Tomar el pelo literally means ‘to take or grasp the hair’ in Spanish, but it’s generally an expression that’s used by everyone, not just hairdressers.
Tomarle el pelo a alguien actually means to play someone for a fool, to deceive or mock them, to pull someone’s leg, to pull a fast one.
¿Me estás tomando el pelo?
Are you pulling my leg?
No te estoy tomando el pelo.
I’m not taking you for a ride.
El camarero me ha tomado el pelo y me ha cobrado el doble.
The waiter pulled a fast one on me and charged me double.
What does holding someone’s hair have to do with mockery, you may ask? According to the Royal Spanish Academy’s FundéuRAE group, the expression may have its origins in the fact that centuries ago touching one’s beard was a sign of defiance towards opponents.
Another theory suggests that it may have been coined as soldiers and convicts once had to have their hair cut short when they first joined the barracks or prisons in Spain, which was done to poke fun at them.
And there’s another expression you can use which is related to tomar el pelo. You can refer to a situation that’s a mockery or a joke, a farce or a parody – especially one that’s shameless or cunning – as una tomadura de pelo.
¡Menuda tomadura de pelo! ¡Nos están robando y ustedes cruzados de brazos!
What an absolute joke! They’re robbing us and you’re just standing there with your arms crossed!
Here are some examples of tomadura de pelo in the Spanish press:
So now you know. ¡Qué no te tomen el pelo! (Don’t get played for a fool!)