Why a license doesn't equal a professional

Copyright Brittany Renee Photography LLC

This may ruffle a few feathers in the industry, but I feel like it needs to be said after the comments and attitudes I've seen online lately regarding hairstylists and estheticians in salons doing weddings. I'm a part of several online groups where people who work primarily in salons doing hair or skincare/makeup talk about salon life including asking for opinions on business practices. I see a lot of people asking questions about how to handle weddings, and having focused on the bridal market for the past 10 years specifically, it drives me up the wall. Why you may ask? Because 99% of the time they have absolutely NO CLUE on how to handle the business end of doing weddings, but of course they've already booked the bride. They almost always don't have a contract, don't understand the concept of deposits, have no idea of the industry standard rates or even whether they should charge per head or per hour. Their consultation process usually sucks, their idea of timing is skewed, and many times they drop the wedding last minute because after discovering all the work that goes into weddings behind the scenes it's no longer worth it to them to take a Saturday off from the salon and go on location early in the morning. Leaving people like myself to scramble to try to pick up the pieces for frantic brides whose artists have cancelled on them last minute.

Think I'm exaggerating here? Let me give you a glimpse of a recent online conversation (I wish I could have gotten a screenshot to post here, but the thread was removed.). A hairstylist was complaining that in the time since she quoted her bride for her September wedding she (the stylist) had moved 30 miles further away from the venue. She contacted the bride and told her that the cost for travel would now be double ($100, up from $50) to cover her cost. The bride was understandably upset and said that since that wasn't what she was originally quoted, she was going to find someone else unless the stylist honored her quote. The artist was online asking opinions from other hairstylists on whether she should just tell the bride to go elsewhere or not, because it was “no longer worth it” for her to drive the extra 30 miles. And this was in the first week of August. Just a month before the big day. Many of the hairstylists in the thread were telling her to bail on the bride unless the bride agreed to pay the new price. I was livid reading this. My response may or may not have lead to the thread being deleted entirely from the forum.

Here's all the red flags you as a bride should be looking for to avoid being the bride in this story:

  1. The artist doesn’t have a contract.This is the biggest red flag ever. I don’t care how fabulous this artist’s Instagram, Facebook, Website is. If they don’t protect themselves AND their clients from disputes on timing, location, pricing, number of services, and cancellations, they DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. Rule Number One in ANY on location business is to have a contract in place that lists all details of the service to be provided and signed by both parties so there is no confusion. Otherwise neither party has any protection or recourse in case the other side suddenly backs out, changes things, or just doesn’t show up. I bet you’ve signed a contract with your photographer, your venue, your florist, and every other vendor you’re working with for your wedding. Hair and makeup are no different.

  2. The artist didn’t take a deposit.This is mostly for the protection of the artist, but it’s standard business practice in the wedding industry. If the artist is leaving the salon to provide services, they need to be guaranteed that the amount of work/money they are making justifies not taking other clients that day. Again, all the rest of your vendors are taking deposits. A legitimate beauty vendor who understand business should be, too.

  3. There was no pricing in writing. This goes back to contracts and deposits. Get everything in writing and have receipts for what has been paid. Protect yourself.

  4. The hairstylist was severely undercharging, meaning that of course it wasn’t going to be worth it once she realized that she could be in the salon taking clients all day long. Saturdays are the busiest days of the week for salon professionals. When they don’t know what they’re doing in business, they undercharge. They price themselves out of a profit, because they assume that it’s an easy day where they don’t have to be in the salon all day, they don’t have to split the money with the salon (most are on a 50/50 commission or less), and hey what’s not fun about doing weddings, right? So at first $50 a person times a group of 5 feels like an easy $250 in their pocket. That would need to be at least $500 in salon services to be the same profit. Bonus if the client pays in cash, because that probably won’t end up reported to the government for taxes. (Keep in mind I’m not saying all people do this, but a lot of times it’s the reality. While it’s technically the law, many people who get cash tips don’t report 100% of them.) But after they add in the extra work of emails/phonecalls/texts, the cost of driving/parking, getting up early, buying their own supplies/products it’s suddenly not so worth it anymore. Or in the case of this hairstylist, she didn’t want to drive an extra 30 miles away.

Here I am (far left) on location for an Alexandria, VA wedding with Jan Scott, a makeup artist friend of mine. Along with one of my assistants, we did hair and makeup for this bride and bridal party at their hotel. Copyright Angel Kidwell Photography.

Granted, not every hairstylist in salons doing weddings operates this way. There are tons of legitimate bridal artists who work full time in a salon when they aren’t doing weddings. But what sets them apart from the people who think it’s fun/easy money is how they run the business side of things. They have bridal focused websites. They have reviews from actual brides who will let you know if they were on time, if they showed up dressed professionally and not in sweatpants, if the hair lasted all through the day or fell out by the time pictures started, or if everything ran late. They will protect themselves and YOU as the consumer with a contract. They will do a pre-wedding consultation that includes a trial run to make sure that your hair and hairstyle are compatible. They will get a firm headcount and take a deposit. Details on location, when they are showing up, when they will be finished, and balance payment will be in writing with a copy for both of you so they can’t change things on you last minute. Travel costs and all costs are fixed, because it’s in writing. They will have a cancellation policy in case they cannot uphold their obligation to you. Their contract will dictate whether any deposits or monies paid are refundable and under what circumstances. Just because they have a license and work in a salon doesn’t mean that they know how to run a business on their own, especially something as important as weddings. There are no do-overs in this line of work. If they screw something up or you don’t like a haircut or color, you can come back in a few days later to have them or another stylist fix it. That’s not an option with weddings. You should protect yourself and work with an artist who respects that.

That’s the hair end of things. Now let’s talk a bit about makeup. This side is a bit greyer, because most states do not have a license for makeup artists. It usually falls under the purview of an esthetician or cosmetologist as far as licensing goes. However, many successful legitimate makeup artists were never formally educated and therefore licensed under one of these categories. This does not make them better than licensed artists or worse. The grey area allows for a lot of ambiguity in what people consider a professional. Having worked both under a license and without, and having gone to both esthetics and cosmetology school, I feel that I can give a unique perspective from both sides.

Copyright Andrew Morell Photography

First thing you need to understand is that most cosmetology schools and esthetics schools do NOT focus on makeup. They give the bare bones education, mostly focusing on state board guidelines when it comes to sanitation. The “kits” provided by the school are a joke. Unless they are going to a MAKEUP SCHOOL, their kit will be bare bones. My esthetics school didn’t even provide us with a kit. The school had a tester unit from the mineral makeup they sold that we learned from and used on guests. My cosmetology school provided cheap makeup that was horrible in consistency, color range, and so small it could fit in a small clutch bag. Since I was already a full time working makeup artist by that point in my career, I threw mine out and brought a condensed version of my professional kit to school when I knew I was booked for makeup services. What we learned was laughable. A 14 year old on YouTube knew more than what they were trying to teach us. The goal of a cosmetology or esthetics program is to teach you enough to pass state boards and get a license. Anything further than that you have to take your education into your own hands and take continuing education classes and seminars specific to the skills you want to focus on. This includes updo’s as well. It is a specialty service. And no, this does not include memorizing the latest Instagram trends. This means being specifically educated in how create a timeless look for every face shape, skintone, and makeup wearing comfort level. As well as how to ask the correct questions to arrive at what that equals for every client that sits in your chair. It’s so much more than looking at a photo of a makeup or hair look and recreating it.

Estheticians online seem to get especially defensive over makeup artists who are not licensed. They get downright huffy, thinking that because they have a license this means they are suddenly professional quality artists. Their license may set them apart from the makeup lady down the street who sells lipsticks out of her pink Cadillac and says she “does weddings, too”, but that’s about as much as that license does for them when it comes to the world of doing makeup. The best makeup artists in the world are the best because they know their ish. And they learned that in real life~ doing makeup, taking seminars, making mistakes and learning from them, being mentored by working professionals before them, asking questions, testing products, and learning new techniques. Not during a one week makeup class over the course of a six month skincare program.

Most of the time, I see these women asking questions about foundation- “what the best foundation for weddings? I booked a wedding for next month and need to buy some.” It’s one thing to ask for recommendations on products. It’s another to book a wedding and then suddenly have to go buy a kit for it, because you can't use the one in the salon outside of work. When I roll up to a wedding with my makeup kit, almost every single time someone will remark “wow, that’s a lot of makeup!” Of course it’s going to be a lot. I have to cover every skintone and skin type out there. It’s not about the “best” foundation out there. It’s knowing product formulations, skin prep for each type (oily, dry, combination, mature, acneic), the weather/environment in the area you’re working in, as well as how to apply it. A good artist is going to know how the products in their kit interact with one another, how they react with each type of skin, how they react with flash photography, and how they look in broad daylight. Foundations alone to support a professional kit can cost upwards of $1,000. This also includes concealers, color correctors, and powders. A good makeup artist is going to have different skin prep products (moisturizers, primers, etc) for each skin type that coordinate with their foundations. Did you know you shouldn’t put silicone based foundations on top of water based primers? Two different bases. They often don’t work well together. Combined with the costs of disposable sponges, cotton pads, mascara wands, lip brushes, false lashes, lash glue, and q-tips the cost of the kit goes up and up and up. That doesn’t take into account the color products like blushes, bronzers, highlighters, eyeshadows, brow products, eyeliners, lipliners, and lipsticks. And brushes. Enough clean brushes to do an entire bridal party so that they aren’t reusing them on multiple people, unless they want to add in time for cleaning in between in which case they can add in the cost of brush cleaner to their expenses. They can’t walk in with an Urban Decay Naked Palette and call themselves a professional. Because they know how to sanitize makeup doesn’t make them any good at applying it. And their own face doesn’t count. And even if they do know sanitation, they do know application, and they have a halfway decent kit, they still need to know how to run a business.

I wish this photo showed even a fraction of what I carry with me, but I'm in the habit of working out of my kit rather than laying it all out in front of me. Less contamination in my opinion. Of course the moment I want a photo of my kit is the moment I realize I should have saved one of the hundreds photographers have sent me over the years... Copyright Victoria Heer Photography

Speaking of running a business... Other general questions I see a lot are (and usually start with “this is my first time doing a wedding”):

  1. What should I charge?

  2. Should I charge for a trial?

  3. Should I charge for travel?

  4. How much time should it take?

  5. My bride wants this: (insert photo)Is there a video online on how to accomplish this?Or How do I do “this” on “This” (insert photos of potential bride)

  6. Any tips or tricks for brides would be appreciated.

  7. Anyone have a contract I could copy?

If they cannot answer these without looking to the internet for help, they shouldn’t be doing weddings. I get that everyone needs to start somewhere. We all started somewhere at some point. And these are questions that need to be answered if they are going to take this seriously and make this a part of their career. However, all of these need to be answered and IMPLEMENTED before ever committing to a single wedding. If you want the best experience possible, make sure your artist has their bases covered before you check that to-do off your list. As tempting as a cheap price is, it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be your final price. Especially if you have to add in the cost of multiple trials with artists, lost deposits, or unexpected fees. There are seemingly endless options out there for professional beauty artists who dedicate their time to brides and making the process of booking them for their weddings are stress-free and seamless as possible. Do your research, and you'll be just fine Bride.

Copyright Sarah Houston Photography

And if there are artists out there reading this who are going to get pissy that think I’m saying to stay away from people who work in salons, ask yourself this: What about any of this hits too close to home that is making you angry? Perhaps that is the part of your business that you need to work on. Weddings are fun. They are also an incredible amount of work and responsibility. They are also very very expensive to run from a business standpoint. They are amazing, rewarding, financially lucrative if done correctly, and surprisingly emotionally draining. You have to be a therapist, a mind reader, a mediator, and at the top of your skill A-game from the second you walk in to the moment you close your car door.

It doesn't matter what you have going on in your private life. It doesn't matter if you suddenly got a better offer for that weekend, if you're too tired from working on your feet in the salon all week or staying out too late the night before. It doesn't matter if your boyfriend broke up with you, your grandma died, you have the worst flu of your life, or this is more work that you thought it'd be. You still have to shut up and show up and pretend that this is also the most exciting day of your life and you're just so so happy to be there. I've missed birthday parties, my best friend's wedding, concerts, and events with my kids. I've been so sick to my stomach I thought I'd puke on the bride. I've done a wedding two weeks before giving birth and another two weeks after giving birth. I've had to get up three hours after going to bed to shower and drive to another state for a wedding that started by 9 am. Not makeup started at 9 am, the ceremony started at 9 am. And not a single bride ever knew the difference, because it wasn't about me that day. It was about HER. This is the reality of doing weddings. I made a commitment to my brides, and I showed up. If you aren’t prepared for all this, please please please stick to the salon services. There’s plenty of business for all of us, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all cut out for it. Not all doctors handle all things medical. I mean, you wouldn’t ask your dermatologist for a pap smear right? Not all beauty pros need to do weddings, too. But if it’s something you’re passionate about, make sure that you educate yourself before jumping in and taking on the responsibility of the wedding industry. Oh, and by the way, I do business mentoring too if you're looking for somewhere to start. Just in case.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Pinterest Social Icon

© 2015-2020 Beauty By Sue

Follow us for more updates

Award winning hair and makeup for brides in Virginia

  • Wix Facebook page
  • Instagram Social Icon

Studio Hours


Wed - Fri: 10am - 8pm

Select weekends based on availability


On Location Hours

Available By Request