To call '70s-meets-modern shag haircuts one of the biggest hair trends of 2021 would be accurate — but it would be oversimplifying how it has steadily, stealthily crept onto our Instagram search pages over the last few years. The layers, the disconnected pieces framing the face, the subtly tapered ends and fuller crown, the long curtain bangs or sometimes even full fringe — without losing significant length, it promises a refreshing, simultaneously soft yet edgy change for hair that's gone a bit shapeless.
Basically, it's exactly what I needed.
I've been collecting pictures of different versions of the shag since 2018, but I resisted its siren song all this time for fear of it not looking right with my particular hair texture, a combo of 2B and 2C loose curls. Some of the most beautiful examples of the shags I'd been saving were shown on exactly that hair texture, but I figured that was due to it being expertly styled in the photos — that if I air-dried or very unskillfully diffused my hair once shaped into a shag, it would have no chance of turning out anywhere near as cool-looking. It would look fabulous blown out at the salon, of course, but my own home blowouts would inevitably pale in comparison to what a pro stylist can do, so I had to be sure a shag would work with my natural texture and minimal effort.
A disproportionate number of shag photos I've saved over the past couple of years have been the work of stylist Jordan Avery Z, so I asked her if she thought I was a good candidate for the cut. "A shag is a great option for so many hair types," she tells me. "If you find that your best texture is hidden beneath a blanket of your surface layers, it might be time to shorten them up." She explains that layering that connects throughout a shag cut can free up the texture by removing weight in varying increments and release the tension that contributes to straighter or flatter areas.
But I had another challenge: a cowlick right at the front of my hairline that essentially decided on curtain bangs for me, not to mention prevents me from have a true center part. Apparently, though, that's not an issue, and may even be a boon. "Growth patterns shouldn’t deter you from exploring new styles," she says. "What we've often perceived as problem areas like cowlicks in fact contribute a lot of uniqueness to the shapes I get to create for guests."
Unfortunately, Jordan Avery Z is based in Kansas City, and I'm based in South Florida, so I wasn't going to get to be her guest for this haircut. However, a fantastic stylist — Chloe Swigert at Gramercy Hair Salon in Boca Raton — was recommended to me, and I didn't hesitate to make an appointment with her.
When I arrived, we discussed how, up until a few months ago, my hair reached down to my waist, but I had felt compelled to cut off a lot of the damage and dryness; it was still relatively long, but lacking any shape, hence my coming to her for a shag. She was a patient and thorough angel, explaining to me whereabouts on my head she'd be adding layers, how long and thick the curtain bangs would be, and metaphorically holding my hand through the process. (And I'm sure she literally would have had it not been for her needing to hold scissors.)
"I created the shape by establishing the length and creating a short-to-long bang, being careful to take your curl into consideration for the length," Swigert recalls when I asked her how she went about creating the cut. She then began point cutting some rounded layers to add in texture, and some shorter layers with a razor. "Rounded or shaggy layers work great for those with wavy or curly texture because it's a softer haircut and takes away that 'Christmas tree' or triangular shape that so many of us try to get away from."
Before she even plugged in the dryer, I knew I loved it. I felt like I had an actual hairstyle again — one that was noticeable and cool but not like I was walking around wearing a neon-sign headband that says, "Yo, check out my trendy hairstyle!" Swigert did an A-plus blowout and emphasized the piecey-ness by lightly creating super-loose waves with a curling iron before zhuzhing the crown for a little volume.
As any red-blooded human with inconsistent hairstyling skills would do after getting a great blowout, I didn't wash my hair for nearly a week, and I'm happy to report that my new shag even looks awesome when flattened by days of sleep and looking a bit greasy. (It reads very 1981 teenager.) But I knew I would have to eventually put it to the test: air-drying.
After cracking open new bottles of Drunk Elephant Cocomino Glossing Shampoo and Marula Cream Conditioner, I applied the genuinely miraculous Dove Style + Care Curls Defining Mousse to my damp hair and gave it a few upside-down scrunches. Although it was coming along beautifully, I panicked a little at the almost-dry act of the play and reached for a dryer and diffuser to give my curls a little oomph. (And also a little oops, apparently, because a piece of my hair got sucked in, but that's a story for another time.)
To say that this new shag shape has reminded my curls who the hell they are is an understatement. They truly look the best they have in I don't know how long, to the point that I almost questioned if I can pull off looking good. Like, what? I was a little nervous about my cowlick and how my curtain bangs would dry, but the hint of curl was absolutely charming, if I do say so myself.
I'm genuinely thrilled with how my new shag looks in both natural and heat-styled states, and I can't wait to see how it evolves as it grows. But you can be damn sure I'm going to keep going back for more curly curtain-bang cuteness and piecey layers as it does.
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