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Beware the shag – why the popular style caused me years of hair trauma

The shag is back. The haircut, that is, not the pastime (though given the reported global “sex recession”, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, either).

Shag hair – long layers that frame the face and tumble down the neck, a thick fringe to disappear behind – has long been a subtle marker of feminine rebellion. This is not a style that needs blowdrying, spraying, moussing or straightening. It is the predecessor to the chiselled punk cuts of the late 70s, before the pomp and fluff of an 80s perm. It is windswept, danced-in, slept on. It is Rumours-era Stevie Nicks, Anita Pallenberg in the 70s, post teen-idol Marianne Faithfull finding herself on the album Broken English.

The shag’s 2019 muse is Natasha Lyonne in the Netflix drama Russian Doll, in which she plays the curt, cursing, chain-smoking computer games programmer Nadia, trapped in a time loop at her 36th birthday party. Her shag is red and wild, her personality similar. This is not a woman for whom a bob or a bun or a beehive would do.

But to anyone considering the shag, heed this cautionary tale. I had one in the mid-00s, a wild time for hair, after an unforgivable Karen O bowl cut. I lived with someone who washed her asymmetrical bob with biological washing powder so she could switch from Lolita blond to emo black each week. Electro-indie had a lot to answer for.

I spent three happy years with my shag. In terms of maintenance, a fringe is a time commitment akin to getting a pet – but otherwise it really was wash-and-wear.

Jenny Stevens with her shag haircut

But then one day in 2007, I went to the hairdresser’s for “a trim”. My hairdresser had called in sick. Sandra will look after you, they said. Sandra had wonkily applied her lipstick, I noticed; some was smudged on her chin. Would she be this slapdash with my hair?

Yes, it turned out, she would. I’d walked in with a shag; I left with a mullet. And not a choppy Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde do. I looked like Pat Sharp. “You could just dye it pink,” shrugged my housemate, emerging from the bathroom smelling like she’d just been on a spin cycle. Regretfully, I didn’t. It took me half a decade to grow it out.

So if you are going to do a shag, make sure you have a good hairdresser. I’ve played it safe with my hair since then, but maybe it’s time to bring my old shag back. But Sandra, if you’re reading, put those scissors down.

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