It was only a matter of time before I cut my own hair in lockdown. When you’re moving a maximum of 10 metres a day (I will not look at my phone’s step counter, you can’t make me), you start itching for a different kind of change of scenery. We tend to do something dramatic to our hair when we experience those big, life-altering shifts: a break-up, recovery from an illness, a new job, a move to a different city. While the COVID-19 crisis is certainly lacking the same agency and excitement, the total novelty of the situation (none of us has ever been here before) has caused a restlessness, leading many to shake things up with their appearance.
Naturally, everyone and their mother has gone for a buzzcut - sorry to disappoint, but while others pull off a shaved head with either gamine or badass finesse, I'd look more like Phil Mitchell. Others are growing beards out of curiosity or choosing more daring hair colours than they would if they were still office-bound. Instead, I opted for a bob. There were practical reasons, sure. I’m growing out my last dramatic hair change (a perm from last summer) and I’m getting impatient with the damage. The shorter the hair, the quicker the repair, right? I’d also had some layers cut in that I wasn’t too keen on, so chopping them away felt good. But for me, changing my hair always feels like something more.
I’ve never been one to shy away from a switch-up. I’ve had every colour under the sun, from chocolate brown to tangerine orange, ice blonde to golden peach, and as well as the aforementioned perm, I’ve had the ‘70s shag cut. For me, hair holds the same power as clothes: it’s more than something you wear every day; it has the power to change the way you feel about yourself. In the same way that donning a pair of corduroy kick-flares and a hand-embroidered blouse has me channelling Stevie Nicks, or showing off my tattoos in a black tank top and leather trousers makes me feel more like Joan Jett, switching up my hairstyle gives me the creative freedom to tap into different facets of myself. I take neither fashion nor beauty seriously: like a dressing-up box, it’s about trying on a different version of myself each time.
Practicality and playfulness aside, I think I went for a bob cut in lockdown because it feels nostalgic. My mum gave me a chin-skimming bob throughout my childhood – most likely because the shorter my hair, the less food would end up in it. While at the time I envied classmates with flowing locks (hilariously, I used to put a pair of black tights on my head and pretend I had long hair like Ariel from The Little Mermaid), I look back at childhood photos and love it. There’s something inherently youthful about a bob: the fuss-free nature of it, the way it frames your cheeks and exposes your neck, the way it literally bobs from side to side as you shake your head.
Since lockdown started I’ve subscribed to Disney+ and am watching ‘90s classics on repeat; perhaps cutting a bob was a similar effort to root myself in the safety and comfort of childhood. It’s a really scary time and while much is uncertain, one thing is for sure: life won’t be the same after this. Comfort is what we’re all seeking right now, whether it’s in homely hobbies like knitting and sourdough baking, or watching Hercules for the 100th time and cutting a familiar hairstyle.
Of course, before I cut the damn thing I had my doubts. There’s no substitute for a professional cut, and I didn’t want to end up looking like Lord Farquaad from Shrek. While for something like the shag or the perm, you really need a professional stylist, there's still room for error with the simpler bob. Sure, I wouldn’t be seeing anyone but my boyfriend for the foreseeable, but the constant Zoom calls and Houseparty gatherings mean we’re all confronting our reflection more than we’d like to right now. Luckily, my borderline obsession with hair meant that I had thousands of references on Pinterest boards, in desktop folders and my IG saved page.
The more I skimmed my saved styles, the clearer it became that the bob might just be one of the most enduring hairstyles in history. It thrived in the ‘20s and ‘30s, with iconic women of the Jazz Age touting the inimitable style. Josephine Baker and Bette Davis opted for glamorous wave curls, while Louise Brooks created the iconic razor-sharp, cheekbone-skimming 'Lulu bob' (see Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago.) In the 1960s it was the bouffant bobs of The Supremes and Aretha Franklin, while in the ‘90s, a leather jacket-clad Winona Ryder and My So-Called Life's Claire Danes gave the bob a grunge, shaggy makeover. Uma Thurman’s turn as Mia in Pulp Fiction proved there was life in the geometric style yet, and Natalie Portman's roles in Léon and Closer crown her as the haircut’s ultimate pin-up. A more contemporary cultural reference is Audrey Tautou in Amelie; her awkward, arty home-cut bob, along with septum piercings and chokers, became synonymous with Urban Outfitters employees several years ago. For a less whimsical but equally cute take on this style, artist Frances Cannon’s bob phase has been in my IG saved posts for years now.
Armed with my kitchen scissors (I know! I am sorry to all professional hairstylists, but desperate times call for desperate tools), I headed to the bathroom to rid myself of a good few inches. For those interested in the mechanics of my very rudimentary cut, I parted my hair down the middle, separated it into two bunches, and chopped straight across the bottom where my first layers started. Once the hair was all one length (just about), I pinned it up in layers across the head to see if it was even enough and worked my way through it until I was satisfied. I still have to blow-dry my hair post-wash as I have the remainder of my perm to tame, but since the chop I’ve been washing it once every three days, and using dry shampoo to keep on top of the roots. I find that my bob on day two and three is much better as it’s lived-in and less blow-dried, and becomes more naturally wavy and loose.
While there’s so much I love about my new neck-grazing cut, from the kicky shape to my newfound love of hair accessories (a padded Alice band and pearl barrette look all the more cute in a fresh bob), what I didn’t expect was for it to help me feel like myself again. Before I went for the chop, I was struggling to find any motivation to get dressed – properly dressed – in lockdown. Like everyone else working from home, I’d bought new joggers but, as friends and colleagues will tell you, I’ve never worn anything resembling athleisure before this. The lines between pyjamas and everyday wear were becoming blurred and, as a fashion editor whose wardrobe is a constant source of joy and experimentation, I felt as though a part of me was lost. For some people, putting comfort first is the raison d'être of their wardrobe, but for me that meant losing the magic of playing dress-up.
Since cutting my bob, I’ve rediscovered my jewellery box, too: from sweetshop beads and ‘80s door knockers to faux-crystal chandeliers, a surprise benefit of shorter hair is that statement earrings stand out so much more. Zoom calls will be a hell of a lot less boring now I can show off my out-there earlobes. When you dye your hair, you’re encouraged to try on new colours to see what suits your new shade. In a similar effort, I threw everything in my wardrobe onto my bed and had a day-long trying-on session; music blasting, bottle of wine on hand.
Black rollnecks now feel nouvelle vague; prairie dresses look all the more saccharine; blouses with eccentric necklines have their time to shine now that my hair isn't concealing the main event. Every day since cutting my hair I've worn an outfit that feels like me – which version of me depends on the day, of course, but I’ve packed away my joggers and hoodie for another place, another time. Sitting down at my makeshift WFH desk each morning no longer feels like a groggy extension of my bed but like I'm starting a new day. We’re all in a state of free fall right now, and anchoring ourselves to some kind of normality feels like a mammoth task. But thanks to just a few inches off my ends, I feel that little bit more like myself.