Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Hair Story + How to Style Hair Extensions Two Ways

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I think it's fairly obvious with a sub header like 'Big Hair, Small Wallet', but my hair has long been intrinsically tied to my identity. When I was a child, it was long, blonde, with blunt bangs until I got a pixie cut in 3rd grade. It was cute! There's a photo of me dressed as a pilgrim, wearing a coffee filter as a bonnet where it looks quite nice... Then it was long again, for a long time. Until I got what was arguably the worst haircut of my life in high school. I remember sitting in the stylists chair, a copy of InStyle magazine with Clare Danes on the cover -- my inspiration (here it is!) -- clutched in my fists -as the stylist roughly and ineptly yanked pieces of my hair through a highlighting cap (PSA: if your stylist ever comes at you with a highlighting cap, RUN. Run fast, run hard, and don't look back). Three hours later and 10 inches of hair lighter, I came out of that garage salon (another red flag), looking like... well... definitely not like Claire Danes. I cried for the first time ever over my hair, something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but so tied to my identity that it felt like I'd suddenly become someone else.

Between then and now, other looks included a bleach blonde puffball that straddled somewhere between 'anime heroine' and 'Sid Vicious', a jet black chelsea with jet black baby bangs, Bride of Frankenstein white streaks at my temples, and another set of bangs, this time with a center point so sharp, it rivaled that of Elvira. I've always had a flare for the dramatic, even when my hair was just long. When it was long, it was really fucking long. So, you could say my last cut, a lob, has been the most tame look to date despite it being quite a dramatic change from the waist-length hair I'd become known for -- both to myself and by others.

Despite it being so tied to who I am, I've always sort of hated being known for a feature that's so fleeting and innocuous. I mean, it's just hair, right? At least that's what everyone says. Which is why in the spring of 2014 I decided it was time for a chop. Change was on the horizon, I'd been interviewing for my current job for a few months and a new city loomed large in our future. It was time, I thought. I, or rather my very skilled stylist friend in Pittsburgh, cut about 5 inches off, then a few more, then before I knew it, it was above my shoulders. How did I get here? I was expecting to feel emotion, yes, but what I wasn't expecting was the roller coaster of EMOTIONS I ended up on. I mean, in college I used to just cut it, dye it, shave it when I wanted a change, but somehow between then and now I'd settled into myself. I stopped searching for the person I was going to be, instead I became her. And in that, while I gained a newfound sense of self, I believe I lost a bit of... well, ballsyness, for lack of a better term. I loved the cut I got in Pittsburgh until our lives were thrown into that expected upheaval of new job, new city, new friends, new everything and everything else changed, along with my head of hair. It was like my equilibrium was thrown off, my center knocked out of bounds. Without a curtain of hair to hide behind, I was forced to confront my own insecurities with being unable to hide in this new place I found myself in.

Despite the discomfort, I was unsure until recently whether or not I wanted to grow it back out. But I've decided to, for the ease of styling it and for knowing how I truly feel comfortable. As you can imagine, it's been a slow process, one made slower by my own impatience staring at it in the mirror and fretting over the sheer bluntness of my current cut (I like it, but sometimes it just feels so... solid? My hair is extremely thick, so even though it's not that short, it can be hard to work with), so when Irresistible Me reached out offering to send some extensions my way, I jumped on it. I've seen them all over Pinterest (I'm guessing you have too), and I figured at the very least they'd be fun to play around with, maybe make some braided hairstyles a little more do-able in my current state. I went on the website and after a great deal of deliberation, chose a color (Royal Ash Blonde) that looked close enough to the color on my ends (I honestly have no idea what actual color my hair is). While it was tempting to go the full 24 inches -- the length my hair used to be -- I kept it conservative at 22 (ha). After receiving them, I realized I likely could have gone a shade darker, but knowing I'm more comfortable with lighter hair and usually have it highlighted (I've been holding off on processing while it grows) I think this shade works.

A few weeks later, a big box of hair showed up at my doorstep. And it was a lot of hair... definitely no skimping here. If you've had experience with extensions in the past, these will be fairly simple to use, but if not, I recommend employing a friend or watching the videos available on the IM website to help you get the hang of it. I knew going into it that my thick, blunt cut was never going to blend with these hair extensions, but I was excited to test out a couple of braided styles, as I've really missed being able to braid my hair, especially on lazy days when I don't want to battle my styling wand.
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This is what my hair looks like on a regular day. Generally undone, maybe a couple of curls in the front to keep it out of my face and not looking too much like 'The Rachel':
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I recommend styling clip-in hair extensions on a day when your hair is a little dirty. This will help give the clips hold and keep them from slipping out. You can also use a teasing comb or brush to tease a section of hair before clipping them in, definitely recommended if your hair is fine or thin.

After clipping them in, my hair looked... well, like I'd clipped in a bunch of extensions, which was expected. It was only after I started braiding that the magic happened:
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First up, fishtail braids. I don't know why I never did this on my real long hair, but the fishtail is something I didn't actually learn until my hair was shorter. I loved how the ash blonde blended with my hair for this style, giving a subtle ombre look without the chemical process.
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Then, with a simple flip and a few bobby pins (ok, a lot of bobby pins) my two fishtail braids transformed into my all time favorite style: Milkmaid braids. I can't get enough of these huge braids flipped up onto my head. Like a giant, majestic hair halo.
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The extra hair was definitely heavy, but since it comes in sections, you can choose how much to clip in. A few days after these photos were taken, I used a couple of smaller sections to quickly braid up may hair for Thanksgiving, and it wasn't nearly as heavy. When the day was done, removing them was far easier than expected, though it did take some careful brushing to remove a few snags. 

I think one of the most obnoxious parts of having shorter hair has been not being able to turn towards my tried and true styles for when I don't want to bother wearing my hair down, and those styles were always braids. While there's a part of me that looks back on those days of constant reinvention with a bit of envy towards my younger self, I'm thankful to know now what makes me truly comfortable . Until my hair grows a bit longer, I'm an extension convert when it comes to trying out different styles -- hey, maybe this is my 2016 version of impulsively shaving a chelsea and dying it jet black.

Photos by Jana Kirn


Kate @ GreatestEscapist.com said...


Leah Wise said...

I'm growing out my hair from a pixie and I wonder if extensions will help once it gets a bit longer. I have very thin, fine hair, so it's never been long, but I'm starting to feel like I want to experiment for my hairstyles and I can't do that with short hair. The extensions look great on you. - Leah, stylewiseblog.blogspot.com

Alaina M. said...

I love long hair so much on other people. I can never stand the in-between stages with my curly hair. Maybe one day I'll have the patience!

Jenn said...

Where is your choker from?? I NEED IT. Also, love your hairdos <3

Orchid Grey said...

Jenn - It's from Heyoka Leather, similar ones are on the FP site: http://www.freepeople.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.results&searchString=Heyoka

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