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In most cases, “messy” is not a state to strive for. Take suiting, for instance: Never in a million years would you ask a tailor to intentionally dishevel your lapels, or hem your pants to look a little more lopsided. It’s just not a thing you’d do. When it comes to hair, however, there is actually something to be said for appearing a tad more untamed—so long as you put in the exact right amount of effort to make it work. You see, too much and you’ll look like you simply tried and failed to clean yourself up. Too little and you’ll look not “messy” but a mess. (And trust us, there’s a difference.) Here, a five-step guide to nailing that much-sought-after messed-up look, without veering too far in either direction.
So you’re looking to ditch a more polished look for its wilder alternative. Counterintuitively, then, the first thing you need to do is head directly to a trusted scissors-wielder. While the length is up to you (though we’re partial to something shorter on the sides increasing to a touch of length up top, if you’re wondering), the key here is texture, so make sure your stylist imparts your mane with as much of it as he or she can. This visual variation will give your hair a kind of rebellious quality that well-applied product can’t provide on its own.
Let’s be clear here: Almost any hairstyle would look better if you didn’t shampoo so damn much, simply because the hair would be healthier. Period. But this principle applies even more when you’re trying to nail the untamed look. To have that perfectly messed-up charm—regardless of whether your hair is pin-straight or curly as all hell—your hair needs body, and over-shampooing will negate that by robbing locks of natural oils and moisture. Two to three times a week will do instead.
Okay, so we’re hot-air advocates in general. But in this particular instance, there is a distinct reason that a blow-dryer is preferable over other means of dehydrating your hair, and that reason is control. With a handheld source of heat, you’re able to determine exactly which direction your locks dry in. Or, in this case, which directions. Because the last thing you want when you’re going for messy is hair that all points one way. Now, you’re probably thinking, “If randomness is the end goal, then why not just towel dry?” The answer: frizz. Manually rubbing the water out of your hair will significantly increase static friction between strands, leading to a less manageable mane. And nobody wants that.
Now that the strands are primed and ready, it’s time to start thinking about what products you’re going to put in your hair. The secret to choosing correctly: figuring out exactly what type of hair you have and using your styling goop to compensate accordingly. Say, for example, you’ve got flat, straight-as-hell hair. Then you’re going to want to use a product that will give your hair the body it’s missing, like a texturizing powder. On the other end of the spectrum, those with bushier manes will want a super-lightweight hold, so as not to add too much extra mass. A matte pomade can help with just that. Oh, and curly-haired guys? Go with a salt spray if your hair is fine and something with more moisture if it’s coarse.
As for how to use them, the biggest thing you need to pay attention to is moderation, since the point here is looking like you barely fussed about your hair. So use half the amount of product, rub it in starting from the back, and don’t worry your little head about every piece landing in the exact right place. Remember, imperfection is perfect in this scenario.
Here’s the thing about the whole messy-hair endeavor: It tends to look better the shorter your hair is. It’s a visual dilemma, really—as your hair gets longer, the choppiness that makes the look so appealing tends to vanish simply due to proportion. So get back in that barber’s chair every four to six weeks, max.
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