Unkindest cuts of all

A bad hairdo can destroy you. Find a stylist you can trust

When I was 14, there was a girl in my class who decided to have a perm. It went disastrously wrong and, with the honest cruelty that only children can show, pupils from other classes came to have a peek, and left laughing. This was when I learned that a trip to the hairdresser can invigorate you, or it can totally destroy your life.

I once had a hairdresser (Christian, the bastard) who so hated me that he did exactly what I asked him not to. I knew what he was up to and, determined not to give him the satisfaction of success, I positively bubbled with appreciation at the huge flick he hairsprayed into place. Of course I never went back.

A hairdo is often the most permanent thing we have done to ourselves (well, it is, if tattoos and piercings aren't your thing). It can have quite a damaging psychological effect if it goes wrong. I've spent many hours sitting next to female colleagues (it's always women, sorry) crying about a haircut gone wrong. I've spent enough time myself standing in front of a mirror and trying to right a bad haircut. And I've continually looked at myself in the mirror/shop windows/the back of a spoon during the day, hoping it will have turned mag ically into something good and pretty, only to realise that it is every bit as bad as I remember.

This is why, as we get older, we play safe with a hairstyle we like. It's an even bigger minefield for men. At least, it is for those that still have hair post-35 (and I'm not being unkind: men do suffer from baldness more than women - it's due to the presence of a chemical, di hydrotestosterone, or DHT, which builds up around the hair follicle, eventually killing it. How res istant you are to DHT is genetic). They seem to go into shock and don't know what to do with it. Most often they opt for a short-back- and-sides-type ar range ment - unless they're a youth TV presenter or rock star, in which case they can go long and wild. But otherwise, sadly, we don't allow men much range in hairstyles without judging them for it.

The relationship between hairdresser and client is a funny one. Even captains of industry, used to bossing everyone around all day, seem to go mute and meek in the salon chair. Equally, clients can "brief" the life out of a hairdresser - burying any creativity they might have wanted to show in too many instructions. "I hope," one stylist told me once about a famous singer, "she's not so prescriptive with her lovers. I couldn't metaphorically get it up, and I was only going at her with my scissors."

Luckily, after many years, I have found probably the world's most fantastic hairdresser. In three years I've had nothing but spectacular haircuts from him. It would sound like an ad campaign if I named him, so I shan't. But now my fear is that something will happen to him, or, more likely, I will stop being able to afford him.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Climate change