I Tried Hair Extensions & Had All Of The Feelings

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Recently, Britney Spears shocked the universe — or at least the Internet — by trading in her va-va-voom mane for what the faceless masses collectively dubbed a "mom bob." I, too, have a mom bob, which is the result of growing out a pixie for the last eight months or so. But, I wanted the old-school Britney.
I’ve never had long hair. The closest I got was in middle school, when it hung limply past my shoulders and I stuck a metal Goody barrette in one side. Over time, I realized that I’m definitely a short-haired person, both because of my face shape and my personality. I’ve had everything from a boyish pixie to an almost shoulder-length, razor-sharp bob.
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But, something in my psyche changed last spring. Perhaps, I had been worn down by all the amazing Khaleesi braid tutorials I couldn’t try out (I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan), but I finally decided I wanted more styling options than running some wax through my 'do. So, I popped open a bottle of Viviscal and started growing.
Long strands are often associated with femininity. Rapunzel. Aphrodite. Cher. Hair is a source of power. Could I handle that much power, though? I decided to take matters into my own hands and see if I was mentally and physically equipped for it. Enter: stylist Ursula Stephen, who tends to the locks, both real and faux, of Rihanna, Rita Ora, and Iggy Azalea.
I trekked to her gorgeous, new salon in Brooklyn and gave her my hair mandate: big, and lots of it. I did not want to do this halfway. Stephen was armed with three bundles of 16-inch, blonde human-hair extensions from her supplier, Echelon, and ready for the challenge.
There are lots of options for extensions these days. Clip-ins are the most temporary, so Stephen uses them on photo and video shoots. Bonded ones, which attach to small sections, are most commonly used as “fillers” for those who are looking for a little more length and volume, she explained. My short, bluntly cut hair was not a good candidate for these types, because it would be difficult to blend for a natural look. Tape-in options last longer, and could provide the type of look I wanted, but they can also be damaging. And, the wefts Stephen had didn’t have the right type of tracks to attach tape.
Then, Stephen got a twinkle in her eye. "I have to give you the white-girl weave," she said, later adding, "It's not that common for white women to get sewn-in extensions because of the texture of their hair." But, that's what she recommended based on what I wanted. Because I wanted to add length to my bob and change the shape of my hair, she explained, "It’s better to remove the hair — braid the hair to the head and hide it — and add hair on top.”
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An hour-and-a-half later, I had a full head of (non-painful) cornrow braids — Stephen’s staff calls her the “braid whisperer” — which she reinforced with coarse, fake strands. Then, she started sewing, tugging, and snipping. Two-and-a-half hours, two bottles of water, and 700 selfies later, I had a glorious head of straight, cool-blonde tresses. Stephen trimmed them and gave me the most glamorous, bouncy blowout I’ve ever had in my life. Then, she asked me: “What are you going to name her? Everyone names their weaves.” Obviously, I called her “The Khaleesi.”
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
It’s one thing to chop off your hair and have everyone freak out. It’s another thing entirely to show up with about three times the amount of hair you used to have. People I’ve known for years walked past me without a glimmer of recognition. And, everyone wanted to touch it. The reactions ran the gamut from, “That hair makes you look about 18!” to, “You look like a mob wife.” I felt a little bit like a spy.
I ran into legendary runway and editorial hairstylist Odile Gilbert at an event, and she raved and told me it looked really natural. (She also gave me some great tips: Sleep with it braided, à la Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. To prevent a bend in your ponytail, look down before you put in your elastic so the hair follows the line of your neck.) The first thing I did that night, in the privacy of my bathroom, was put my hair in a messy ponytail — and then a side-braid. It was better than playing with Barbie. I was hooked.
But, I also didn’t really recognize myself. My face is a bit angular, which makes it well-suited to short styles, or so I’ve been told. When I wasn’t wearing makeup, I thought I looked like Bret Michaels — or worse, like Garth from Wayne’s World when I put on my big, black glasses at night. My instinct was to overcompensate with lots of makeup, because the Barbie locks just seemed to call for the full Barbie look. But, I fought the urge, and instead just wore a bit more lipstick every day — which I promptly regretted, because my hair got stuck in it immediately.
I have a new respect for long-haired girls, because it can be truly treacherous. Within the first two days, I dipped the ends of my hair into a bowl of cereal, my salad dressing, and a puddle of spit-out toothpaste in my sink. I almost yanked out a track several times trying to put on a sports bra. And, forget about casually slinging on a shoulder bag (ouch). Working out was also not a picnic. I tried an Axl Rose-style headband to keep my hairline from getting too sweaty, but that didn’t work out too well. Also, my neck had never been hotter.
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I also now understand why some people don’t wash their hair every day. I admit that I used to sort of judge women who went days without shampooing. No more. Stephen warned me that too much washing would loosen the braids and lead to tangling, so I went five whole days, using about half a can of Serge Normant dry shampoo during that period. After I took a SoulCycle class, though, I thought I was going to go insane from the itching. Seriously, I wanted to take a fork to my scalp. So, I ventured into the shower, drenched my head, and gently worked through some shampoo.
And, that’s how I discovered beach waves. After letting my hair air-dry — which took the better part of the afternoon and evening — I spritzed it with some Living Proof Instant Texture Mist and had the most perfect Gisele waves ever. I. GET. IT. NOW.
The next morning, I went to a local salon for a sleeker blowout. Afterward, I walked past a man on the sidewalk carrying a boom box (yes, a boom box) playing “Brick House.” It was my movie-montage makeover moment. I was Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, minus the Chanel. I strutted down the street with my new anthem playing in the background and my hair cheerfully bouncing. I AM a brick house, damn it.
There was one other uncomfortable side effect of my new, in-your-face hair, though: The catcalls increased exponentially. One afternoon, while wearing jeans, heels, and, of course, The Khaleesi, I walked past a group of construction workers, who definitely noticed me. It was the most uncomfortable moment of this experiment, and a huge eye-opener, because I’d walked through the same area, in a similar outfit, the week before with nary a peep about my ass. And, I much prefer it that way.
I kept the extensions for about a week. In the end, I realized that I liked having long hair, but I really didn’t like having all that fake hair. I realize many women change up their look with extensions and weaves, but for me, the change was monumental, since short hair is such a huge part of my identity. I felt like a different person, and it was disconcerting. And, there was the itchy scalp — akin to 7,000 ants crawling on my head, the feeling of a wig I couldn’t take off, and the fear that the slightest breeze would expose my tracks to the world.
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Growing it out the slow, boring way seems the right course in my case. I’m thinking of it in terms of a marathon, rather than a sprint, now and I’m looking forward to the “lob” stage, rather than daydreaming about being able to sport a 20-inch fishtail braid. But, I’ve redoubled my Viviscal efforts and have carefully washed and stored the extensions — just in case I get impatient. In the meantime, I’m thinking about getting bangs.


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