It's not every day that I get to say this, but I recently saw a TikTok that made my jaw drop. A young woman, alone in her bathroom, swept her long, wavy hair into a high ponytail. In one hand, she grasped the end of the pony and held it straight upward — a pair of kitchen scissors sat in the other. You can imagine what happened next: Snip. Snip. Snip. She cut a horizontal straight line all the way across, right through the middle. Shockingly to me, she let the ponytail down to reveal a brand-new (and quite cute) shag haircut, complete with choppy, all-over layers.
A few flips of my thumb later and I saw another person in their bathroom, ponytail in one hand and scissors in the other. And then I saw a third one. And another… and another. Apparently, I had stumbled onto the world's next beauty phenomenon: the ponytail shag. Though these unconventional hair-cutting videos show results ranging from OK to flat-out amazing (see the clip below), no one will be surprised to learn that hairstylists aren't the biggest fans.
"I wouldn't suggest this to anyone at home," says Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, a New York City hairstylist. "I don't see a 'shag cut' from these videos at all; I see [people] cutting the ends trying to create some kind of shape or just get clean ends in some sort of a style." Fellow New York City hairstylist Erickson Arrunategui adds that, although many people are quite happy with the results of their own DIY cuts, the ponytail chop isn't exactly universally sound. "This method may work for someone with wavy or curly fine hair, where the mistakes won't show as much, but a lot can go wrong with this 'technique' and it's not so forgiving on all hair types," he explains.
So, what can go wrong with the ponytail shag? Before we get into that, let's talk about why gathering and snipping hair like this creates these kinds of layers in the first place. "Cutting your hair when it's in a ponytail creates shag-like layers because you are over-directing all the hair and gathering it to one point," Arrunategui says. "So all the hair at the top of your head will be shorter, and all the hair around the perimeter will be longer."
Seems pretty simple, right? It is, but as Arrunategui explains further, this method leaves a lot of room for irreversible fuck-ups. "The issue with this technique is, depending on the placement of the ponytail, tension, and direction of the grain, you can end up with a very choppy, uneven result with stair-like layers," he says. It also doesn't escape him that the overwhelming majority of folks trying this at-home shag cut are using kitchen or crafting scissors, which can lead to disaster, ponytail or not. "Using house scissors so blunt like that is not good for your hair and can result in split ends."
And look, we get it: professional haircuts can cost a pretty penny, and going to a salon can be anxiety-inducing after the past year or so we've all had. Plus, for lots of people, hair is just hair at the end of the day — it grows back, no big deal. That said, if you're absolutely set on getting a shag haircut and doing it at home, the experts would rather you use a different method (and a high-quality pair of shears, please and thank you).
"Depending on the placement of the ponytail, tension, and direction of the grain, you can end up with a very choppy, uneven result with stair-like layers."
The key to nailing a DIY shag cut is sectioning, sectioning, sectioning. "Don't cut the hair bluntly. Instead, split the hair into smaller sections and point cut into the hair so it’s more blended and forgiving," Arrunategui advises.
Point cutting, by the way, is the method of holding scissors vertically rather than horizontally while cutting. As Los Angeles hairstylist Justine Marjan previously explained to Allure, it "gives a more diffused finish on the ends… point the scissors upwards and lightly open and close scissors on the ends of the hair." If you need an in-depth run-down of that, sneak a peek at any professional's YouTube tutorials.
"Don't cut the hair bluntly. Instead, split the hair into smaller sections and point cut into the hair so it’s more blended and forgiving."
As Sturdivant-Drew points out, it's also important to "hold the hair to the angle you want to create a certain shape." In the case of a shag cut, that means holding various sections of hair at different angles, depending on where they're located on your head — luckily, Atlanta-based hairstylist Sara Cappelli broke down the entire process with a TikTok tutorial in response to the viral trend.
That ponytail does, at the end of the day, seem a lot easier, though (because it is). So, if you're going that route — at the bare minimum — have a good friend on hand who you trust to cut the most even line possible, as Arruntegui advises. "Oh, and have a salon on speed dial just in case things go wrong," he says.
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