Shear off the years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2008, 12:00am

Kim Burns had a baby six months ago, and hasn't had a haircut since just after giving birth. She's a typical working mother: busy all day in her job at a property company and coming home to the demands of a family, leaving little time to spend on grooming. This makes Burns the ideal candidate for a tonsorial transformation.

It may be just hair, but stylists say a good haircut can make all the difference to how you look and feel, and Burns is happy to let the shears help take back a few years.

'I'm quite low-maintenance,' she says. 'I don't spend a lot of time on my hair; I don't blow-dry and it droops as it's very fine.'

Burns normally keeps her hair long, although over the years she has changed her style several times. Now she wants something that not only reflects her maturity, but also encompasses her desire to look as young as she feels.

'This is the first real pampering I've had since I had the baby,' says Burns as Central hairdresser Philip George starts to cut her hair.

George says the key for the cut he's giving Burns is not to make it too short, but to bring it just under her chin and give her hair a softer look with more fullness. 'It will make her a bit more fashionable and funky,' he says. 'It can change a whole person.'

George wants to make Burns look younger but knows that with a young baby and full-time job, she needs a low-maintenance cut. 'I'm layering her hair through and giving the sides more bulk,' he says. 'I'm giving her a sloping fringe so she can sweep it over and give herself a more romantic look. Kim can use a light wax or clay as a finishing touch. This haircut should, however, do 90 per cent of the work and she shouldn't be product-dependent.'

He says that by cutting it short at the top, he has pumped up her fine hair. 'I think Kim is quite active, so it will be good for a sporty yet fashionable person.'

George naturally dries Kim's hair then trims it again for a more polished look. A quick blow-dry gives it the finishing touch.

Although he doesn't use colour this time around, George says that if he were to give Burns highlights, he would put in light to medium browns to get a tortoiseshell effect.

George, who has run his salon for 25 years, says there are some reliable rules of thumb for haircuts to make one look younger. Fringes are a good start, he says, although he warns against slavishly copying looks from the catwalk or fashion advertisements and instead tailoring your fringe to suit your face and hair type. He says a heavy, block fringe, for instance, may not be ideal for everyday activities, and to make sure you take practical considerations into account when deciding on a style.

He also says that hair changes as people get older. 'By a certain age, long hair can start looking a bit tired. If you're over 55, your hair gets thinner and loses shine. Some women are pressed by their husbands to have long hair, but it doesn't always suit them.'

He says 'at a certain age', hair lightens, so a darker highlight or dye is too strong a contrast. 'So you need the highlights to be lighter. Just make sure they're subtle. If not, you can look washed out and seem as if you're trying too hard.'

Many stylists' clients ask for help in making them look younger. Charles Lau, a senior stylist at Goldlion Salon in Central, says the thing that ages people most is their hairstyle.

'If you want to look younger, keep up with the trends,' says Lau. 'Look at actors and actresses. They're most often up to date, and you can follow their style but modify it to make it your own.

'Only wear your hair long if it's in great condition and you have it cut well to fall around your face. A light fringe is more flattering than pulling your hair back from your forehead. If you're not happy with your jawline, try softer, longer sides to disguise it.'

Lau says fringes are important. 'A fringe, especially swept to one side, will not only instantly make you look younger but will hide the wrinkles on your forehead,' he says.

'If you have a high forehead, side-swept layers will make your facial features softer and less severe. They'll also cover any frown lines and even crow's feet if you go for a long fringe. I would recommend a wispy side-fringe reaching just below the brow to frame your face.'

Short hair, which George says is 'in' if you use clay to give it a chunky look, can be very flattering, especially cut to frame your face.

'A short cut will add more body to your hair, enhance your cheekbones and rejuvenate your look,' says Lau. 'Remember that a short haircut will need to be maintained regularly, probably cut every five to six weeks.'

If you want to stay long, says George, the latest trend is all about longer waves rather than the straight look, which is old hat. 'Highlights are still the chocolates and ash browns - they're very subtle and not bold,' he says.

For Koren Carsten, head stylist at ii Salon in the Prince's Building, highlights and layering are key to looking younger and fresher. 'Chocolate-brown highlights look natural and warm and give hair a more lush appearance if you have dark hair,' Carsten says. 'Layering gives hair more volume and structure, which is what your locks lose over time.'

So what does Burns - who arrived with her long hair pulled back in a simple ponytail - think of her new look? 'I really like the kicks at the back and sides,' she says. 'Something had always put me off fringes, but Philip explained what to do day today and it sounds easy enough. I can sweep it back and push it behind my ears. I like the layers and the different lengths. I feel bouncy ... well I am kind of bouncy anyway, but now I look the same as I feel.'

And Burns later says she received positive comments from other people all day - proof, it seems, that if you need a boost, your hair is a good place to start.