There’s no doubt that the shag haircut is in the midst of a major modern comeback. One quick scroll through TikTok and you’re bound to come across someone with a viral “wolf cut,” which is a mashup of a shag, a mullet, and a bathroom haircut you give yourself. In fact, the hashtag #wolfcut has over 1.8 billion views and counting.
Long before TikTok was invented, the shag was born around the year 1965 and can be attributed to a barber named Paul McGregor, who first gave the cut to Jane Fonda, according to The New York Times. From there, the choppy, layered hairstyle became central to the ’70s culture, albeit usually associated with counterculture and rebellion with rockstars like Mick Jagger and David Bowie adopting the style. In the ’90s, Sally Hershberger gave the famous cut to Meg Ryan on the set of French Kiss and a shag icon was born. As as we well know, everything ’90s is back again.
Today, hairdressers like Brooklyn-based Hannah DiFolco are once again seeing an uptake in shag requests in the salon. “A lot of people come in with inspiration from across the board,” she told NYLON. “It might be ’70s rock-and-roll Patti Smith photos but, inspiration aside, I feel like what most clients are really looking for is something lower maintenance that embraces their natural hair texture.”
Even though the style has a messy and unstructured element to it, Blake Reed Evans, global Redken artist and owner of Shear Art Salon, says the shag is quite technical. “The shag is an ultra-layered haircut that has shorter layers moving into some length on the ends. The ends of the hair are usually thinned out [and] thinner than the top. The overall style is full of texture, piecey bits, and a lot of volume,” Evans tells NYLON.
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Evans recalls the rebirth of the shag in the form of wigs worn on fashion show runways, in ad campaigns, and on the red carpet between the years of 2014 and 2018. He believes it took celebrities a bit of time to jump on this trend in the 21st century. “A lot of alternative people were wearing the look and asking for it in the salon. Once Taylor Swift wore a very soft version of the shag in 2019, it seemed to explode. I think celebrities like to wear the cut because it’s such a drastic change from what has been popular for so long. It’s a great way to move from one era to the next,” Evans said. “As a stylist, it’s also easy to ditch the look once you are done with it by getting extensions.”
Rumor has it that the shag haircut goes with all hair types, textures, and curl patterns — from wavy to straight and thick to thin. Here’s how to make the shag revival work for you.
Will a Shag Work on Fine Hair?
If you have finer hair, DiFolco says the shag haircut is actually great for you. “I would absolutely recommend a shag to anyone with fine hair,” she says. Sometimes people with fine hair worry about “losing too much weight or volume from their hair, but fine hair can still be weighed down and that’s why it tends to hang and feel limp and lifeless.” The beauty of this layered style, says DiFolco, is that it works for everyone.
Will a Shag Work on Curly Hair?
A shag on curly hair can provide those dreamy face-framing layers you’ve always wanted. If you have wavy or curly hair, Evans encourages you to be very clear to your stylist on where you want the shortest layer to be. “If your stylist cuts your hair wet, your hair will shrink up when styled. You will also want to figure out what kind of bang you are looking for. Do you want curtain bangs, straight across bangs, no bangs at all?” Evans said. “Remember, you can always go shorter, but if you want it to be longer, you’ll have to wait, get extensions, or get a wig.”
How To Choose A Shag Haircut Shape
While the shag notoriously works for every hair type, that doesn’t mean that everyone should get the same exact cut. Today’s shag can have ’70s face-framing curtain bangs (like Billie Eilish’s hair that broke the internet), a full fringe like Miley Cyrus’s recent looks, or go more dramatic and tow the line between a shag and mullet like Barbie Ferreira or Rihanna once wore. The best style for your hair and face shape is up to personal taste and how much change you’re willing to make. Wherever the bangs or layers land will direct the most attention to your face. If you’re still unsure, this is something your hairdresser can help you out with. “The key is to create each design specifically to each individual's hair texture, density, and wave pattern,” DiFolco told NYLON. The longer the layers, the less dramatic the look and the easier it is to grow out, if you don’t end up falling in love with the new cut.
To find a hairstylist that specializes in shags, Evans has a few tips and tricks to achieving the perfectly un-perfect style you want. “To get the look, search on Instagram for stylists who post shags or mullets to get a head-start on finding someone who is 1) good at shags and 2) passionate about cutting them,” Evans tells NYLON. “Pro tip: If you can’t find someone who specializes in shags, find an older and experienced stylist who was doing hair in the ‘80s [and] ‘90s and ask for a Joan Jett haircut. Please be aware they may not style it in a way that feels modern, but the cut will be on point.” The shag is technically a vintage style, so chances are if you use the correct wording, you’ll be able to get the cut no matter where you’re located or how big your salon is.
How To Style a Shag Haircut
After choosing the right shag cut shape, whether it’s from an appointment with your hairdresser or taking the scissors into your own hands, you’re then tasked with maintaining the effortlessly messy look. Thankfully, the layers should do most of the styling work for you. “The point of the shag is to have minimum to no styling involved because this cut is all about embracing your natural texture and being able to roll out of bed,” says DiFolco.
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To style a modern, lightly textured, but smooth shag, Evans says to follow these steps:
- Prep the hair with Redken One United and Full Volume Mousse on damp hair.
- Using a paddle brush and a criss cross motion, start getting your hair dry.
- Once 90% dry, use a round brush that has a combination of boar and nylon bristles. (This will allow you to create volume and smoothness at the same time.)
- Finish with a dry texture hair spray.
To style a shag with curly to coily hair, Evans says to follow these steps:
- Wash your hair normally.
- For styling while the hair is still a damp, use a milk cream and a styling jelly to hold your curls and the shape. For extra moisture on low porosity or coily hair types, Devacurl Supercream is a game changer.
- Then use mini clips in the crown and front to guide your bangs the direction you want them to lay while creating a lot of volume.
- After styling, plop your hair, air dry, or diffuse for maximum volume.
To style a shag from curly to straight hair, Evans says to follow these steps:
- Prep your hair with the Mizani Silk Press Agent line.
- Use a pick attachment on your blow dryer to do a straightening blowout.
- Follow up with a flat iron. Create waves that move towards and away from your face. The iron is rounded on all edges so you won’t get a clamp mark from the flat iron.
- Finish with a light texture spray.
Turns out the key to styling your shag is the rock-and-roll lifestyle and making sure not to fight it with too many products and curling irons. Aside from the products above, feel free to just jump out of bed and embrace the well-planned messiness that comes with this iconic ’70s favorite shag.
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