We Tried It: Getting a Dramatically Short Post-Vaccine Haircut
After a year without a cut, I decided to donate my heavy head of hair to Locks of Love and get a bob for the first time in many, many years. See how the process played out and what you need to know before doing a drastic chop
What It Is: With COVID-19 mask mandates lifting and group gatherings returning, it's time to pick up a makeup brush and hair styling tool again and learn how to rejoin the world. For me, that meant shedding the thick mane of hair I amassed after a year without a cut. With my strands at their longest and healthiest, I decided to donate my hair to Locks of Love, which meant I'd be doing a dramatic 10-in. chop and going chin-length for the first time in many, many years.
Who Tired It: Colleen Kratofil, Style Editor
Level of Difficulty: 7. The cut itself is quick and easy, but that doesn't account for all the time I spent beforehand contemplating the decision; and after, mastering how to style hair at the new length and getting accustomed to having shorter strands.
Ever since I had a very unfortunate bob as a kid that was at one point so wavy and unruly it exceeded the frame of a school photo, I have never gone back to short hair. (And before you ask, no, I will not be showing said photo.)
I've been so precious with my long mane, that a slightly shorter trim could send me spiraling. When I got highlights for the first time? It was a major decision (which you can read about here). No scene on television has ever spoken to me more than Fleabag's speech on how "hair! is! everything!"
But like so many aspects of life amid the pandemic, I began rethinking my relationship with my hair. Instead of the security blanket it gave me for so many years, I started to feel encumbered by it. It was hot. It hurt my head when I pulled it into a ponytail. It always required major styling to look its best. And the more I would (gratefully) complain about how heavy my hair was, I began to feel dragged down by it.
As someone who has been quarantining solo for the majority of the last 15 months and mourning the loss of a close friend and colleague, Ali Schwartz, I knew reentering society was going to be a particularly daunting process. But it could also be a way to embark on a new chapter if I made my first post-vaccine activities (like my first haircut) really matter.
The more I complained about my heavy strands, the more I knew I needed to give them to someone who would appreciate them, just as I had all these years. So I decided donating them was the answer.
After doing some research, it was clear many places required 10-in. minimum donations. I chose the most widely known organization, Locks of Love, because the process is the most straight-forward. Just secure the hair, either in one grouping or sections and in a ponytail or braid, and send it in along with an easy to-fill-out form (which could be written out on a piece of paper if you're like me and haven't owned a printer for the last 10 years).
To mentally prepare myself, I scheduled a free virtual consultation with my hairstylist, Brooklyn-based pro Devin Rahal, before booking an appointment to ask any questions I had — like at what length could I still wear my hair in a ponytail? (Answer: shoulder length.) During the chat, I was able to get a feel for Rahal's process and prepare what I needed to bring with me. (Answer: inspo pics!) I still wanted time to be sure, so I booked my appointment one month out and furiously Googled short hair styles. (I landed on pics of Selena Gomez and Irina Shayk.)
The day of the cut, I made sure to arrive with a tape measure and Ziploc bag to store the hair in. I was stressed, but Rahal immediately put my mind at ease, talking me through the process and reminding me of the great organization my strands will go to.
First, he divided the hair into four sections and braided each. Next, he measured each one to reach 10 inches before securing a ponytail at each end. This helped me envision how short the cut would be, just in case I wanted to opt out. (And yes, I was pretty nervous my hair was not going to reach "ponytail length.") Then, it was time to chop!
[Editor's note: both Rahal and I were fully vaccinated, hence the ability to go maskless for the big reveal.]
Not going to lie, it was very surreal to see my hair suddenly gone and to hold it in my hands. It was hard to process the "new me" staring back in the mirror, so instead I distracted myself by asking all the questions about maintaining this new look, and thankfully, Rahal was happy to supply his expert tips and tricks for styling short, curly hair. (See below.)
The drying process is very important for a frizz-free look.
"First, comb it while the conditioner is in and then leave it be. (If you comb it once you're out of the shower, it won't lay very well if you tend to have frizz)," says Rahal. "Then rinse your hair with cool water. It helps smooth the cuticle a bit and helps control frizz, which I find super instrumental. Next, use an old pillowcase or T-shirt to get the water out of your hair; when you towel-dry, you really want to squeeze the water out. You don't want to rough it up at all. If your goal is to have curly hair that's not frizzy, you really want to baby it and be very gentle."
Don't touch your curls.
"After towel drying, put in a curl enhancing product that's a mix of a gel and a cream. Saturate the strands without messing them up too much," he advises. "And then the biggest thing — do not touch again until it's bone dry. Ignore it, pretend you have a helmet on. Let it air dry in place."
Should I use a diffuser like I did with long hair?
"Diffusers have a time and place," says Rahal. "They diffuse the air and give a soft air flow to help speed up the drying time. It's the next best thing to air drying, which has no frizz created most of the time; but the diffuser still moves the hair around slightly. I always tell people to start with air drying, because some people are just not great at diffusing their hair and they mess it up too much, resulting in hair that's 'too big.'"
Best tips for styling on hot, humid summer days?
"On days when it's humid and sticky out, add some dry shampoo to your finished look. It roughs it up and it helps absorb some of that oil that comes from sweat. Use it as you would a texturizing spray." (A great go-to? Redken Deep Clean Dry Shampoo, $25; ulta.com.)
After the Big Chop, Rahal thinned out the remaining hair, evened out the length and touched up a few pieces with a curling wand, instructing me to pick a few pieces on each side to curl when I start styling my hair myself.
The Verdict: It took a few days for me to be able to touch my hair and feel comfortable with the new length. After washing it myself and following Rahal's tips, I discovered my hair dried with a natural beachy wave that really didn't need any other styling (see above). I wasn't expecting my hair to react so well to the short length, that it's taking me a minute to accept compliments from friends (and strangers!). I kept my expectations low, so now I'm having a delayed reaction in realizing that I really love the look — and the freedom — this new style brings.
Another surprisingly great revelation is that when you have short hair, you don't need it to fit into a ponytail. (Why does no one ever talk about this?!) I was pretty freaked out that my hair wasn't long enough to wrap into a pony, but to my astonishment, my hair doesn't move around now, doesn't stick to the back of my neck, doesn't fall straight into my face. When I work out I simply push my hair back with a headband and secure my bangs with a bobby pin. It's truly a whole new world.
What Fleabag's Anthony gets so wrong is that hair can help change your life. As I try to get over the fear of entering indoor spaces again and walking around maskless outside, feeling the weight of my hair in my hands was a cathartic way of physically letting go of the past 15 months. It's time to get back out into the world in this post-vaccine life and now, I'm not returning as my old self. It's a new start and a new me.