Why curls are bouncing back: Dumping Stepford Wives hair for the au naturale look
The future is looking bright for loose, natural hair as Meadhbh McGrath trials a salon willing to throw out the rulebook by adopting an innovative approach to styling
You sit with them for hours and feel you can talk to them about anything.
You've been together for years, or maybe just a few months, through thick and thin, and there's just about nobody you trust as much. Your partner? Don't be daft - I'm talking about your hairdresser.
According to new data from the UK, more people are in a "relationship" with their hairstylist than with another person - and have been for an average of eight years.
I can only dream of that kind of commitment. My "relationship" with hairdressers has been like a series of disastrous first dates and it's all down to having naturally curly hair.
Ask a woman with curls about her hair and she'll tell you about her life - being called a "frizzy freak" at school, grappling with GHDs before teen discos and recovering from the indignity of choppy layers, stacked bobs and Patty Simpson-style pyramid hair foisted on you by clueless hairstylists.
But with loose, natural curls springing up on the autumn-winter runways at Dior and Fendi, and on red carpets on everyone from Rihanna and Lily Collins to our own Thalia Heffernan, it looks like the future is bright - and curly.
"People are now starting to understand the beauty of natural curls," says Patrick Gildea, an award-winning stylist whose Donegal salon has seen an influx of curly clients seeking to abandon their straighteners and go back to nature.
"Before, people were under the impression that they had to straighten their hair and they were resisting the natural movement of their hair. But now they're embracing their curls and making them part of their personality."
Many curly-haired women swear by the dry-cutting technique, a trim specially designed for natural curls which allows stylists to see how the hair sits throughout the day and to create angles and styles that complement the face shape.
"Guests sometimes feel that they're very limited with naturally curly hair," says Gildea. "But we actually move away from what the rulebook tells us, because if you follow the guidelines for the traditional form of haircutting, you get a very uniform cut that's overly round, and for naturally curly hair, it can spoil the personality. By dry cutting, you can create balance."
Fed up with surrendering to stylists obsessed with that Kate Middleton-esque bouncy blow-dry look, I decided to give the dry cut a go at The Natural Cut, a salon on Dublin's Wicklow Street with a string of loyal curly clients.
It's immediately a much more comfortable and intimate atmosphere than your usual salon. There are just a handful of cutting stations and none of the unwieldy heaters and other gadgets cluttering the room. There's no loud dance music screaming out of the speakers, or walls plastered with images of poker-straight angular bobs and acid-coloured hair. With its wide-open windows and laidback interiors, complete with fun prints and a foosball table, it feels a bit like calling round to a friend's house for a cut. The Natural Cut first opened 30 years ago and my hairdresser Tracy Dawson explains: "We didn't set out to be a curly hair salon. When we first opened, it was about returning to the natural texture of the client's hair after it had been over-sliced and over-treated. But then women with curly hair started coming to us, and they've been spreading the word for us. We don't advertise at all but we've built this reputation for doing curly hair and we're very fortunate - people come up from all over the country."
Indeed, one of the other guests at the salon tells me she books her holidays to travel up to Dublin especially for a haircut with the salon owner, Shane Boyd.
"A huge percentage of our clientele is curly hair girls," Tracy continues. "It's people looking for something different, something that works for themselves - curly girls in particular can get stuck in a rut and can be afraid to go outside their comfort zone. But they come to us because they're fed up of getting a wash, cut and blow dry and the end result looking totally different when they get home, not to mention the recovery time if they don't like it.
"A lot of clients coming into us would be very apprehensive, so you have to spend a bit of time building trust and reassuring them you're not going to do anything they don't want."
Before she gets started, Tracy spends a few minutes inspecting the condition of my hair and advises me to start training my hair away from shampooing every two days to every three, four and eventually five days. She says most curly hair just needs a rinse and condition to revive the curls, and over-shampooing will encourage frizz. So there's no wash today, just a few spritzes of water, and then she starts cutting - nothing dramatic, just a few inches off and some framing around the face, but thankfully none of the dreaded layers. It takes about 40 minutes and towards the end she asks me to stand up while she finishes the cut, which is a bit awkward but seems to make it easier for Tracy to move around and achieve a symmetrical look.
They really do stick to their promise of a "natural cut", and the only product Tracy uses is a Boots own-brand curl creme, which retails for €2.99. They tend to let clients' hair dry naturally, and encourage me to stick around to see how the cut looks once it's dry. I'm impressed, although with prices sitting around the €60 mark, it may take a bit of getting used to - you'd usually expect to step out of a salon with that very 'done', dressy look, but despite some shameless swishing, no one notices my fresh cut.
While it may not give you the 'wow' factor of the typical glossy salon finish, it was refreshing to have a hairdresser who wasn't interested in a cut that I'd need to slave over every morning trying to recreate, or selling me expensive products that I would instantly forget how to use. She was genuinely eager to give me a cut that would work for me seven days a week, not just the one day where I'm desperately trying to protect a professional salon-grade blow dry.
After years of immaculate Stepford Wives hair, women are finally going back to basics and embracing the au naturale look. Here's hoping it will transcend the trends and stick around long after the Bardot necklines and handkerchief hems have rotated out of style.
Making the most of your curls
According to Shane Boyd of The Natural Cut, when it comes to natural curls, "less is best" - as Thalia Heffernan (above) and Lily Collins (below) know all about.
Less shampoo: Use a very mild, sulfate-free shampoo from a health shop or pharmacist, and only when necessary. Most days, a rinse and condition will be enough to revive the curl. If you have oily roots, you can train your hair to squeeze more days between washes.
Less heat: Frizzy hair is crying out for moisture, so instead of using a blow dryer, towel dry the ends, then turn your head upside down and bring volume into it with your hands.
Less colour: Use as little colour as possible or opt for low-lift formulas to avoid too much bleaching.
Less product: Opt for light serums and cremes rather than heavy mousses, as they'll weigh the hair down and make it too stiff.
Less doubts: Book a consultation with a hairdresser before making an appointment. It should be complimentary and you can have a chat with them to ensure you have 100pc confidence in what they're doing.