Along with the famous shag haircut and return of 'the Rachel', there’s another trend making a resurgence this year: the feathered haircut. A quick scroll of Instagram confirms that wispy ‘feathered’ layers synonymous with the ‘70s are cropping up everywhere right now, with everyone from Katie Jane Hughes to Hilary Duff getting creative with their post-lockdown lengths. In a bid to lose my own long, shapeless layers and split ends inflicted by lockdown, I decided to swap the failsafe "just a trim, please" and follow suit.
My last haircut was in March, meaning it’s been nine months since I saw a hairdresser and the condition, split ends and lack of shape are starting to wear my face (and me) down. My once-fresh cut now hangs heavy on my shoulders and the outgrown layers stretch down my chest and drown the sides of my face, dragging it down into a solid block and making my thick hair look even heavier. The only possible styling solution? A messy bun. At this point I’m willing to try anything and a style that promises shape, volume and the seal of approval from a Charlie’s Angel sounds like a good place to start...
The style reference is of course Farrah Fawcett in Charlie’s Angels circa 1976, who became the poster girl for feathered hair with her cascade of voluminous layers and side-swept fringe. Making her debut as a detective on the hit series – a job rarely carried out by a woman at that time – Fawcett's hair was another welcome anomaly shaking up gender stereotypes in the ‘70s. It’s been emulated by men and women ever since and has evolved under new guises, from the dramatic, chandelier layers worn by Laurie Forman in That ‘70s Show to the short, feathered bob popularised by Princess Diana.
Researching the history of feathered hair prior to my appointment (so I can see what I’m getting myself into), it appears to be fairly divisive with many hairstylists including Fawcett’s own, Allen Edwards, staking a claim to the ‘feathering’ technique. It’s also believed that the hairstyle arose from feathered headwear, particularly during the Roaring Twenties when flappers wore hair feathers as a symbol of liberation. As for the style? A highly textured version of a layered cut, it focuses more on the technique used by hairdressers, where you hold the scissors at a 90-degree angle against the hair, cutting it in a V-shape to create the delicate feather effect, a variety of different layers and finely shaped ends like the feathers of a bird.
Arriving at Buller + Rice, the eco-led lifestyle salon in Stoke Newington, it’s been months since I last had my hair down. I apologise for the state of my hair, twice, just seconds after meeting cofounder Stephen Buller, explaining that I haven’t had time for a haircut. While I’m open to anything, I continue, with a naturally round face I’m slightly dubious of a short fringe. Stephen assures me that unlike the shag haircut, which features more distressed, disconnected layers and relies heavily on a fringe, the versatility of this style makes it more wearable and you can tailor it to your face shape, hair texture and personal style. The update for 2021, explains Stephen, is more flexible on fringes and focuses more on medium to long layers.
“The good thing about feathered hair is that it can work on any hair type – from straight to curly, short to long – as long as the cut has finely textured layered styles. It’s all about how you detail the layers too: it can create volume for finer hair types but also lighten the heavier and thicker hair types," Stephen explains. "This allows it to be adapted to all face shapes, softening square face shapes and adding volume to rounder faces, letting you play around with partings and experiment with the textures when you’re curling or straightening."
That’s exactly what Stephen created with my hair, adding longer layers in the classic V-shape at the front (to suit my face shape) and playing with the layers at the back when the hair was dry to create more of a feather effect. Unlike the ‘Farrah’ style, the volume is centred around the flips rather than at the crown of my head – it’s a little subtler, softer and more sophisticated compared to the extreme layers and hairspray of the ‘70s. But you can add depth and volume using styling tools.
Given that my hair is bleached blonde and therefore very prone to breakage, I’m concerned that the feathering might be quite high maintenance once I’m out of the salon; that my now perfectly aligned layers will demand more attention at home to keep them from getting frayed. In my current haircare routine, there are a few products I swear by to manage my overly processed ends, including Oribe Split End Seal, £44.50, and Garnier’s famed Ultimate Blends Hair Food Banana 3-in-1 Dry Hair Mask Treatment, £6.99, which I use religiously every week to restore moisture and help mend my damaged ends. Volume is a key element to this style so I’m going to switch to Living Proof Full Shampoo, £22, and Conditioner, £22, to add extra volume.
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Post-salon, I was curious to see if I could style my own hair at home. Following strict instructions from Stephen to use a hot brush to create extra volume, I reached for my ghd Rise, £169, to slightly flip out the ends, gliding the tool from the root to the ends and then rolling it back (spritzing the L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Repair 10-in-1 Multipurpose Spray, £12.80, liberally beforehand). I can’t blow-dry my own hair and creating big, bouncy Farrah waves on a day-to-day basis isn’t realistic. The ghd Rise, however, helped me create a lot of volume in a fraction of the time. A style that took all of five minutes to create, the slight curls framed my face while the longer layers elongated its shape, and I added my favourite We Are Paradoxx Sea Salt Spray, £20, to build up the feathered ends (another tip courtesy of Stephen). I honestly love this style.
Having not seen or really appreciated my hair for pretty much all of 2020, this renewed volume is a welcome change and actually feels quite transformative. My hair now feels light, bouncy and carefree and the delicate flips give my straight hair a lot more character. The feathering technique has taken so much weight off the ends and added a lot more texture and natural movement, opening up my features rather than weighing my face down. But it’s the ability to style my hair in so many ways that I love most, making it a more wearable trend and a lot less maintenance, too. Some days I can rock those '70s Farrah curls, others I can create statement retro flicks using a hot brush, and if I feel like doing nothing? I’ve still got all the bounce and volume I need from the natural feathered layers. I’ll be wearing my hair down for the foreseeable.
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