We're Calling It: Perms Are Back — & More Wearable Than Ever

Photo: S. Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images
From Elton John-esque glitz and glamour to Off-White's Princess Diana-inspired collection, it's safe to say that the 1980s are experiencing a fashion revival in full force. And, on the beauty front, one trend from the decade we thought would never see the light of day again has returned with newfound cool-girl credibility: the perm. (Yes, you heard us correctly.)
When actresses Jaime King and Emma Stone took to Instagram earlier this year to try the once-questionable look, it only confirmed what we had suspected over the past few seasons: The '80s curls are back, only with a thoroughly modern refresh this time around. According to celebrity hair wiz Luke Hersheson, it's all thanks to icons from the era coming back into fashion's focus. "Women like Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts feel relevant right now," he tells us. "There's something quite soulful about those kind of curls; they have character in them."
Fashion has certainly enjoyed the perm renaissance, as seen backstage at numerous Spring/Summer 2018 shows. John Frieda gave Molly Goddard's girls graphic curls with a nostalgic black headband around the hairline, and the models' natural curls, waves, and texture were emphasized at shows like Versus Versace and Temperley London.
The new '80s perm is significantly less Curly Sue than the original incarnation, Hersheson says. In fact, he says we've completely misunderstood the idea of the perm in the first place. "There is a big misconception," he explains. "A lot of the reason the bubble perm has bad connotations is to do with the haircut at the time, which kind of exaggerated the perm. Now, we're doing perms on longer, more simple hair, so the curl isn't as defined or extreme."
With curly icons like models Alanna Arrington and Mica Argañaraz and photographer Petra Collins overtaking our Insta feeds, the modern take is a step up from the beachy waves we've seen so much of over the past few years. It's time to park the salt spray and embrace a more hyped-up curl. So how can we achieve the updated look if our hair refuses to do it naturally?
"The same technology is being used as the first time around, in that we have to change the bonds in the hair in order to change its natural shape," says Claire Bonney of Radio Salon London. "This time, though, there are more nourishing and strengthening ingredients used, so it cares for hair in the process. There are bigger rollers now, and the way you roll and place the roller allows for a softer look — more L.A. wave, less Shirley Temple."
While most hair types will take well to being permed, the more sensitive and weaker your hair, the less likely it is to keep the shape. "There are specialist perms for natural textured hair; in most salons it would be too damaging, though, so seek those out," says Hersheson. "Anything bleached or colored is also a no-go, as the hair will be ruined."

A post shared by ALANNA (@alannaarrington) on

Post-treatment, aftercare is essential. "Use shampoos and conditioners with moisture to keep the curl soft yet buoyant," Bonney explains. "Pureology's Hydrate line is great for hydration. Air drying naturally will keep the wave flatter, and using the Redken No Blow-Dry Cream will help moisturize and control the curl. Using a diffuser will spread air through the hair and increase the volume, giving more body."
With the process less damaging for your locks, and the looks less dramatic than those in the '80s, it sounds like it's definitely time to up your summer hair game with some mega curls.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

More from Hair

R29 Original Series