I always change my hair after a breakup. Dark brown, bleach blond, a big chop. It’s one of the most cliché things about me, after my love of fall and penchant for thinking everything’s going to be okay when I look at cityscapes from moving vehicles. To its credit, the post-breakup hair makeover is a trope that follows through on its promise. Coming out of a relationship can often feel like meeting a new version of yourself, and hair—permanent enough to make you unrecognizable but temporary enough to be “just hair”—is the perfect springboard for the kind of evolution heartbreak forces upon you.
At the end of 2019, Tina, Margaux, and Nadine all ended relationships, which means that now they’re ready for new hair. I asked the three of them to meet me at Hairstory’s salon in Manhattan on a recent Tuesday afternoon so hairstylist Wes Sharpton and colorist Jennifer Covington-Bowers could help them get it. As each of them sat down in the salon chair-cum-therapist couch and told their stories, the parallels between their current headspace and current hair were so dead-on it almost felt scripted. Tina, with the long straight hair she’s had for years, has been holding onto an old version of herself. Margaux, with her shoulder-length brown hair that fits right in at her architecture program, has been thinking too much about what other people want. And Nadine, with long curly hair past her shoulders, feels weighed down by her own indecisiveness.
“It’s pretty,” Wes said as he fluffed Nadine’s hair, tilting his head, “but it softens your blow. If we bring this up and you’re all neck and your hair is expansive, I think what’s gonna happen is suddenly you’ll own the room.” I watch Nadine for a reaction; she smiles nervously. “My vision for you is as the motherfucking boss of your life,” he says. Then we both laugh, because it sounds like a line from a movie, albeit the kind you want to watch when you’re feeling down, which feels about right.
More on their breakups and hair makeovers below.
Nadine has felt stagnant since graduation, and hopes new hair will be her first bold step of many
My ex and I met the first night I was in college, and I just graduated in May, so he was very much a part of my college experience. We didn’t date for all four years—when I was abroad for a semester, we didn’t date—but when I got back I knew I wanted to finish my college experience with him.
After graduation he moved to DC and he thought I would follow him, which kind of made sense because I want to do environmental work. But I hadn’t gotten a full-time job yet, so I’d just been bouncing around and traveling a bit, and I still am. He was like, “Well, apply to jobs! Take it seriously. Come here. What are you doing?” He really didn’t like being long-distance, because I’m very much an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of person. So that eventually led to tensions, particularly because when we were in school we would spend basically every day together. And I think there was a lot of codependency, which would come to a head whenever I would get overwhelmed and realize that I needed space and he wouldn’t be willing to give it to me.
I also have a lot of family history with anger, and he was a little bit of an angry person, and that was something that would flair up every once in a while. And then—without getting too specific—the last time I visited him, there was an incident. And I was like, What am I actually still getting out of this? Because our relationship always worked best when it was just the two of us in isolation, but that’s not a realistic way to live a life. Or one that I would want anyway. So I was like, I should probably stop this now.
It’s been very weird to adjust to not having him in my life. I had to break up with him over the phone and my sister was right there with me. So I definitely leaned on her a lot for support and then I just blocked him on everything. And now he’s like, “Okay, I want one more call to say my final piece.” So we’re maybe going to do that? But while we were breaking up he was like, “I have changed and I have gotten better and I want to continue to get better,” and I was just like, “I have a lot of growing to do as well, and I just don’t think that’s something we can do while we’re together.” I’m not the greatest at enforcing boundaries—when they’re being transgressed I just tend to forgive, so I don’t think he can improve if I’m constantly forgiving his behavior.
Before: Are you ready?
I’m open to anything. The one thing I do want to keep is the curls, so I don’t want to shave my head—I mean, I do want to shave my head, but not right now. Even though my hair isn’t very exciting right now, I think because of the space that it takes up it tends to be a focal point of my appearance. I do want to do something interesting because I feel like, although I have been bouncing around, I actually feel very stagnated right now and I don’t really know how to move forward in my life. I don’t really have a plan. I feel like I’m stuck.
After: How do you feel?
I feel good. I’m very excited. It’s shorter than I expected and shorter than I’ve ever had. I think I see myself differently now—or, I’m forced to see myself differently now. Also, I’m bi and I feel like this is way more queer-coded than how I looked before. Because I was super hetero-presenting, that was such a challenge, and now I look a little more fun. Like, “Maybe she’s got something going on there….”
I’ve been living in our family home, and I’m kind of just there because I don’t have anywhere else to be—but I envision myself moving to California. I haven’t really figured out a reason why except for the fact that I know I want to be there. But my ex is over here and he was always like, “Cali is so far away, why would you do that?” and I’m like, because I want to. So this haircut is like the first bold decision that I’ve made and hopefully now I’ll start doing things more intentionally. Finally start sorting out the direction I want to go in.
Margaux’s new friends at school don’t care what other people think, so why should she?
We were together for nine or 10 months. The hard part about the breakup is, on paper, we were exactly what the other person wanted. Like, both of us are really into being outdoors, for example, and after I’m done with college I want to move to, like, Wyoming and work out there in the Grand Tetons. He was of the same mindset—he wanted to get out and go somewhere in nature. It was the first time either of us had been with someone who had those aspirations.
But it was getting difficult toward the end because, culturally, we had different expectations of the relationship. Like, for me, it’s not a big deal for my partner to meet my parents, to be involved in my family—l would bring a friend home the same way I would bring a boyfriend home. But for him it was like: You only bring someone home if you’re getting married. And so it was difficult because neither of us was willing to compromise on that.
Another part of it was he’s a year older than me, so he was graduated and panicking because he didn’t know what he wanted to do, whereas I kind of know what I want to do, so we were at two totally different places. And neither of us saw each other changing or attempting to change things, so at the end of the day, both of us were just like, we just need to be done. Maybe at another point in life, if we were in totally different situations, it would work, but right now it’s just not fruitful for either of us. We couldn’t communicate well, or what our intentions were, so while it was hard letting go of the potential of what it could have been, it just wasn’t worth it. I’ve also been with someone where I never doubted if he loved me and I loved him, and with this relationship, I didn’t feel a fraction of how I felt then. And once you know that feeling, if you don’t have that, then you’re like, Why am I in this?
Since things ended it’s made me look at other things in my life and think: If I don’t get fulfillment out of this, then I have better things to be doing. Especially since I’m graduating soon and my life is about to start, why am I wasting time on something that I’m not appreciating in the moment? That’s how I feel about my hair, too.
Before: Are you ready?
I grew up never doing anything to my hair. My mom was like: “No makeup, no hair.” But as I’ve gotten older and started to experiment with my life, I’m like, why can’t I do that with my hair? Up until now I’ve been very neutral—I dress in black and a lot of neutrals, like denim. I never wear anything bright. Especially in architecture, there’s a trope that you wear black only, most likely turtlenecks, and specific glasses, and you have your hair in either a severe bob or a ponytail. But now I’m like, who’s to say I have to abide by that? The friends that I’m close with now are just very, I really don’t give a fuck, and so I’m like, yeah, why don’t I not give a fuck what people think? And this is the last time where I don’t have to be professional and I don’t have to impress people, so why not go for it?
After: How do you feel?
I’m feeling good! Different, definitely different. I’m in shock a bit. But not bad! It’s not even the color, it’s the cut. Its like… that hair was attached to me, and now it’s not. But it’s okay. I like it! I always thought I didn’t have a feminine enough face for a short cut, but I really like it. My hair is so weightless now. It’s definitely a fun change to do post-breakup, with all the other changes in my life right now. This is probably the last time I’ll be able to do this with very little consequence. I’m excited to see what my boss says tomorrow.
Tina blew up her life to move to New York (and now her old hair feels all wrong)
I was living in Nashville until I left everything to come here last fall. My job, my relationship, my ex, my lease—all so I could come to school in New York and pursue fashion. I just felt like I was jumping from minimum wage job to minimum wage job and I thought: If I don’t do something now, I’m never going to do it.
My boyfriend and I had been together for three years and lived together for two. It was my first serious relationship—I’ve never said “I love you” to anyone else. It was very hard to get over, because when it was good it was so good—so cinematic and beautiful and romantic—but when it was bad it was so low. There were a lot of differences in our lifestyles, too. He liked to go out to the bars almost every night and drink with his friends and I like to hang back at home. He was just very content with what he was doing, whereas I always wanted more than I had. He also had a child which, when we got together, I thought I could take on. But I figured out that it was not for me, especially with his ex so involved in the situation.
Still, I wanted to get back together after we broke up. I was so heartsick, it was like withdrawal. I tried every trick in the book: called him a bunch, said I would change, considered moving back to Nashville to do school there even though it would be more expensive. And then I found out through Instagram that he had started a new relationship with someone else. That just completely destroyed me. I didn’t think I would actually recover. But I’m figuring it out. It’s been tough, but I’m happy to be here, doing this. I know it’s the right thing now.
Before: Are you ready?
I’m ready for a complete change. I’m pretty much open to anything—all color suggestions and anything up to here [just above the chin]. I pretty much had this style the whole time I was with my ex, so as I’m in this new phase, and also interning at The Row, a brand I’ve admired for a long time—none of which would have happened if I hadn’t left—it feels like the end of an era. I’ve been holding onto this breakup for so long and honestly I’m still processing it, but I’m ready to be in the accept-and-let-go stage. I’m down to go short or whatever you think is going to look a little cool and a little funky. I’ve learned to listen to the people around me.
After: How do you feel?
I feel like a weight has been literally and figuratively lifted. I still recognize myself, it’s just a new version of me. I feel a little 90s, a little French new wave with a twist. I put everything into my relationship in Nashville to the point where I barely had any friends. I put so much of myself into another person I lost sight of what I wanted. And I think sometimes you have to break free from what you think is safe and comfortable and secure. I’d had my long hair forever, and I’m starting this new chapter in my life. It was time to cut off the dead ends.
A special thanks to Tina, Margaux, and Nadine for taking this leap with us as an audience, and to Wes, Jennifer, and Hairstory for making it happen.
Photos by Beth Sacca.