an investigation

Is This Mega-Popular Instagram Haircut a Lie — or the Truth?

Photo: Getty Images

It would be so nice to have a good haircut. Like, a really good one. The kind of haircut that looks like the result of understanding what sort of haircut would look good on you. The kind of haircut that looks effortless or, if not effortless, at least the result of effort expended fruitfully. The kind of haircut that makes an acquaintance at a mutual friend’s birthday party see you and say, oh cute haircut.

There is such a haircut, allegedly. You may have already seen it in its natural habitat, your Instagram feed: soft, pretty, deliberate, retro, and flattering. It’s the haircut that says, I can go on vacation and look the way vacation feels. It’s the haircut that says, I’m into Stevie Nicks and am most likely white. It’s the haircut that says, I made a real decision here regarding my haircut and as you can see it paid off.

It’s the revitalized shag haircut.

The haircut was brought to my attention earlier this month when BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos tweeted: “Tech platforms are cracking down on anti-vaxx content, and yet I see Instagram taking NO ACTION on the hair stylist in San Francisco who only gives people shaggy bang cuts, which is extremely dangerous [to] long-haired people across the country, thinking they can pull off that look.”

The Bay Area hairstylist she’s talking about is Jayne Matthews from San Francisco’s Edo Salon and Gallery. She has over 56,000 followers on Instagram, including several of my friends (none of whom live in the Bay Area). Her Instagram is full of before-and-after shag shots of her adorable, shag-loving clientele. The hashtag #shaghaircut that often accompanies her photos (and the photos of the many other hairstylists whose Instagram fame has also grown as a result of their documentation of the #shaghaircut) has 29,310 posts. It will, very likely, make you want this haircut. I hesitate to tell you to look unless you are sure you will not be swayed from whatever your particular haircut is now, or you are ready to commit to a (maybe) lifetime of having a very deliberate and potentially very cool haircut. Please be honest with yourself before clicking.

My colleague, Jen Gann — a woman I thought I knew — admitted, in response to Notopoulos’s tweet, that she had already succumbed to Jayne and the haircut. “Let’s just say I agreed to try ‘something new’ and then exited Edo Salon looking nothing like Natasha Lyonne,” she said.

Jen told me she was panicked “right from the start” of the haircut process. “I could tell I’d gone too far, and that opinion was confirmed as it started to dry.” But was it truly a bad cut? Or was it perhaps just the fact that she was used to seeing herself a certain way, and had to adjust? “I think it’s the fact I’m not a young, thin 22-year-old.”

She is currently in search of a different haircut.

Still, I can’t help but want the haircut. I want its effortless charm, its face-framing deliberateness,  its vague French-ness. But could the haircut look as good on me as it seems to look on everyone on Instagram — people who have, yes, chosen to document their haircuts and probably wouldn’t have done so unless they looked great? Could it possibly keep its shape after that initial before-and-after photo? Is there any way — any way at all — that it doesn’t become a huge, stupid-looking mess immediately after your first home wash? “I want the haircut,” I said to Jen. “Do NOT get the haircut,” Jen said to me.

But I want the haircut …

“I don’t even think I was thinking about it until I found Jayne’s Instagram page,” Elizabeth Barrett, an assistant film editor in Los Angeles, told me over the phone. She is a woman in possession of the haircut. “And I don’t even remember how I found that. I think I saw someone else follow her, or someone liked one of her pictures. And I was like, ooh, wow, these are really cute haircuts, I’m really into this.

She followed the Instagram account with no real plans for a hair change, which is a red flag for those of you who are still on the fence about looking. Then she saw Jayne Matthews was going to be in her city. “She posted like, I’m gonna be in LA if anyone wants a haircutthere’s one spot if someone needs it.” And she got it.

She surrendered her hair entirely to Jayne and the result was, of course, beautiful. But did it become a huge stupid-looking mess immediately after her first home wash?

“I will say that because my hair was not trained to go straight forward with a bang, it maybe took a few weeks or so to get it to, like, fall forward correctly.” A-HA! “But it really wasn’t a struggle.” Ah. “The bang layers start really far back — they start technically at the crown of my head — and I have to brush it all forward so it doesn’t look completely wrong. But it really didn’t take long to train my hair to go that way.”

Okay, but does she have to use a lot of products? “I use salt spray, which was one of her recommendations, I’m pretty sure she uses it on everyone. Besides that, I really think any product would make it look good. It just depends on how you style it. I think it’s so easy to make this haircut work that it doesn’t really matter.”


Hallie, co-owner of New Jersey–based clothing shop Shedhead Vintage, is also in possession of the haircut. She got hers from a stylist who specializes in the shag cut at the salon she visits regularly. “I was mostly nervous about the bangs, just because it changes your whole face,” she said. Her emotional state at the end of her haircut, however, was quite different. “I was so happy! I felt like … really cool. I was really happy with myself.”

“It’s pretty easy to style because my hair is naturally curly. When I sleep on my hair it flattens a little bit, so in the morning I’ll just curl the pieces that are too straight for my liking and then I’m ready to go. “

Interesting. Okay, well how about Deanna Leone from Philadelphia? Surely a Philadelphian will be honest with me about the true pain caused by her supposedly effortlessly beautiful shag haircut that I love. “It’s basically a dry and go type of style for me,” she said. Fine.

After getting the cut she was “absolutely in love” with the style, ugh. “The shag gave me the va-va-voom I always wanted and really just framed my face in a way no other cut has.” She uses Spiritulized by R+Co, a dry shampoo mist, at her crown in the morning and “just sort of tousle[s] the rest.”

Priscilla Robinson, a student in Los Angeles, found Jayne through Portland stylist Bree Ritter’s Instagram account @goodbyehorsegirl. She wanted the haircut, but didn’t live close enough to either stylist to get it. “Basically I stalked them both waiting for an opportunity to show itself.” One day she saw on Instagram that models were needed for Jayne’s upcoming razor cut classes in Los Angeles, so she sent in some photos. “Everything aligned in my favor, I was able to finally get my shag in Santa Monica within walking distance of my place. I definitely manifested that one.”

She, too, claims to wash and go. “With a tousle and a scrunch and it looks cool.” God dammit!

I thought I should get a stylist’s point of view. Coby Alcantár opened her salon Little Axe in Brooklyn in 2013. She’s also one of the directors of the cutting curriculum at luxury hair-care brand Oribe, where, for about two years, she’s lead a class called “The Modern Shag.” She told me it was hard to sell people on the look early on — people associated it with Jane Fonda in Klute, but they also associated it with Carol Brady from The Brady Bunch. “The haircuts look pretty much identical but … one’s Jane Fonda. And it looks amazing.”

Indeed, “… one’s Jane Fonda” is my fear of the shag haircut summed up in one pause and three words.

When she developed the class they went for a less-literal interpretation — still bangs, but without as many face-framing layers — but Alcantár says social media has changed the public’s appetite. “The kind of examples they’re seeing are impressive and look good, so they’re more open to the idea of framing the face and getting more of a truer shag. Not exactly Klute intensity, but soft, pretty, open interpretations of the shape.”

You would think that it would still present at least a minor issue that we are not all Jane Fonda, but Alcantár insists that it does not. “Hairdressing is always about the technique and how you apply it to each person. I feel like everybody can have everything to a certain degree, you just have to have your version of everything.”

She did say, though, that she tries to suss out whether the version of the shag a client is seeing in their mind will match with the way their hair will look in the cut. It’s a matter of liking your hair’s natural texture, or at least being willing to style it in the way that the hair wants to go naturally, and leaving it to do that rather than attempting to force it into another shape. (“If you’re doing a longer version and you blow it out, that’s a straight-up Friends haircut.”)

Of course, we couldn’t determine the truth about the haircut without turning to Jayne Matthews herself. We talked while she was busy opening Edo’s second location in Oakland. As far as she can tell, the trend evolved from a Bardot, French-girl look that was big about seven years ago (though she notes she was doing a lot of shags during a ’70s revival period in the ’90s, too). About three or four years ago the shag-as-we-know-it started taking off, “and in the last two years it’s been like, every client.”

Desperate, I asked her if there was ever a scenario in which she would ever tell someone that maybe the shag just wasn’t for them. First, she noted that we’re all using “shag” very broadly. (“I wouldn’t have necessarily called it a shag.”) But, no. She thinks “almost anyone can wear bangs and layers in some way that’s loose and messy, as long as it’s balanced with their face shape, their hairline, and the shape of their body.”

“So as long as the stylist puts the right shag on the client for their hair type, and their face shape, and their growth pattern, I think it will grow out seamlessly.”

But how can you know your hairstylist is going to apply the right shag for your hair type, and their face shape, and their growth pattern? This is my fear. You can research stylists on Instagram and you can get recommendations from friends, but what if their perfect hairstylist is not your perfect hairstylist? Do you have to get a few bad shags before finding the one true shag-giver? What if that shag-giver is out there walking around and you never meet them? Oh my gosh, two shag ships in the night … it’s almost too sad to to consider.

And anyway, I have a cowlick right in the middle of my hairline. Surely that must be prohibitive with regard to at least the bangs part of this haircut. Not so, says Matthews. “There’s always a bang for everyone — even if there’s a huge cowlick you can do kind of cheekbone grazing bangs.” Again, stressing that the trick to the shag is finding a stylist who is going to be able to give you what is suitable for you, which, again, is a very scary concept to me no offense.

“You have to get your shag. Your shag and my shag would be two very different haircuts.”

So will I ever get my shag?

Hmm …

Ehhh …

Probably … not.

But like, look at this one:


Is This Mega-Popular Instagram Haircut a Lie?