When Michelle Obama unveiled her “49th-birthday cut” earlier this year – a thick, blunt fringe – it provoked an e-storm of reaction, not all positive: “Frankly, the fringe was a bad idea. It’s not good.” (Karl Lagerfeld) “Today starts President Obama’s next four years in the White House. Let’s hope the same isn’t true about the first lady’s new hairdo.” (Joan Rivers) “I’m sorry, Michelle Obama’s bangs, but no. I’m sorry, but no.” (Ana Marie Cox, founder of the political blog Wonkette) On the other hand, the president loved them, as did a large chunk of the Twittersphere.
However, when the 31-year-old Duchess of Cambridge unveiled her side-swept fringe a few weeks before, she was greeted by almost universal applause. Which raises the question: while bangs are definitely having a moment, is there a time in life when a woman can no longer wear them?
“Forget the rule that only younger women can wear a fringe,” says hairdresser John Vial, creative director of Fudge, who counts L’Wren Scott and Ronnie Sassoon among his clientele. “As with fashion, there is no age limit, as long as you make it work for you. What is important is how you wear it: there’s a big difference between Helen Mirren’s short, layered fringe and Chrissie Hynde’s heavy bangs. There’s a fringe out there for everyone, even women with curly hair, if they’re prepared to put the work in. But don’t get too stressed about it being a big commitment. A fringe is meant to be fun – it’s hardly a tattoo.”
Though for women such as famous fringe-wearer Anna Wintour, the fringe is a signature, the rest of us should regard it as the beauty equivalent of an accessory. At the latest Pucci show in Milan, every model was given bangs just like those favoured by Anita Pallenberg in her 1960s heyday. A fringe instantly updates your look, making it the equivalent of carrying this season’s bag. More of a commitment than, say, a new lip colour or nail polish but not as permanent as a full haircut, a fringe delivers a seductive mix of old and new. A new fringe signals to those in the know that you’re on it, in a fashion sense, and money-savvy too, in that you’ve updated your look without blowing the budget. And yet a fringe is not without its complications.
First: you need easy access to a hairdresser, preferably available at a moment’s notice, in case you have the kind of hair that does its own thing the minute humidity levels rise above zero. Second, unless blessed with naturally heavy, straight hair, you should be prepared to add 10 minutes’ styling time to your morning beauty regime, plus the cost of good hair straighteners. Despite its liberating appeal (it’s a great alternative to Botox, to hide frown lines), a fringe is hardly cut-and-run; it’s a high-maintenance accoutrement requiring products and procedures of its own. Decidedly un-eco-friendly, a properly cared-for fringe needs hairspray; regular blow-drying; a trim every couple of weeks; as well as an arid climate with central heating on full blast and a cab every time it threatens rain (damp air is like kryptonite to a fringe).
“If you have any doubt, why not get a wig-piece instead?” says hairstylist Sam McKnight, who gave model Anja Rubik her new V-shaped bangs. No stranger to the transforming haircut, he was Diana the Princess of Wales’s personal hairstylist, Kate Moss’s choice for her wedding hair, plus he does the Chanel shows, advertising campaigns for all the major fashion houses and editorials for the most influential Vogues. “We get our fringe-wigs for shows and shoots from Pak Cosmetics or American Dream [both online],” he reveals. “Buy real hair, because synthetic can look too shiny, and get your hairdresser to cut and colour – if you need it – to match. For instant transformation with no commitment, there’s nothing better.”
But what if you’ve already had the chop, and it’s not quite working out as you’d hoped? “Grow it out,” says McKnight. “A grown-out fringe is so modern, softer at the edges, less harsh. I cut Anja’s hair to look like a growing-out fringe – it’s a big trend for next season.”