Rihanna knows the power of revealing a drastic change to her coif.
“When I cut my hair, the whole sound changed, my style changed,” the singer and actor said of debuting her signature bob in 2007. Fourteen years later, it’s a mode of reinvention the fashion and beauty mogul still embraces. Earlier this year, as the fall 2021 runway shows reflected a collective desire for daring new ‘dos, Rihanna headed to dinner in Los Angeles sporting a sharp pixie cut. The resulting paparazzi shots were blogged and Instagram messaged and Pinterest boarded by many of us pondering our own pandemic revamp.
That so many women have thought about following Rihanna’s lead isn’t surprising. Drastically changing your hair during moments of personal transition – becoming a parent, going through a breakup, getting a new job, expressing a different gender identity – is instinctual. “We carry so much energy in our hair,” says hairstylist Nicole Pidherny, who owns Pomme Salon in Kelowna, B.C. For those with longer hair, the ends of your locks may have been lingering on your head for upwards of a decade. “It’s subconscious. I don’t think that people realize that that’s why they want to change their hair. They need to get rid of that energy, whether it’s good or bad,” she says. “Sometimes, I don’t think you can move forward in that moment of your life unless you get rid of it.”
With a desperate desire to move forward dominating the zeitgeist, one of the first things people around the world rushed to do when local lockdown restrictions lifted this summer was get a haircut. During an extended hiatus from hairstyling, we had a lot of time to think about what was important to us. Outlooks shifted and these new priorities were reflected back at us when we finally got to sit in front of the salon mirror. Popular styles have become shorter, requiring less maintenance and reflecting diverse perspectives.
Chelsea Sutherland, who owns Chelsea Laine Salon and Colour Bar in New Glasgow, N.S., says that most of her clients fall into two categories right now: those who have decided they want to embrace their natural hair texture with a style that’s shorter and easier to maintain and those who are throwing caution to the wind. “They’ve become more daring and expressive. They don’t attach haircuts to being a chore or something they have to do. It’s something that they’re embracing as fun,” Sutherland says.
These new preferences are often due to the fact that many of us believe that returning to a prepandemic status quo is out of the question, whether it’s a job, where you live or even picking up your blow dryer and curling iron every morning. “People don’t want things to just go back to normal. There is this real desire for things to be different and part of that is us showing up and presenting differently,” says Ashley Brewsmith, a hairstylist and the owner of Proudest Pony Salon in Toronto. “That idea of emerging as a new person on the other side of something can be so powerful.”
There was no shortage of hair inspiration for making a big change in the fall collections. Rihanna-esque cuts were seen on models at Tom Ford, Fendi and Acne Studios. Like the look favoured by 1920s flappers, these closely cropped styles are shorthand for a newfound sense of liberation, even if it’s just from your living room sofa.
Embracing the ease of hair’s natural texture offers a way to let go of the tedium of heat styling. At Proenza Schouler, the models’ shags signalled a laissez-faire approach to hair. So does the “wolf cut,” a TikTok sensation characterized by layers of wild volume at the top that tapers towards the bottom. Consider it the feral cousin of the 1980s mullet, which also made a return to the spotlight this year, most notably on singer Miley Cyrus.
Those of us not ready to abandon all of our length can consider the blunt bangs seen at Emilio Pucci and Valentino, or the Hime haircut, which has Japanese origins. Reminiscent of Cher’s 1970s coif with chin-length panels at the front and longer hair further back, it was slicked onto models at the Prada fall show by hairstylist Guido Palau and worn by the women of the band Haim to the 2021 Grammy Awards in March.
For hairstylist Sutherland’s client, Leah Samson, the loss of control that comes with living through the pandemic has led her to loosen up at the salon. While she once provided Sutherland with specific instructions at her hair appointments, “since COVID, I’ve really just let her take the reins completely,” she says. “I don’t give her any direction any more.” With that kind of carte blanche, what stylist can resist making a dramatic cut?