It's Time to Rethink the Bowl Cut
This isn't the hairstyle you cringed at in middle school anymore.
The bowl cut is divisive. The blunt, cropped cut can be unforgiving and unambiguous—when you get a bowl cut, you aren’t making the choice with versatility in mind. This is not a shapeshifting style that you can zhuzh to suit your taste. It’s not a haircut for the faint of heart. However, with the upgrade the style is getting these days, it should definitely be on your radar.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not someone who watched Stranger Things with disdain for Will Byers’s hair. From the moment the show premiered, a myriad of tweets and memes were aimed at the central character’s cut, which morphed from a pageboy look to a bowl cut over the course of the show’s four seasons. But a few episodes into the latest season, I was distracted by how chic I found Will’s cut to be. I would totally get that, I thought to myself. Immediately, I had to self-assess. Do I need to call my therapist? Should I start limiting my screen time? Do I need to take a nap? At any given time, the answer to each of these questions is yes, but that’s not mutually exclusive to the fact that the bowl cut is back. Off-screen, a quick scroll through your Explore Page will confirm that fact. “The bowl cut is technically considered a face-framing haircut,” celebrity hairstylist Sade Williams tells Coveteur. “It’s ideal for anyone who is considering growing out their hair. It also can add volume to the hair depending [on] how it’s styled.”
I’ve been grappling with my stance on the bowl cut for years. In grade school, my best friend had a bowl cut and would describe how his mom would plop an empty soup bowl on his head to trim his ends with extra precision. I found it absolutely fascinating. Who doesn’t love a prop? I grew up amid the early aughts hysteria of Halle Berry’s Die Another Day pixie and Rihanna’s edgy Good Girl Gone Bad cut. For decades, it’s gone in and out of style, with celebrities like Charlize Theron and Zendaya trying their hand at it, too. Even for hair chameleons like them, however, it’s a high-risk undertaking. If it doesn’t work, the troubleshooting options aren’t very abundant—you can either go shorter with a Mia Farrow-style micro pixie or...cut it all off. But when it works, it’s striking.
When stylist and content creator Kandace Banks decided on a bowl cut, she drew inspiration from Berry, Nia Long, and ‘90s video vixens. Though she went to a stylist for her first big chop in 2017, she’s been maintaining the cut on her own ever since. “When I was a broke intern, I couldn’t afford to go to my stylist biweekly,” she explains. “So I went to the beauty supply store, got a cheap pair of clippers, got on YouTube, watched videos of barbers cutting hair, and—through trial and error—I learned to cut my own hair.”
Part of maintaining her cut also means relaxing her hair every six weeks, which Banks also does herself. “My mom was like, ‘Do not relax your hair,' but I really have to [do that] to maintain this style and this cut,” Banks explains. “I do it with great care so it doesn’t damage my hair at all. Also, my hair is only an inch long. I don’t have split ends or anything because I cut my hair every single week—every Thursday.” Taking maintenance into her own hands makes the cut more manageable for Banks. The tweaks and trims are frequent, but she assures me that they’re simple to execute. “If it grows out a little bit, I whip my clippers out and I just trim it in the mirror,” she says.
Asiah James, Condé Nast marketing director, prefers to stick to the salon and maintains her bowl cut with biweekly visits to her stylist Amanda Saadia, where she gets her hair trimmed, texturized, and dyed—but not at every visit. “Every other month, we texturize the back and the sides, and on the off months, when I’m not getting it texturized, I’ll dye it jet black,” she tells Coveteur. “But every two weeks, [my stylist] trims it. This week, she’s probably going to have to do the texturizer because I’m going on vacation, and I need it to be okay to swim with. After that, she’ll probably do the color because the texturizer sort of strips my hair and makes it a lighter brown. I prefer it black.” These salon visits are key to her beauty regimen. “It can be expensive, and I know that I can do it myself, but I just prefer to go to [my stylist]. It’s my one thing,” she says.
Though she’s noticed more women opting for the look this year, James has had her bowl cut since college—and the style has even deeper roots in her family. “My mom had this same haircut when she was my age,” she tells Coveteur. “All the women in my family have worn short hair my entire life. To this day, my mom will be like, ‘You stole my hair!’ It wasn’t a celebrity [I was modeling it after]. It was always my mom.”
While James doesn’t relax the top, she keeps it straight with a flat iron and will occasionally opt for a texturizer (a slightly more gentle smoothing alternative to an all-out relaxer). “At the top, I keep it natural, which is another reason why it’s hard to maintain my hair. She will texturize it maybe twice a year. But because I wear my hair so short, it grows out so quickly,” she explains.
If your hair isn’t naturally straight and you’re not fond of heat or chemical processing, this might not be the style for you. “Since bowl cuts are a precise haircut, it would be more ideal for straight hair,” Williams adds. “If you're looking for the sharpness and precision of the cut, it will require you to flat iron the hair straight. You can also wrap the hair at night so you don’t have to add heat daily.” To switch things up, she suggests trying curlers or rollers for a “Farrah Fawcett layered style.”
Maintaining the cut’s body and bounce is key to keeping the look intact because, as James puts it, “it’s a bowl, not a helmet.” Both James and Banks keep their looks on point by tying on a durag before bed. That way, the style is set as soon as they wake up. So though it’s one that requires regular maintenance, the actual day-to-day execution of the look doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
I’m still on the fence about whether or not I’ll actually opt for a bowl cut, but if I do, I’m bringing four photos to my stylist: one of Halle Berry in Boomerang, a selfie from James’s Instagram, a screenshot from Banks’s web series, and a snap of Will Byers in season four of Stranger Things. Keep reading for the products that Banks, James, and Williams keep on hand for great hair days with bowl cuts.
“I would recommend getting a silk serum to preserve the look of this style and add shine,” Williams says. “I love this Design Essentials Reflections Liquid Shine.”
For touch-ups, Banks always has a very particular taste in clippers. “I cut my hair myself and I use Wahl clippers,” she says. “Then I layer and feather the top with a pair of regular hair-cutting scissors.”
A welcome blast from the past. To match the cut’s retro vibe, Banks also opts for an old favorite to style her bowl cut. “I’m old school—I still use the products that I grew up with, like Blue Magic Hair Grease,” she says.
Jane Carter’s Nourish and Shine Restorative Butter is James’s core product for styling her cut. “It’s very light and smells amazing,” she raves. “I use it sort of as a mold if my hair is getting a little thicker and that will hold it.”
To complete her at-home hair regimen, Banks tops things off with hot oil treatments, which she does underneath a hooded dryer.
Want more stories like this?