Buzzcuts, Bleach And Bald Spots: Five Writers Share Their Hair Horror Stories
Illustration by Mr Luke Brooks
Bad haircuts are a bit like bad customer service jobs: they’re humbling, they’re character building and you shouldn’t really be able to call yourself an adult until you’ve had one. That said, there are haircuts that are one might simply deem “less-than-flattering” (and which, in the right hands, are somewhat salvageable) and haircuts so disastrous that they force you to cancel your weekend plans and have you threatening legal action against your barber. If you’ve ever fallen victim to the latter – or are currently wallowing in the aftermath of misguided hair decision – rest assured that even some of the coolest, most stylish people we know have been there, done that and got the dodgy Facebook photos to prove it.
Whether you take their hair horror stories below as cautionary tale or, rather, consider them fuel for your next round of experimentation, safe in the knowledge that even the dodgiest trim will eventually grow out, is a decision we will gladly hand over to you.
Mr Ashley Ogawa Clarke
As someone who came of age between MySpace and “indie sleaze”, the fate of my hair was, in hindsight, all but sealed. At 18, I trotted off to Goldsmiths’ College looking like an emo raincloud, my box-dyed, black and fiercely backcombed barnet straightened over my right eye, like a lost member of The Horrors in a Topman cardigan and drainpipe jeans. From there, I tried electric blue, bright red and a scalp-decimating ice blond, presumably grasping at “finding myself”. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t unearth any answers in my hair. After exhausting the rainbow (and getting bored of scrubbing dye off the sink and picking the scabs out of my scalp), I eventually settled back to my natural non-colour of mousey brown, where I’ve kept it for the best part of a decade.
Still, though the shade remains consistent, the style doesn’t. As much as I’d love to be the kind of person with a timeless signature haircut, I get bored far too easily to Ms-Anna-Wintour it through life. At the start of this year, I tried an ill-advised (but trending!) mullet. Then, a half-perm (popular in Tokyo, severely underrated elsewhere). Right now, it’s in a fluffy middle-part, but maybe I’ll buzz it all off. “It’ll grow back,” I say. And if it doesn’t, well, there’s always Turkey.
Mx Dominic Cadogan
For the first two decades of my life, I maintained the same hairstyle: a no-fuss number-zero buzzcut. A necessity, rather than a preference; a way of evading the tight, unruly curls that would sprout at times when I was too lazy to pull out my clippers.
But one day, bored of life as the protagonist in Groundhair Day, and never one to do things by halves, I decided to take a leap into unchartered territory – drawing inspiration from model-of-the-minute Mr Dudley O’Shaughnessy’s appearance in Rihanna’s “We Found Love” music video. Despite having no prior experience with hair colouring of any kind, I naively bought a pack of Schwarzkopf bleach with the hope of recreating his buzzed blond look.
Noting that I needed to do a patch test before dousing my scalp with bleach, I naively dismissed discreet locations, instead opting for a spot above the centre of my forehead. After waiting only 15 minutes before rinsing, I unsurprisingly revealed not the frosty blonde tone that I was dreaming of, but an odd-looking patch roughly the same size and colour of a two pence coin. It looked bad enough close up, but somehow worse from a distance – a seemingly sporadic bald spot.
Panicked, I gave up on hopes of a hair transformation and after a patchy month of penance, I returned to my regular buzzcut and haven’t looked back since.
Mr Jim Merrett
For the socially anxious, a trip to the barber presents a multidimensional hazard. First, the event itself, offering up small talk against the drone of clippers – and trying not to offend someone armed with a sharp implement as you’re pinned down under a smock. Then there’s the resulting haircut and the shadow it casts over all other interactions for the following weeks. It all became too much. So, I invested in my own Wahl, and, throughout my twenties, I shaved my own head and just forgot that I had hair.
Travelling overseas where my clippers were the wrong voltage later forced me to grow my hair out. And, for more than a decade now, I’ve managed to overcome my hair fear and seek professional guidance (barber, that is, not therapist). However, like many of us, the Covid lockdowns saw me digging out the clippers again.
I’d managed quite a tidy job at the front when my partner kindly offered to help trim the patches that I couldn’t see at the back. I confess that I couldn’t remember it hurting quite that much back when I’d blindly done it myself, all those years before. But the clippers had a 6mm guard rail on, so she couldn’t do too much damage, right?
When a local barber finally reopened a few months later – one that I’d never visited before – we bonded over the self-inflicted hair don’ts he’d recently had to rectify. When it came to mine, he couldn’t figure out how my better half had done her worst. Hoping that it wasn’t intentional, he noted that the bloody gash across the nape of my neck was at least healing well. These days, my barber is also my de facto therapist.
Mr TJ Sidhu
Perhaps it was idolising Mr David Beckham’s style growing up – the undisputed hair chameleon of the early-2000s – but since the age of around 10, I have never been content with sticking to a hairstyle for longer than around three months. That said, I’ve gone through my fair share of trial and error. Emphasis on error.
Over the years, I’ve had a buzzcut, gelled spikes, short back and sides, skin fade, indie mop top, a Nike tick shaved on the back of my head, bleached and dyed red, blue, purple, pink, green. The worst is when I spent a year growing my hair from scalp to shoulder-length. I was 22, and I’d dreamt up a sort of hair renaissance – that I’d have a grungy mane of hair I’d tuck behind my ears and part in the centre, looking like Mr Kurt Cobain, or Mr Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born.
It was a tedious period of wearing hats in public, while it went through the awkward phase. It takes a lot of determination not to give up and lop it all off before you’re even a quarter of the way through. I was starting from scratch; initially, short spikes shot out of my head. Then, it went a bit pineapple, before reaching my ears then, suddenly, it was hitting my shoulders. But it had naturally formed into weird Ms Farrah Fawcett-style waves that framed my face. It was shorter in the front than the back, while the centre parting sort of protruded from my head like a wig. People spend a lot of money for that type of bounce – sadly, it did me no favours. I looked like a 1980s comedian.
After my very honest mate pointed it out at a party, while we were both pissed, I swiftly went to the barbers and gave them stern orders: Chop. It. Off.
Mr Rob Nowill
I’ve been bleaching my hair consistently since I turned 30. I’ll leave it to others to speculate whether that qualifies as a cry for help. On the whole, I’ve managed to avoid disasters when it comes to self-colouring – and, given that I wear a baseball cap to work every day anyway, the potential for risk is pretty low.
That is, until my partner received a promotional sample of garishly coloured hair dyes and convinced me that it’d be fun to try dyeing my hair bright blue. On the packaging, the (teenage) model was smiling with hair the hue of a summer sky. On me, it turned an alarmingly snotty shade of green.
At the time, I’d been working for a particularly “cooler-than-thou” streetwear magazine and couldn’t face the prospect of my colleagues seeing me with hair better suited to a 15-year-old going through an awkward phase. So, you can imagine my relief when an online article advised me to try an at-home dye-removing treatment, which promised to return my hair to its natural state.
At first, it looked promising – the blue dye seemed to melt away, exposing the bleached hair underneath. Until I started to hear a fizzing sound. As clumps of my over-processed hair began splatting onto the shower floor in sludgy pools, I was forced to shave my head down to the scalp. My lesson? That the word “fun” should never be applied to men’s hair. And, evidently, neither should industrial-strength dye remover.