a bit of help. Glad to hear that others still find plurals challenging. Cheers, Suzanne!

    • Mélanie · December 17, 2014

      same here, Suzanne… 🙂 I’ve never dyed my hair, just highlights now and then, je me les fais moi-même… last but not least: for several years now, I’ve cut my hair and my hubby’s, too… 🙂

      • MELewis · December 17, 2014

        Lucky you’ve got ‘scissor-hands’! I hate to think of the disaster that would result from my attempting to cut anyone’s hair. 😦

  3. phildange · December 17, 2014

    There is a singular for hair, it is un cheveu . The wole hair is les cheveux . In English there’s no mean to make the distinction between one only hair, the first white one that appears in a middle aged lady’s hair, and the whole thing .
    This, and the use of the same word for humans’ and animals’ hair, often puzzled me . Well, not more than this humano-animal mix in your “male” and “female” .

    • MELewis · December 17, 2014

      Well, you can talk about a ‘few grey hairs’ in English – but unfortunately, they tend to come in batches! 😉

  4. Osyth · December 17, 2014

    I am absolutely petrified of hairdressers … they always want me to exit the salon looking like Nancy dell’olio and lovely as I’m sure she is I just can’t hack the lacquer. So for me its a once a year couper les points and a reliance on madame at the boulangerie for gossip and weather warnings 🙂

    • MELewis · December 17, 2014

      With locks like yours it’s no surprise — you have no need for the salon. And I also hate the ‘volumized’ laqued up look that many stylists go for – too glitzy and frou-frou for me. Get your gossip with the bread – I like it!

  5. David · December 17, 2014

    When someone would ask me, “did you get a haircut”, I used to like to answer, “no, I got them all cut”.

    • MELewis · December 17, 2014

      Used to? Oh, right 😉

  6. cheergerm · December 18, 2014

    A great insight to the French way of organising your ‘do’s’. I am a hair adventurer and am lucky enough that my best friend is also a hairdresser who works from home. Naturally, I still pay her but we have lots of fun trying new stuff and she is wonderful. (Friend first and hairdresser second though..) Sometimes I think her job is akin to a psychologists!

    • MELewis · December 19, 2014

      Good hairdressers definitely have a knack for listening as well as cutting and styling hair. Sounds like you’re blessed with a friend is good at both. Lucky you! 🙂

  7. Multifarious meanderings · December 18, 2014

    “ sound cutting edge”. I love your incisive humour 🙂 We have a salon in our village with the unfortunate name “Belly Coiff’ ” emblazoned over the door. I guffaw to myself every time I walk past. I’d heard that girls were hairy in the South, but I never imagined that there was an alternative definition of a tummy trim 🙂
    I hate going to the hairdresser’s. I’m a real tomboy, and being flapped over with lots of jewellery clanking in my ears and choking in vats of perfume is my idea of hell. My bro-in law cuts mine in the kitchen whenever he’s around. I dyed my hair and my bathroom yesterday because PF started whinging about the grey bits poking through the undergrowth. Sigh.

    • MELewis · December 19, 2014

      At least you have the option of doing it yourself! Grey hair can looking stunning, but I suppose it takes patience to get through the growing-out phase….and husband training. Thanks for picking up on my punny humour – and sharing your own! 🙂

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  9. Michelle Delaney · May 14, 2020

    Whether it’s in France or the UK or anywhere in the world…I hate going to the hairdresser and want to spend as little time as possible there. I don’t like gossip and sitting there with dye on my head just waiting would be my idea of hell. I’d just think about all of the productive, fun or even necessary things I could have been doing instead.
    My go to holiday or otherwise “you gotta look nice for x” style? Demi-permanent black colour on my dark brown hair and a nice vintage wave, done the “old” way with the pin curl method. Not to toot my own horn, but I don’t look any worse than the ladies who spent several hours chez le coiffeur. But maybe I’m just not self respecting though haha. People that do know me well know that I’m a bit unusual and those that don’t maybe just assume that I got my hair done somewhere.

    • MELewis · May 15, 2020

      I’ve come to terms with the time loss and actually quite like doing nothing for a couple of hours now and then. You are fortunate to have hair that can be touched up and styled in an original way without a professional. I shudder to think what my short hair would look like if I tried to do home highlights or cut it myself! And longer locks just don’t work for me — I end up feeling like a hag. But your looks sounds quite stunning. I’d go for unusual any day!

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