My hair is exhausted. It's been scrunched, tangled around a brush, and fried. It's been doused with product, tussled with, and misted like a houseplant. But it wasn't until my husband said he smelled something burning that I decided to call in the big guns. I had to. My ponytail and I have been hibernating for months; suddenly I'm faced with social commitments. I didn't want to look as if I tried too hard, but I wanted my friends to admire it and my frenemies to be jealous. That said, only one kind of hair would fit the bill: beach hair, or what is fast becoming known as Kate Moss hair.
This is not '90s bed head, mind you. Back in the post-grunge era, bed head was inspired by, well, the bed. You rolled out of your ratty futon and there you were, dirty uncombed hair and all. More hygienic types achieved it with now-iconic texturizing products like Tigi Bed Head's waxy roll-on, Hair Stick for Cool People, or Bumble and Bumble's Surf Spray. The 2011 version — beach hair — is clean, shiny, red-carpet-ready. It's styled, but subtly so.
Bronwen Melvin, a hairstylist who helped coif the windswept looks on the Vera Wang runway, explains: "It's unintentionally sexy — like, 'I can't help that I'm this fabulous. It just happened.'"
The style seems to have "happened" everywhere I look: on Gisele, toting her baby to the pediatrician; on Kate Moss, always; on Scarlett Johansson's bob; on Sienna Miller's messy updo. I suppose it's the right look for these economically uncertain times: glamorous but not ostentatiously so. I wanted it to happen to me, too.
The fact that all the aforementioned girls are blessed with undulating golden locks — while my hair is straight, fine, and the color of coal — didn't stop me. If I managed Farrah Fawcett wings in grade school, then I certainly can attain effortless waves as a grown-up. The gurus I queried agreed. But it was going to take work.
STEP 1: Get long layers. "It's all about the cut," says Umberto Savone, who has seen beach hair evolve in his eponymous Beverly Hills salons. "The effect you're aiming for is what you see in little girls — they play with their hair, then Mommy and Daddy play with their hair, then they run around, and waves are every which way." Without the excess weight, tousling gets more mileage.
STEP 2: Wash your hair. (And if yours is fine or limp, use a thickening shampoo.) After all, what's appealing about Kate's current tousle is that it's clean, fresh, and voluminous, says Eugene Souleiman, who dreamed up nouvelle beach hair for Dolce & Gabbana's spring collection. He threw the hair up oh-so-casually into a knot and let strands fall wherever they may. "It's super natural," he says.
STEP 3: Accept help from texturizing mousse, lotion, or gel. At Bumble and Bumble's downtown salon in New York, Melvin whips out a preview tube of the company's new Hair (un)Dressing Crème, which texturizes while moisturizing. She rubs the lotion from palm to fingertips, then "paints" it onto random chunks of hair, lifting strands up from the roots and sliding the product to the ends.
Then, she says — and this is STEP 4 — "find your natural wave." My question is this, as I stare at the mass atop my head, perplexed: How? Telepathically? She demonstrates: Separating out a section, she lets the ends rest on her palms, then gently lifts the hair up and toward the scalp, so an arc perks up at the roots and the shaft folds onto itself like an accordion. "Now squeeze," she says.
I cringe with a flashback to my Rave Soft Perm days. But when Melvin releases her clenched fingers, actual waves come bounding forth — not of the fuzzy corkscrew sort (captured, alas, for eternity in my high school yearbook). The Squeeze — which can be skipped by naturally wavy-hair types — creates crucial dimension in dark hair, which lacks the nuance inherent in light-reflecting blondes. It's the difference between looking like you've been riding the waves (witness model Fei Fei Sun on the Thakoon runway) versus showing up as if you crashed into seaweed muck.
Now, STEP 5: It's time to dry your hair. Blow with a diffuser, and, by all means, don't disturb the wave until it's completely dry. Then set sparingly with a light-hold spray, hair tossed upside down.
Last but not least, STEP 6: Look the part. Harry Josh, the mastermind behind Gisele's luscious locks, believes beach hair looks best on "edgy" girls. Meaning what? I wonder, as I consider a new pair of peg-leg jeans. He BlackBerrys me back: "She doesn't wear Prada. She wears Alexander Wang and doesn't get her hair blown out."
Except, of course, when she wants to.