Ask any expert for the key to achieving a successful style and he or she will likely tell you it comes down to one essential ingredient: harmony.
But don't mistake that for uniformity, which can make you look bland and a bit blah. If you're copying looks straight from the pages of a magazine, without allowing at least a few deviations to express your own sense of self, chances are you're straying into the (yawn) boring zone.
Antonio Gonzalez of Manhattan's Eva Scrivo Salon says you should define the look you're going for and then find out what elements within that style work best for you. The crucial ingredient? Great hair that works with, not against, your goal.
"You'd be surprised how many women come in wearing some fantastic suit or outfit, and the hair is about four styles behind!" says Gonzalez, who's been helping women match their tresses to their 'tude for decades.
"If you're wearing your most expensive designer suit and yet still have bleached-blonde split ends with dark roots and big bangs, you are just not going to come across as professional '- or even stylish," he adds.
To match your hair to your look du jour, Gonzalez tells clients to remember these basic rules:
For a professional look, think sleek.
"Most businesswomen go for something short like a bob or a chin-length pageboy," he says. "Severe looks are naturally authoritative, and the clean edges translate well in the business world." Anna Wintour's classic bob is the perfect example of a chic business look.
Unless you're in a very creative field, and under age 35, wild and curly hair isn't going to do you any favors in a professional setting. If you love long locks, try to stay at shoulder length or slightly below '- anything that grazes your shoulder blades probably needs a trim.
Gonzalez says a good cut that keeps hair back and off the face is vital, and good grooming is essential. "No split ends! Nothing kills a long-haired look faster than dry, damaged and frizzy ends," he says. Charlotte York on Sex and the City, played by Kristin Davis, pulled off a great professional look with long hair, because it was healthy and shiny.
A hidden benefit to long hair, according to Gonzalez, is that on bad hair days you can pull off a single ponytail or a very smooth upswept bun. But no romantic tendrils! Keep those stray hairs from falling loose with hairspray and gel '- sleek and controlled are your watchwords.
Don't overset or curl the hair.
If you're looking for something more modern, like bohemian chic, Gonzalez suggests following the template laid out by Sienna Miller or Mary-Kate and Ashley, the Olsen twins.
"Loose, long locks and barely-there curls are the best ways to get that tousled, unstructured look," he says. "Don't overset or overcurl the hair '- flow is the key." Medium-length and slightly longer styles work well for bohemian chic, but don't go too long, or you'll risk looking unkempt.
Although shorter styles don't lend themselves naturally to bohemian chic, Gonzalez says the essence of the look can be achieved by keeping a little length around the top and on the edges.
"Avoid the spiky pieces that were all the rage last year '- this is about softness and almost curl, but not quite curl. You shouldn't need a lot of hairspray on this style," he advises.
For a trendier look, use contrasting color.
To get an edgy style with a touch of hipness, go for contrasting color. A dark red tone with gentle streaks of blonde, for example, can make any cut look a little daring and different, which is just what an edgy girl wants. Ironically, longer-haired women can sometimes wear this style better than short-haired ones. Contrasting color on a short cut can evoke memories of the punk era, while on medium to long locks it comes off as interesting and different, but not quite radical.
Don't cut hair too short.
The same thing holds true for the always popular low-maintenance look. Although it can be achieved with any cut, Gonzalez cautions against going too short.
"Most people assume short haircuts are always low maintenance, but if you think about it, unless you've got very short hair, you probably will need to wash it a lot because you can't throw it up in a bun or a ponytail on days when it's not working," he says.
For a great "undone" look, Gonzalez tells clients to wash the hair, either air-dry or partially blow-dry it and then finger-comb it. Or, you can pull everything back with a headband or a barrette and have a hassle-free hair day. Just make sure to get a cut with layers that angle from the face to add a little body and movement.
Find your face shape.
If you want the perfect hair for your fashion look, you have to pick a face. What's your shape?
"The point of having a look is to then look your best, but while it's important to have a hairstyle that's in harmony with your wardrobe, it first has to fit your face, and that depends on what shape you have," explains Gonzalez.
Hairstylists divide us civilians up (usually) into seven basic categories.
- Round: Your face is as wide as it is long, more or less. The measurements don't have to be scientifically exact. (Drew Barrymore fits the bill.)
- Oval: Your face length is equal to one and a half times its width (take a look at Sharon Stone).
- Oblong or rectangular: Your face is wider than it is long (Kirstie Alley springs to mind).
- Heart: Wide cheekbones and/or forehead, and a narrower jaw line (Naomi Campbell is the perfect example).
- Triangular: Reversed heart shape '- i.e., a heavier jaw line and narrow cheekbones and forehead (remember Kathy Ireland?).
- Square: Your face is about as wide as it is long, and your jaw line is square shaped (think Demi Moore).
- Diamond: Your jaw and forehead are more or less the same width, but the widest part of your face is across the cheekbones (picture the classic beauty of Sophia Loren).
If you have difficulty figuring out your shape, experts suggest trying one of two solutions: Measure (yes, literally measure) your forehead, cheekbones and jaw line. You'll quickly see what's wider than what. Or, pull all your hair back with a headband and then take a lipstick and trace (yes, trace) the shape of your face in the bathroom mirror. Step back and assess the shape of the outline left behind.
Once you've figured that out, it's time to consider what look you want. It's important, says Gonzalez, to communicate to your hairdresser what you're hoping to achieve.
"Some face shapes, body types or hair types lend themselves to certain cuts or styles," he explains. If you've got thin, fine hair and want a professional, groomed look, your hairdresser is likely to go short. If that's not what you want, you should make it clear."
Work out the cut that best suits your lifestyle and face shape with your stylist in a pre-cut consultation if you have to, but don't ever let a pair of scissors near your head without feeling confident that you've explained your goals, Gonzalez advises.
Keep it shiny and bouncy.Above all, no matter what your length or style, when it comes to great-looking hair it's all about shine and bounce. If you're fastening your hair into a chignon or a twist, then make sure to put on some shine-enhancing mousse. If it's a short, boyish haircut that you want to make more feminine, an extra round of highlights will do the trick. For medium-length cuts, try a few rollers to add lift, body and some mild curl. Ava Gardner had the quintessential glamour-girl look with mid-length hair.
Long hair, says Gonzalez, is perfect for achieving shine and bounce, and all it requires is a good cut that removes all the dead ends.
"It's naturally glamorous if it's in good condition," he says. "You want something that looks healthy and strong, like Gwyneth Paltrow's hair." To keep your long tresses in the best shape, go in for regular trims and indulge in hot-oil treatments at least once a month. If you need to supplement fine locks, invest in the highest-quality hair extensions or fusions you can find.