Best of Boston All-Stars: What’s New at Shag

Newbury Street, this ain’t. The stylists at Sandy Poirier’s South Boston salon don’t want to tame your mane—they want to make it wilder.

Welcome to Best of Boston All-Stars, a series that takes a closer look at what’s new at longtime Best of Boston favorites.

Davines National Pure Colours Contest winner by Shag stylist Patty Martin

Davines National Pure Colours Contest winner by Shag stylist Patty Martin / Courtesy photo by Sandy Poirier

Sandy Poirier may be running (as he puts it) “the coolest, edgiest, most fashion-forward salon in the city, and perhaps even the country.” But the owner of South Boston’s Shag salon didn’t start out in the beauty business—he started off in a garage.

Before the raucous, tattoo-covered Poirier was turning heads with his tri-colored ombres (a Shag specialty), he was working for his father as a mechanic. “I love cars and I love racing motorcycles,” he says, “but I just didn’t like being dirty all the time.” A combination of being good with his hands and wanting to forgo the grease and grime led him to the world of bobs and balayages. “I could wear cool clothes, stay clean, have fun, and be creative,” he says.

So he traded in his wrenches for combs and shears, and set off for Newbury Street. After two decades in the Back Bay, Poirier left for South Boston in 2003, opening a salon that quickly became known for its trendy, innovative styles. He now likes to call it “the antithesis of Newbury Street.”

And this refusal to be “pigeonholed by ordinary” has led the salon to rack up a pile of Best of Boston awards over the years—including Best Blowout, Best Men’s Haircut, and most recently, Shag stylist Kara Hurston’s win for Best Women’s Haircut in 2015.

A punk-rock attitude infuses every aspect of Shag, with tattooed-and-pierced stylists “rocking out while preening the clientele,” we reported in 2008.

Don’t be fooled by all the swagger, however: “Poirier may specialize in edgy layers, but his [cut] can be whatever you want it to be: classic, over-the-top, or funked-out chic,” we assured readers in 2005, when Shag won Best Haircut, $100 and Under. But Shag’s stylists don’t just act like rock stars—they are rock stars, especially when it comes to hair color.

Dayna models her new Shag style

Dayna models her new Shag style. Color by Christine Dunbar; haircut by Chloe Nelson / Courtesy photo by Sandy Poirier

Want ethereal mermaid hair, with a blend of cotton-candy-colored blue and pink? Pining for deep purple? Poirier and his team is one that’s up for a challenge. “Hair is hair,” explains Poirier, but if there’s anything new and exciting, these colors are it.

“These more avant garde colors are in the trend right now, and we can do them very well, and I think they are going to be around for a while,” he says. But this comes with a caution: “You gotta let people know that these are very difficult things to do and you may not get it on the first try,” he explained.

For this reason, Shag’s stylists do more than just douse your head in dye–they also educate, fully consulting with clients about the realities of having that oh so cool (but maybe not totally feasible) fuschia mane. They talk to clients about how it will be done, if it can be done, and how to maintain it.

Yet their expertise in the world of hair dye is nothing new. In 2008, we commended Shag’s rich, funky hues—as well as their longevity: “It lasts,” we marveled.

Colorful hair and equally colorful demeanors have flourished at Shag, and for that, Poirier credits Shag’s South Boston location. A firsthand witness to Southie’s changing demographic, Poirier says it’s comparable to Brooklyn. “All the cool people really can’t afford to live in Boston because it’s too expensive, and they’re all on the outskirts,” he says. “It’s just the demographic, and those are the people who want to be the trendsetters. Those are the cool people.”

Shag, 840 Summer St., Boston, 617-268-2500,