Ok yes fine, I got a haircut: on ditching your signature style

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After I off-handedly changed my Gravatar over the weekend, several Offbeat Empire commenters asked if and why I cut off the pink-tips off my hair recently. As one commenter said, “HAVE YOU CUT THE PINK OFF YOUR HAIR!!!?!?!?!?!?????? What!? When!? Why!?”

These days, I mostly keep my personal life private, but heck: I guess it’s sort of a big deal to cut off the pink tips that have defined my head for the last seven years, so fine… I’ll talk about it.

I went pink in 2006, when I was working hard to establish a personal brand around being an author and media commentator. It felt important to prioritize being easily recognizable. Seven years later, my authority in my industry is well-established. The Offbeat Empire business brand is completely separate from me as a person — to the point where I’m genuinely baffled that any offbeat readers noticed. Not only is there no need for me to be any sort of recognizable personal brand, but I actually get a little uncomfortable when I get spotted out ‘n’ about. Priorities have shifted, and that’s cool.

Last year my geighbor (who works in the fashion industry) gave me a pivotal piece of advice when he told me, “With a personality as loud as yours, loud hair is redundant.” I definitely feel less urgency to prove myself in terms of how I look. I mean, personal style is still a form of expression that I really enjoy (and will likely always be a priority for me), but I’m happy to take a little break from having hair that strangers on the street want to talk to me about. I can let my loud-mouth and my career do the talking for me — the pink hair cherry on top may indeed be redundant. I cut it off in part to test if that feels true.

(Also, have you ever noticed how many wedding bloggers have pink hair? If the pink was once a personal brand differentiator, it isn’t any more.)

We ran a post a while back about the concept of age-appropriate style, and I don’t think I’d ever say that the pink hair is age inappropriate. Hells, the bright rainbow color dyes stick the best to grey hair — have you fucking seen Helen Mirren recently?! For me, getting rid of the pink is less about aging and more about my priorities shifting. For some people, age can have an impact on priorities… but I think if I were in the process of establishing a personal brand today, I would probably go for something equally as bold as the pink hair.

All that said, I did have a sad moment when my family and I crossed paths with this adorable hippie/punk couple on the sidewalk a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to be like YEAH FIST BUMP YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME, and I had this moment of stepping outside myself and thinking, “we’re just the boring brown-haired middle class white couple in our late-30s pushing a toddler in a stroller.” ACK! Easily-recognizable subcultural identifier, I miss you!

hair historyMy hair was pink-tipped for the longest it’s been anything ever — over the years it’s been short, long, brown, blond, dreaded, extension-ed, rainbow colored, red, blue, purple, etc. x 500 bajillion. When I cut off the dreads that I had from ’99 – ’01, I would go out to parties and have people not recognize me. It was half disappointing (no one saw ME, they only saw the hair!), and half exhilarating (clean slate, bitches!). As I did back in 2001, I may grow my hair right back out (and may end up with pink tips again, for all I know), but stagnation freaks me out, so it was definitely time for a shift.

Let’s hear from other Homies who’ve ditched their signature styles — did it mess with your sense of self? Did you regret it? Was it exhilarating?

Comments on Ok yes fine, I got a haircut: on ditching your signature style

  1. I hear you on missing the easily recognizable subcultural identifier front! I was the drummer in an all girl pop/punk/rock band for a good chunk of my 20’s and had lots of super fun and creative hairstyles as well as a general wardrobe to match. Now as someone who is about to become an ordained Episcopal priest I look a lot more mainstream – no more dyed hair and my wardrobe is significantly more neutral-tone subdued.

    I do like being sort of undercover about my offbeat ways, though. There’s something that feels pretty good about being “discovered” by folks when they realize that there’s way more to who I am than the average looking mother-of-two grad student churchy person.

  2. I think you nailed part of the reason many of us feel the need to alter our appearance in various ways – we want an easily recognizable subcultural identifier! Of course we enjoy the aesthetics of the look we choose, but appearances are one way of telling the world a little about yourself. If you see someone else with tattoos, unnatural hair colors, or a certain style, you’d probably assume you have something more in common. As I get older and settle into a new phase of life (new job, navigating toddlerhood with my daughter), I am finding that these assumptions are often misleading. The other girl with the tattoos and nose ring might suck as a friend. And the “boring brown-haired middle class white couple” might be frickin’ awesome!

  3. For most of my life, I was wary of people who create personas through their style. It wasn’t about judgement (“punk/goth/whatever is dumb”) but my belief that too much exterior “stuff” (whatever it may be) meant a certain inauthenticity. Including highly stylized mainstream looks. So of course, that left me with not too much style and some messy floppy long brown hair. haha I have lightened up over the years and really love to see people putting on their “looks.” It’s decoration and an attempt to put out whatever you find beauty and/or meaning in. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s people, it’s life, who cares! Just do what you want! I have been conscious of creating more of an intentional style for myself, one that represents my aesthetic and values. Because honestly, trying to abstain from all style usually just makes you come off as a slob. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Ariel I totally feel you. I had crazy crazy hair for years…. pink, purple, mohawked, spiked, green, blue, shaved, you name it. Two years ago I shaved it all off, damn near, and have been letting it grow ever since. I’ve been using the no-poo method ever since then and I haven’t dyed it. I hadn’t seen my natural brown in YEARS! So now my hair is very generic… long, straight, and brown (but very healthy!), so I basically look like every other brown-eyed brunette white girl in jeans and a T-shirt.

    My coworkers saw pics of my old hair and were begging me to bring it back and they told me I look boring and plain now (not: not in a mean way, a joking way)… I just told them I consider it being “undercover” ๐Ÿ˜›

    • I just told them I consider it being “undercover”

      TOTALLY THIS. As much as I miss the subcultural identifiers, there’s a huge value in being able to slide between worlds without stomping around and making a big splash. I can sneak under people’s freak radars now… and that’s fun.

      Also, it’s odd to me that now when I’m self employed and could look as weird as I want, I feel like I have waaaay less to prove than when I worked my corporate jobs. I looked way weirder back in my office job days, in part because I think I was pushing against the pressure to be “boring.” Now that I can be as freaky as I want, I’m like meh, nothing to push against — might as well stop trying.

  5. I am contemplating cutting my hair (which has always been long) before I have a baby this July. I am hoping I can make it look retro-30s enough to still be a style signifier for me while also being more practical to deal with while being a new mom. In some ways it might be more retro than long hair (which only looks retro when I put in the 2 hrs of time I will no longer have!) but I’m also scared that I’ll just miss my hair and hate it, and/or that everyone will just say “Oh, you got the mom haircut!”
    And maybe worst of I’ll I think my mother will like it. (She cut my hair in a pixie without telling me at about age 5, which I’ve never let her live down– that is the only time I had short hair). This just proves my pettiness, but is way less fun than when I dyed it dark purple in college, which she HATED and I’ve always been glad I did (but not so much because she hated it as because it identified me with the art kid outsiders that I identified with more than the mainstream, but otherwise I always kinda felt I wasn’t obviously weird enough for– suddenly I was assumed to be one of them).
    Anyway, its good to see other sharing their changes, we’ll see if I am brave enough to pull the trigger on this before my baby is born.

  6. I wore my hair at varying lengths between chin-length bob and mid-back for … oh gosh, nearly 20 years, with the drastic addition of layering in 11th grade, and tended to let it grow then get it cut shortish when it got long enough to be annoying. But a month after getting married, three months into graduate school, I decided it was time to invest a little bit more in my appearance. For the first time ever, I’ve got a hairstylist who is *mine* and I make appointments ahead of time, and my hair is AMAZING. It is just barely long enough to tuck behind my ears in the front, and short in the back, and totally low-daily-maintenance.

    I still haven’t gotten over people asking me almost weekly “did you get your hair cut?” because it evidently looks different enough week-to-week to elicit comments. And the monthly trim and bi-monthly cut means that I actually have to take time to pamper myself, which is good self-care!

  7. My hair is constantly changing colour so it is not a big deal for me but when my other half hacked off his long dark curls for a short summer do. Oh wow! The outcry! We actually posted photos of the haircut on facebook, the saga went on for weeks, now nobody thinks anything of it.

  8. I never really thought I had a style, beyond being “the girl in skirts” for the last decade, until a friend I hadn’t seen for ages saw me and said I looked like me again – despite cutting all my hair off and wearing the kind of clothes I have never really worn.
    I guess it’s a confidence thing?

  9. I have only once in my life dyed my hair, and I choose a “natural” red color. My plan…I am saving up all of the funky hair color points to start using when I turn 60. I will then dye my hair pink, and no one will tell a 60 year old woman she cannot have pink hair! NO ONE!

    You are not your hair. You are you. Keep rocking you!

  10. It’s so interesting to me how much changing one’s hair can signify. I mean, think of the old tradition of shaving one’s head when in mourning. Hair is one of the few ways that we can express changes that we’re feeling on the inside on the outside, even though it’s an imperfect medium.

    I remember, years ago now, I went through a pretty big deal break-up. My ex and I decided to meet each other for coffee about 3 weeks after we broke up (we hadn’t been speaking, we were seeing if we could do the “let’s be friends” thing). When he got to the coffee shop, I saw that he had shaved his head. I immediately wanted to throw up. Even though he said that it was just something that he wanted to try out for a while (but hadn’t done because I would hate it), I knew that it meant that the relationship was absolutely done. We never saw each other again.

  11. My norm was colored hair, in general, for a long time- most prominently blue. (or pink if anyone remembers my wedding featured here ๐Ÿ˜› ) I was a rapidly changing rainbow. My hair changed so frequently I resembled a strobe light, but that changed within the last year or so. Back in august I shaved my head to support my mother who has breast cancer- I’ve been virgin haired ever since. (except for a very small 1″ patch of faded green/blue on my right temple lol it escaped the slaughter and lives to tell all the strange young hairs what life used to be like “back in it’s day” )

    I haven’t had virgin unchanging hair sinceโ€ฆ. I think I was ten, so fourteen-ish years. So it’s been nearly eight months now of virgin hairโ€ฆ.. I miss it. I made myself promise though that I was also going to get rid of another “style” that I’ve had since I was very young; I’m getting rid of my short hair. I refuse to dye or majorly cut my hair until it is at least 2″ past my shoulders. Even then, I generally wont majorly cut my hair.

    Part of me is relieved that I don’t stand out the way I used to. But I don’t feel like I’m ME without blue in my hair. Needless to say, I’ve gotten some pretty rough comments from my colored hair- I once had a little girl cheer over my hair, but her mother turned and told her, very loudly, that I must do drugs and sell myself for money. (youknowโ€ฆ. because the color of my hair or skin obviously determines that.) Comments like that crushed me, and I am saddened that they really do affect me enough that I almost enjoy being “normal” again. (If one is ever REALLY normal.)

    However, eventually I will return to my blue/colored/rainbow hair. I will continue to do pole fitness and freerunning even if people judge or frown. I will continue to teach nutrition and learn silks, lyra, and any other cool thing I come across- I will continue to be me; even if my hair color has gone on a vacation for the time being.

    It’s odd being “normal”, but in the end I know and love who I am; now how many “normal” people can say that? ๐Ÿ˜›

  12. I’m at the tail end of a generation for whom bullying was largely ignored, or looked upon by authority figures who could protect children as a character building experience. Worse yet, if an adolescent was artistic or weird and bullied, the attitude was the adolescent was seeking out attention with odd hair color/clothing/etc. and any bullying was her or his own fault.
    Despite this, all through that ugly, lonely time in my life I tried to be true to myself in all things, even my appearance. Most likely because of this experience it took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin, to not see only flaws in the mirror.
    As a part of that journey I colored my hair. I colored it an awful lot. From about fourteen on. It’s usually been a shade of red, from the crayon variety to a brilliant burgundy but it has also been blonde, purple, and blue.
    As I’ve aged and shifted my profession to a field where most people look very conservative, I’ve felt a great deal of pressure to leave the wild hair colors behind me “in the days of my bygone youth”. So I gave in. I buckled. I surrendered in a way my younger self never would have. I colored my hair brown. Not milk chocolate or luscious dark chocolate or even a rich coffee. Just brown. A shade that was a hybrid of dirty dish water and mouse poops in my opinion, but very age and work appropriate. In no time flat all my little sparklers of silver shed their muddy brown dye and made my new hairdo look as old and tired as it was boring.
    With hair as bland as a night of watching paint dry I stopped wearing my cocktail hats and rhinestone clips. I didn’t play around and create fun new updos on the fly before work. I didn’t try to polish the professional adult image I thought I’d achieve with the change and I didn’t care. It sounds silly but I stopped putting my usual effort in my appearance. I felt no matter what I did, I still wouldn’t sparkle or shine and I certainly wouldn’t look like me.
    Last week I came to my senses. I decided I no longer cared if some of my family members, colleagues, or even random strangers thought I’m too old or unprofessional looking and colored my hair black and purple. My family loved it. My boss complemented it. Best of all, I see me in the mirror again.
    While my new look is different from my years of signature red, it’s still me. Sometimes, a flamboyant hair color is a minuscule part of our overall style that is easily changed or discarded. Sometimes a flamboyant hair color is badge of courage worn by a weird, artsy kid. Sometimes a flamboyant hair color is a reminder for the grown up version of that same weird & artsy kid to still have the courage to be as colorful and fearless on the outside as she is on the inside.

  13. Ariel, I think the short do looks fabulous! Change can be cathartic.

    I’ve always wanted to dye my hair a “crazy” color, but am applying for full time jobs at the moment. Do brightly colored tips deter hiring managers? They are art jobs (and mainly art companies) so I thought maybe it wouldn’t, but I wasn’t sure. Anyone have any experience with that?

    • When I was applying for jobs, I would just wear a wig.

      It feels all sneaky, having normal-looking hair with your colorful awesome hair hidnig just underneath! Like a special little secret. Then, if you find out they are accepting of colorful hair, just whip off the wig and be like, “SURPRISE MOTHERFUCKER!”

      • YES! I actually had to switch to wearing a wig at work to qualify for a promotion. So I wear a blonde bob at work, and then when I get home I’m back to a cobalt blue pixie cut. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s actually awesome to be able to switch between the paradigms at will.

        • oooh a wig is a good idea, but don’t they get itchy? I’ve only worn one for halloween and maybe it was a bad quality wig, but I was dying to get it off by the end of the night.

          • I buy from wigs.com, and have never had an itchy wig even on a $20 “costume wig” in purple and black. You can use a wig cap to help contain your hair and cut down on any little flyaway bits that might cause itching, although I just use a gel band to keep the pressure evenly distributed and call it good!

  14. I am known for my incredibly thick and naturally curly hair. Even when I dye it or cut it, people mainly focus on the fact that it’s curly. A few of my friends also have this weird desire to see it straight…and I’ve had it straightened before…and I HATED it (I have never felt that I looked so boring in my life).

    The only part I hate about having my hair is that people think they have unspoken permission to touch it because “OMG! Curly hair! Let’s pull it and say BOING!” >:( I just want to yank their hair back so hard…! Or give them a noogie to make their hair super-frizzy because that’s what happens to mine when it gets touched all day. It doesn’t happen so much now that I’m older, but when I was in high school, I thought I’d murder someone. Ugh.

    And for some reason people always think I’m much younger than I really am…partially because my face looks young (and I still break out) and because I just happen to have curly hair (is that youthful looking??).

  15. Your haircut is AWESOME!

    I’ve had pink hair for six years, and I currently don’t have any plans to change it.
    I kinda want to be the grandmother with pink and grey hair, you know?

    I totally understand wanting to be seen for yourself and not for your hair (clothes, general style, piercings, tattoos, etc)–my pink hair has made me more myself than 25 years of brown ever did. I love that people notice and compliment my hair; I consider myself an ambassador of punk color, since I make a point of taking very, very good care of it–I don’t let my dye fade, and I keep my hair healthy. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m glad you were able to cut your hair and stay true to being YOU. My close friend just cut off her dreads for the same reasons you expressed, and it is awesome to see her settle into herself-with-short-hair.

    It’s a good thing.

  16. In highschool I had straight, chopped hair with pink and blonde in it. I only had it for a few months but that became a part of who I was. Next came my hippy phase complete with long curly brown hair.

    Now my hair is about chin length and sort of wavy.

    I think I’ve always asociated who I am with how my hair is. Now that I’ve done all that I’ve wanted to with my hair I realized that hair isn’t really that important.

  17. I know I am a little behind the ball, but I keep rereading this post and the comments and letting it all tumble over in my mind. Right now I am in the process of launching a food business – which is a tough market – and developing a brand identity for the business. Since I (along with my husband) will be the only servers for a while, and we are going with a sort of offbeat venue (a food trike that we can pedal around town) I am working on ad hoc uniforms that will help complete our look and give us the advantage of being easily identified when we’re not right with our product, “Look, it’s the pin up ice cream lady!” While it’s a very natural thing for me; my day to day style has a rockabilly minimalism to it even when I try to dress modern (lots of polka dots, some plaids, circle skirts, cardigans and suicide curls) my husband has always had a much more mainstream/regular dude wardrobe, jeans and polo shirts. Lately he has been getting a little more into fashion and has developed an affinity for cuffed oxfords and vests that I am loving! and totally using as the springboard for his more vintage looking business wear, but unless we are going to a meeting, catering or hosting an event related to the business his go to move is to that stack of striped polos.

    I am just wondering, as someone who is just now getting out of his one style and exploring new options if having a brand identity grow at the same time is going to corrupt the process for him, and if it’s something he might grow to resent 10 years down the road, like it will somehow be a costume he’s worn and not clothing he likes. Or it could just be like anyone else who wears suits to work and tye dye on the weekends.

  18. So, it’s been a while since you wrote this post. How do you feel? Was your friend right?

    I often have moments of pride and sadness when I see punks with their amazing colored hair, but what I think is, “I can’t wait till I can do that again,” instead of, “I’m sad that part of my life is over.” I love my brown hair, but I can’t wait until I’ve proven myself enough the academic community to sprinkle it with blue and still have my opinions be valued. In academia, it’s “Prove yourself. Then go wild.”

  19. I too have had quite the roller coaster with my hair. It used to be almost waist length and dark, dark brown in high school. Then I gradually chopped it off to a pixie cut (that did not look good, bangs were too blunt to look right). After that, I grew it out into various stages of bobs, but it never got longer than my collarbone. Now, I have been dying it bright red and I am preparing for another big chop to another pixie, but one that looks a hell of a lot better this time.

    I had a lot of good complements on both the pixie and my red hair, but this will be the first time in over four years I will have it super short. I get bored with my hair and I hate stagnation, so I totally agree and sympathize with you on your need to change it up and start fresh.

  20. My long(ish) hair was what defined me… I loved it more than anything and it was what made me feel “beautiful”… It was my security blanket, and I hid behind it… I chopped off 12 inches of my hair (the shortest it has been since I was in 6th grade — back in 1998)… I donated my hair (colored, but no bleach) to Locks of Love… I’m so fortunate that my hair will grow back, some children don’t have that luxury… It is still strange to look in the mirror each morning… I barely recognize the reflection looking back at me… But I love to think it’s helped me to show my sparkle that’s on the inside ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. After a break up when I was 20 I finally had the guts to do a stacked bob I oggled for ages . My favorite hair dresser who is very off beat was thrilled ! 12 inches gone later in the middle of February I cut my hair that was halfway down my back off- I never had felt so free and myself ! But people I’d known for years – my church community were shocked and didn’t recognize me. My one friend though affectionately tousled my hair and made me very happy she was the only one who supported me with short hair . I am growing it out again from a series of chops and grow outs to do viking style braids . I tried a nape shave this summer and loved it . I now need it trimmed cause its at an awkward length. To bad barbers don’t so women’s hair cuts I love my barber who does my nape . Maybe this summer I’ll just crop it again …

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