Where does our hair go from here? Experts on the trends to expect for summer 2021

a bit of a mystery, at-home cuts, TikTok, August, closed since November, WGSN, Steven Turpin, 2021 hair artist of the year, Stylus, @trucnguyen

While post-pandemic fashion remains a bit of a mystery for now, it seems as if change is in the air when it comes to our hair. After months of at-home cuts and other self-maintenance measures, many of us are more than ready for something fresh and different for summer — and styled by a pro as restrictions ease in most parts of the country and some hairdressers that were closed begin to reopen for business. 

But what to ask for if not a slight trim or “the usual”? According to Pinterest (and owing in no small part to TikTok), there have been definite spikes in searches for “grunge hair,” “wolf cuts,” “curtain bangs cut,” “shaggy short hair” and “mullet” on its platform. 

In search of more predictions and advice for those of us considering drastic new 'dos, we reached out to Canadian hairstylists and global beauty forecasters, for their breakdown of the hair trends to know for summer '21 and what to keep in mind if you're considering them. 

Ready for that change

The start of summer is always a popular time for hair changes, but this year it will be even more so, said Aliza Esmail, hairstylist and owner of August in Toronto. Depending on where you live in Canada, the regulations for hair salons and barbershops have been different. In Toronto, for example, they've been closed since November as part of Ontario's COVID-19 lockdown measures and are only expected to reopen this summer. “People are really itching to do a change,” said Esmail. “I think women are going to want to cut their hair short. I think that they are going to want to do something drastic. I don't think they're going to come in just for a trim.”

Before you commit to a completely new hairstyle, Esmail recommends talking to your stylist in advance about fit and upkeep. “I think because Instagram and TikTok, and all those things are such a massive influence … it's like you look at a picture and [think], 'I really want that,'” said Esmail, adding that often those looks aren't really achievable for many clients. “So I think that a big part of it is also talking [about] what's possible, how achievable it is … and also the maintenance of it.”

Shag, wolf — it's all about shape, natural texture, and ease 

Across the board, it seems clear that shaggy cuts and looks that require minimal maintenance will reign this summer. 

“I think people are starting to embrace more of their natural textures and they want more low-maintenance hair in terms of styling,” Esmail said. She believes curtain fringes — “longer, softer, face-framing shapes” — and '70s-inspired shag styles with tousled locks will be the two biggest cuts for women this summer. 

Along the same lines, Clare Varga, head of beauty at trend forecaster WGSN, suggested the wolf cut may just be the summer's “It Cut.” “This gender-defying, subversive-yet-glam cut is the love child of the edgy mullet and nostalgic 1970s shag,” she wrote in an email. “It originated in Korea and Japan and is now gaining popularity globally.”

Steven Turpin, a hair and makeup artist and the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards 2021 hair artist of the year, thinks we will see more short styles such as chin-length bobs and pixie cuts to start, as people want to mix things up — and as stylists revamp home haircuts. At the same time, Turpin expects longer bangs, mullets and the “modern shag” will continue to be popular this summer. These are easy-to-style cuts that can be air-dried, don't need a curling iron “to have it look cool,” and will look good even when a little grown out, he said. 

New colours and tones are on the table

Turpin sees a few different colour trends this summer: '90s-inspired “chunky” highlights and warm brown tones like toffee and cinnamon; shadowing and highlights to frame and contour the face; and softer, more pastel or silvery versions of the bright, colourful hair some people were DIYing at home.   

Balayage and “hair painting” are still popular, noted Esmail. But like Turpin, she also predicts a shift from ashy, cool tones to brighter, warmer and softer caramel tones. “It's a little bit more of a natural, sun-kissed kind of look, rather than that really cool … sandy blond or ash [blond] that we were seeing,” she said.

Some may also want to embrace bold colours this summer. “With colour, self-expression, creativity and experimentation have emerged,” said London-based Saisangeeth Daswani, head of advisory for fashion, beauty and the Asia-Pacific region at trend forecaster Stylus, via email. “Pink in particular is a key colour, giving a nod to the joy and optimism seen on the runway. It's a daring hair colour and a significant contrast from traditional hair-dye colours. It also has multi-generational and multi-race appeal.” 

It's the same story for men

“There's a lot more gender-neutral and gender fluidity happening within cut, colour and style,” Turpin said. He's noticed, during the pandemic, more men bleaching their hair and “playing with colour,” possibly out of boredom or a desire to try something different. 

A few of the experts believe men will continue with the low-maintenance hairstyles they've adopted over the past year. “Salon closures throughout lockdown saw men struggle with hair maintenance,” Daswani said. “Many let their hair grow out, sporting longer than usual hairstyles. As they return to normalcy, crew- and buzz-[cut] variations offer clean styles [that are still] low-maintenance.” However, notably, according to Daswani, some young men are also getting creative with their buzz cuts, creating floral, leopard print and even tie-dye patterns.  

Esmail predicts some men will stick with their longer hairstyles, which require even less frequent maintenance. 

The end of the waxing appointment?

Understandably, many beauty routines have been disrupted or abandoned altogether over the past year. “As with many treatments that require regular upkeep and maintenance, many people used this period to break the cycle, growing in body hair and opting out of [society]-driven removal,” Varga said. “For many, it's been liberating, and we will see more diverse and inclusive views of body hair.”

Even among those who have been waxing, shaving and tweezing regularly, some will prefer to continue this upkeep at home to minimize the expense and exposure to the virus. “Fears around hygiene and intimate physical contact with beauty professionals is driving interest in at-home tools,” Varga said. “Brands are adapting by creating seamless and easy-to-use at-home products that deliver salon-grade results, and newly confident consumers are enjoying the convenience and reduced cost.”

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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