I Told My Hairstylist to "Surprise Me"—Here's What Happened

Updated 06/12/19

In 2015, I apparently had a bit of a hair-related existential crisis. I say "apparently," because I didn't even realize how short my attention span was until reflecting back now: I kicked January off with long, chestnut-brown waves, before opting for glistening babylights in February. In March, I got Jane Birkin bangs, before deciding to grow them out three weeks later. May: a grown-in, dirty blonde. June: a few notches lighter. August: some choppy layers to help alleviate the grown-out bang situation.

September: blue. October: dark brown again, to cover up the residual blue. 

I decided at this point that I really didn't need to spend one more second of time at the salon that year, but my hair didn't get the memo that transformation time was over. My chronic indecisiveness had led to straw-like texture and a huge breakage problem, and suddenly my waist-length mane began shortening itself, finally settling a couple of inches below my shoulders at the beginning of this year. Tired of seeing tired-looking hair in the mirror, I began to get the itch for change again—this time, to chop it all off.

Jenna Peffley

Before

It was perfect timing, really. I knew that the only way to restore full health to my hair was to get rid of the old and start completely fresh—which coincidentally, echoed my mind-set after a moving my life across the country. And I had spent months eyeing the short, punk-y cuts of fashion's It models, wishing I had the balls to do something similar. I spoke with hairstylist Harry Josh in January, and he had the same sentiment: Beyond a select crew of ultra-cool girls, what had ever happened to the statement haircut?

I didn't know exactly what kind of chop I wanted, but maybe that was an advantage: If I wasn't brave enough to make a decision for myself, maybe I just needed someone to make it for me.

But I wasn't going to rely on just anyone for such a potential transformation. I knew I needed a stylist who never gets it wrong but also isn't afraid to push the envelope, so I called on Mark Townsend, the man behind some of the industry's most covetable hair: that of Dakota Johnson, Bella Hadid, and Rachel McAdams, to name a select few. Perhaps the pressing need to cut my hair helped, but I barely felt nervous knowing that I was in his hands.

I assumed that for any hair pro, getting free rein was the ultimate dream, and was surprised when he actually informed me otherwise. "That's actually kind of nerve-wracking," he told me over the phone a few days before our appointment. "A lot of clients think that they'll be okay with anything, and then they end up being disappointed." All too familiar with the keep it together frozen smile I've sported after a bad hair appointment, I agreed to send along an array of inspiration photos to help him narrow down his options.

 

I realized partway through this exercise that most of the images populating my email to Mark featured short, curly shag cuts, led by an image of Mica Arganaraz, whose cut I have not-so-secretly been lusting after for oh, a year. But knowing that it was a very real possibility that my own hair texture wasn't compatible—and/or that this kind of edgy cut looks best on six-foot-tall models—I threw in a variety of other options I liked for good measure. "I'm down for really anything," I wrote. "My only preferences are that it's pretty low-maintenance and longer than a pixie."

Clockwise, from top left: Audrey Tautou by Max Cardelli; Kiki Willems and Imaan Hammam by Shawn Brackbill; Georgia Graham by Work Agency; Mica Alganaraz via Instagram; Jeanne Damas via Instagram

Inspiration

Fast-forward to three days later, and I was settling into the mirror-less hot seat, Mark sizing up my mane to see what he had to work with. "This is perfect—we should just go for it," he said mysteriously. Then I heard him murmur "definitely the Mica" to his assistant. My heart soared and my stomach plummeted. Was this really happening?

Jenna Peffley

Oh, it was. The next thing I knew, someone was pressing about five inches of my own hair into my hands like a trophy. Maybe this was my cue to freak out, but I actually felt relieved: Holding that dry, scraggly ponytail put it all in vivid perspective. This needed to be done.

Mark moved quickly. With every gleeful squeal from the small crowd observing, I felt a tinge of FOMO. On the other hand, it was kind of empowering not to watch this entire thing go down in the mirror—I wasn't overanalyzing every snip, and with no choice but to trust, I actually felt relaxed. 

Jenna Peffley

…even when he cut my bangs, which felt like more of a point of no return than that initial big snip did.

Jenna Peffley

"We haven't had a real haircut moment in the industry in too long," said Mark, echoing what Harry Josh had told me a month earlier. Did this make me part of a revolution?

After blow-drying and curling my hair, Mark changed his mind and doused my strands with a spray bottle to coax out my natural curls… much to my relief. I'll never say no to the occasional blowout, but my home hair routine typically entails scrunching a leave-in balm into my damp hair and walking out the door. (I don't own a blow-dryer.) Apart from trading that balm for Dove's Whipped Cream Mousse, this is basically how Mark styled my hair. And the fact that this was the better option than blow-drying was amazing.

Jenna Peffley

The Big Reveal

I'm pretty sure I needed help picking my jaw off the floor when I was finally allowed to look in a mirror. Even though by the end, I knew exactly what kind of haircut I was getting, it was still shocking to see it in person—on me. Especially because my hair has not been remotely this short since I was entering the fourth grade. 

Jenna Peffley

After any kind of hair change, it usually takes me a few days (weeks?) to decide how much I like it. This time around, it was love at first sight. It's everything I hoped it would be: fresh, different, healthy. Edgy but versatile. And so much more low-maintenance than my long, damaged mane.

But how would I fare at home, without one of the best stylists in the biz at my beck and call? After clocking in my first five-minute shower in years, it occurred to me that this haircut might be my finest contribution to California's drought crisis. ("Sweet relief!" cried my drain, which is usually clogged with hair in minutes.) I use my usual cleansing cream of choice—Christophe Robin's Crème Lavante ($49)—and after using a microfiber towel to dry, I scrunch in some of Hairstory's Hair Balm ($36) to help moisturize and sculpt my waves.

Success! With this routine, it looks about as good as it could without professional interference. And another thing: This is the first time I've ever been able to let my bangs just do their thing, no heat-styling required.

I always assumed that long hair was far more versatile than a short crop, but now I understand that the opposite is true. On most days, my long strands were such a hindrance that I tossed it up into a topknot just so I didn't have to deal. Now that it's a manageable length (and healthy!), I feel much more comfortable styling it in different ways. And on those IDGAF days? I just leave it down, as is—that's the beauty of a wash-and-go cut.

So as I say goodbye to my long-haired years, I think I'm saying goodbye to my days of being infuriatingly indecisive as well. I've made up my mind: If 2015 was the year that I was perpetually bored, than 2016 is the year of a single haircut that's anything but boring.

What do you think of the transformation? Would you ever ask your stylist to make a decision for you? Sound off in the comments below!

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