The Salon Solved It – breaking the ponytail habit

Layered Online’s Alison Rowley was suffering from a serious case of ‘meh’ hair. Style-less, lifeless and thoroughly frustrating, she had resorted to scraping her long lengths back in a plain ponytail each day to avoid dealing with it. She visited the king of cuts, Michael Van Clarke, at his 2019 Most Wanted ‘Best Salon Experience’ award-winning salon to see if he could turn things around…

For most of 2017, I was at war with my hair. I didn’t hate the colour, it wasn’t in bad condition, but I was tired of fighting a losing battle when it came to styling. Thanks to its virgin state (I was the only member of the Layered team who had never bleached, tinted or anything-ed their hair) and distinct lack of texture, it took close to an hour of hard labour – layering products, heat styling and back-combing – each day to make it resemble anything other than a sad curtain of shame. Time, surprisingly, that I didn’t have, and so I dutifully blasted it dry, tied it up and pinned it away.

For someone whose job is writing about hair 24/7, this solution meant my limp locks were out of sight, but they certainly weren’t out of mind. I was fed up with being the person at press events whose “look” screamed “look away!”, the girl who turned down trying out fancy new tongs because she knew the kinks and curls would drop and droop within minutes. So I turned to Michael Van Clarke, owner of an eponymous Mayfair salon and cutting expert, in an effort to break the unflattering ponytail cycle.

Within seconds of me taking a seat and untying and excusing my ‘stupid, useless’ hair, Michael diagnosed my existing cut as a major cause of my frustration. It turns out that despite having grown out an inverted lob – and having had trims during the months in between – my hair had been cut in an A-line shape, with the longest sections of hair at the front and the shortest at the back. This encouraged it to fall flat, and in the dreaded bottom-heavy triangle shape across my shoulders. Designed to flatter bob styles, the use of this cutting technique also meant my hair looked much more frazzled with just a few strands overlapping or out of place, as the draped line at the ends of my hair was so easily broken.

Michael’s solution was to completely reshape my cut, levelling the ends and adding some gentle face-framing feathered sections at the jawline. After close to an hour of correction work, he also recommended adding some babylights to mimic my hair’s natural summer sun-bleached look, which would not only add some depth to my colour, but also a touch of grip to my soft (nice, but slippery AF) hair.

It sounds super-dramatic, but as soon as Michael put down his scissors and ruffled the lengths, my hair was transformed. It instantly looked thicker and it readily fell into a recognisable shape. Even my parting behaved better with the new, more balanced distribution of weight. I was then whisked away for a short stint with salon colourist Jodie, who gave me a set of really subtle ‘two weeks in St Barts’ (I wish!) highlights, before returning to Michael for styling.

Astonishingly, Michael ‘Hair Whisperer’ Van Clarke (as I’m now calling him) managed to dry my revamped hair just by scrunching and moving it around with his hands, minus any heat or dryer. This even encouraged some timid waves to appear on the lower third of the style, which had previously been chased away by heavy ends and my slapdash, too hot, couldn’t-care-less-as-it’s-going-in-an-elastic blow-drying habits.

Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I learned that I, owner of ‘largely straight hair with random sticking out ends’ for 30 years, actually has natural texture that just needs coaxing out. The education continued, as Michael also taught me that diffusers are not only for people born with beautiful uniform curls and gorgeous thick hair (oops…) and that my mane would benefit from more balanced and even heat direction during hot styling. He then demonstrated by wetting my hair down once more and giving me a ten-minute movement-filled blow-dry that even K-Middy would be jealous of.

I walked out of the salon, head held high, deliriously happy with the experience… but admittedly feeling a little guilty. “I’m sorry I dismissed you, hair,” I almost muttered. “You’re not so useless after all.”

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