Of all the dumb beauty decisions I could have made this year, trying to learn how to cut curtain bangs myself proved to be my downfall. After seeing celebrities like Ariana Grande and Jennifer Lopez rocking the cut, I had visions of myself in similar cheekbone-grazing, face-framing splendor. When done right, it provides the coolest enhancing touch to any style, from curly shags to high ponytails.
"Curtain bangs are the gateway to bangs, because they're super versatile," says Emily Heser, stylist at Cutler Salon in New York City. “They're long enough to grow out or pin back if you want, but they can also be cut into a shorter look.” This is entirely true when you work with a professional to design the exact version of curtain bangs your heart desires. It's a shakier premise when you find yourself in front of the bathroom mirror late at night, spontaneously hacking away at your hair with a pair of kitchen scissors you've just used to collect some balcony chives for your omelette dinner. Spoiler alert: I did not come out of this experience looking like JLo.
During my own journey with curtain bangs, I learned some invaluable lessons that I recommend everyone read before they embark on the same emotional rollercoaster. Below, six things you should know if you want to learn how to cut curtain bangs at home.
Start longer than you think you'll want them.
I realize this statement sounds painfully obvious, but it wasn't until the ends of my curtain bangs started smacking me in the eyeballs daily that I remembered the cardinal rule of any bangs style: Prepare to have your vision obscured at least 75% of the time. I don't know how some people seem to manage to keep their bangs sitting perfectly in their designated face-framing places at all times, but I am not one of those divinely blessed individuals.
When I first cut my curtain bangs, they happened to sit just shy of where I could securely tuck them behind my ears. If you hate this feeling as much as I do, learn from me and cut them on the longer side. You can always trim more, but you can't put hair back.
Great curtain bangs need to be blended.
I would never attempt to do a full cut and style at home, but curtain bangs seemed like a relatively low-stakes gamble at the time. As soon as that first tiny chunk of hair fell to the floor, I realized my mistake. “Curtain bangs are tricky, and making them open up to frame your face does take some skill,” says celebrity hairstylist Justine Marjan, which is why her best recommendation is to go to a pro for this. According to Marjan, common DIY mistakes include making the cut too blunt and not shaping your bangs to suit your face shape and features.
“Sometimes when cut at home, they won't blend into the rest of your hair,” she says. “A great hairstylist will be able to blend them as much as possible for an easier grow-out."
As a true overachiever, I managed to screw up on every count she listed—and more. Not only did I reach for the closest thing at hand (kitchen scissors, a BIG no), I also thought I'd casually breeze through the chop without my glasses on, which meant I couldn't really see what I was doing. My attempt at living on the edge resulted in an asymmetrical fringe that was longer on one side than the other. Since I'm based in Germany, which is currently in the middle of another lockdown, I had no choice but to attempt a fix myself.
On the second round, I wised up one level and went in with a pair of Cricket Thinning Shears, which featured specially designed blades that went a long way in helping the texture appear wispy and carefree.
Find a specific reference image to guide you.
Curtain bangs really do suit every texture, but it helps to have a pro to determine what kind of length and style best suits you. So if you're dead-set on DIY'ing curtain bangs at home, I'd recommend at least paying a stylist to walk you through it on Zoom. (Avoid FaceTime, since doing this on a bigger computer screen will help you be more precise than a tiny iPhone screen.)
As with any cut, this is easiest to do if you can identify similar styles as a starting point. Without considering how my bangs would look with my face shape, I ended up with results that felt at odds with my shaggy layered cut (the meticulous work of Francesca at Bumble and bumble Salon in New York City. My bad, Francesca).
If I ever do a chop like this again, I'll be doing way more research ahead of time, or at least scrolling through Instagram for a few references, like these.
Curtain bangs are more low-maintenance with curls and waves than they are with straight hair.
I was deeply mistaken when I fell for the chill, easy vibe that curtain bangs exude, and thought I'd never have to lift a finger to make them look good. Yes, they're more low-maintenance than blunt-cut bangs, but they still require some level of effort. “Make sure you are ready to style them," says Marjan. “Unless you have naturally very wavy hair, they will take some styling for them to look the way you want.”
My hair does air-dry with a slight natural wave, but it's the type that made my curtain bangs resemble two awkward seagull wings perched on my forehead. It was extremely not the vibe I wanted. Coupled with my laziness and reluctance to use heat tools or even a brush in the morning, this did not bode well for my time with bangs.
Curtain bangs look way better styled.
After one week pinning The Mid-Flight Seagull (my nickname for my disaster of a cut) back with bobby pins, I finally gave in and asked for Marjan's styling tutorial. In total honesty, this routine was at complete odds with my do-less 2020 mood, but it did result in an improvement on the rare days that I felt like doing it.
Going in with hot tools is nonnegotiable if your hair isn't naturally textured—Marjan recommends a blowout with the Wet Brush Custom Style Round Brush and Ghd Helios Dryer. “Apply a volumizing product like Tresemmé Tres Two Extra Hold Mousse, then brush your bangs forward and place the brush on top of your section,” she says. “Lift the hair up with the brush, rotating backwards as you dry. Release the brush back away from your face, then use your hands to shape the hair around your face.” When you're done, you should be left with the breezy, woke-up-like-this bangs of your IG dreams.
She also shared a video earlier this year on how you can use a round hot brush (like the GHD Rise) after your hair is mostly styled to fan out curtain bangs more easily.
They take awhile to grow out (especially when you mess them up).
While Marjan's tutorial did wonders in making my curtain bangs seem like less of a disaster, I truly did not have it in me to pick up a blow-dryer daily. This is when Marjan's final tip proved to be especially helpful. “If you just want to grow them out, that's when hair accessories are your best friend,” she says. “A chic headband can camouflage bangs while you wait for them to grow.”
Thanks to this saga, I'm now closing out the year with 10 more chic headbands than I owned in January. I wish I could say that I'm not mad at it, but that would be a massive lie. Still, if there's one good thing that has come out of this mess, it's that you can now learn from my mistakes. Just like Glamour beauty associate Bella Cacciatore discovered, curtain bangs can truly be a transformational cut—just make sure you think that transformation all the way through before you pick up the shears.
Sarah Y. Wu is a beauty writer in Berlin. Follow her on Instagram @say.wu.
Originally Appeared on Glamour