Escaping the ‘Lazy A-line’

Salon director Michael Van Clarke prides himself on his cutting prowess. Here, he explains how his peers’ constant reliance on one particular technique causes him no end of frustration…

“I have many roles in our business, from running our West End salon and developing our product company, to working with architects and builders for our expansion plans. But at the core, I cut hair. This has been my primary focus for almost 40 years, and in that time, I’ve developed a unique method to get the very best from any hair; The Diamond Dry Cut. It’s allowed me to charge ten times the industry average and keep clients happily returning. In fact, more than 100 clients have stayed with me for more than 35 years.

“Across those five decades from the ’70s, I’ve watched the ebb and flow of different industry fashions and training methods, and seen the core training around cutting slowly become diluted. But despite changing techniques and approaches, I find myself asking: why are most hairdressers still wedded to the A-Line?

As with couture fashion, the choice of outline sets the scene for the entire look. It’s the most important line and determines the shape that sits above it. On hair, the A-line cut is an elementary foundation for above the shoulder bobs, but it is widely misused. Now, I’m not sure if this is from a lack of thought or lack of advanced training, as it seems most hairdressing training stops at bobs. But it’s at the heart of so many haircut-car-crashes and behind most of the corrective cutting work I do for new clients.

“I mean, I shouldn’t really mind because it’s actually really simple to fix and as a result, it’s easy to give the clients the best haircut of their lives when all they’ve ever had previously is the ‘Lazy A-Line’ (regardless of their overall style). But hairdressers in 2018 really should know better than to fall back on a such a specific shaping technique.

The A-Line rose to fame in the era of the bobs – the ’60s. Vidal Sassoon pioneered the stunning, striking shape, and the A-line technique was very specifically engineered for that particular type of geometric haircut, sitting on or above the shoulders. Apart from giving a strong and interesting outline to the style, it energetically compensates for thicker hair at the back and balances that heaviness with the less weighty sides.

This throws the hair slightly forward towards the face and minimises movement, so the crisp line of the cut stays evident.  Great for hair on or above the shoulders… not good for long hair, particularly textured or curly hair (unless you are planning to enter Crufts!) And it’s really, really not the base line for short, layered men’s haircuts.

“Let me share a few tips that I believe will help you choose when NOT to opt for the A-line…”

When NOT to use the A-line

“An A-line cut past the shoulders on textured hair creates a pyramid shape – too flat at eye level and too wide around the client’s shoulders/chest. Not attractive! One of my newest clients with beautiful thick, long hair (a style icon with over a million followers on social media) called herself Hagrid (from Harry Potter) before we got rid of her inappropriate A-Line, which had also made her work so unnecessarily hard on blowdrying to try and compensate for a badly suited haircut.”

“With long hair, you don’t want a haircut that throws hair forward and creates a curtain-line down the cheeks. If a client’s hair is past their shoulders, it will also never hold that beautiful neat line you cut because the shoulders keep interfering, making the outline look jagged and chewed. And most importantly, people do not want their long hair to hang lifeless like a dead animal around them – they long for the fluidity, movement and sexual energy that long lengths can give. As the goal of an A-line cut is to kill movement, pairing it with long hair it is never a good idea.”

“An A-line cut on long hair also asks the oldest, weakest hair on the head to be the longest and to be the key feature of the style. This hair in front of each ear and around the temples is also usually the most fragile. The human eye assesses hair condition in a split second by looking at a few key points and then builds up a full picture by making up the rest. If the outline ends at the front are thin and dry, it makes the whole head of hair look weak and thin, which is normally not true. Instead, reversing the line with proper graduation at the front flowing to longer hair at the back can remove dead, unhealthy-looking hair without any apparent loss of length.”