For a long time, I associated black hair and bangs with a huge part of my identity. So much, in fact, that when I temporarily grew them out in the mid-aughts, I’d constantly refer to that time as “The Year Without Bangs,” half-jokingly and half-traumatized. It wasn’t until a few years later when I became a beauty editor that I finally decided to switch things up. I figured I might as well take advantage of the access I had to hairstylists and color my hair for the first time in years.
I went in slowly at first, dyeing only the ends of my hair turquoise so I still had most of my original look.
Soon, I decided to go pink, my favorite color. It immediately felt natural and boosted my mood, as pink is known to do. When the color would fade and grow out, I’d let my bangs grow long too, which was the true shock to my system, but when I’d get my hair re-dyed, I’d trim my bangs again. Because of the pandemic, my hair and my bangs have completely grown. Truth be told, the old me would have been appalled.
Part of the reason why I think I’ve been more experimental with my hair is that I’ve retained other parts of what I’d call my signature beauty look—namely my winged eyeliner and red lipstick, both of which I had begun wearing at the same time as my black hair and bangs. If I had suddenly started wearing nude lipstick (my worst nightmare), that would have been more of a 180. But these two things are both precious and powerful tools to me and keep me connected to “my true self.”
While celebrities like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry constantly experiment with their looks, there are also the ones whose beauty looks are ingrained in our minds. Think Marilyn Monroe’s blonde curls and signature red lip, Jennifer Lopez’s glow, and Ariana Grande’s high ponytail.
If any of them come out with a beauty collection, you’d get a pretty good idea of just what to expect. In Lopez’s case, she trademarked her J.Lo Glow with her own skincare line, and Bésame Cosmetics is releasing a collection inspired by Monroe’s personal makeup.
Maintaining a signature beauty look may feel limiting to some people, but there are many who embrace it for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is one less thing for people to worry about, or maybe it’s just as simple as personal preference. Maybe it even brings a sense of confidence and empowerment. Having a signature beauty look can have a world of meaning for someone, even if it, in Cher Horowitz’s words, “gives a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”
For Kristina Uriegas-Reyes, a 33-year-old vintage shop owner in San Antonio, Texas, her signature beauty look of colorful, retro-style hair and makeup is an expression of her inspirations, which include icons like Dolly Parton, Ronnie Spector, and Marlo Thomas. She describes it as a combination of 1960s mod, kawaii, pinup, and ’80s rockstar. “I’m a big fan of color, glitter, and paint. ‘Too much is usually just enough,” says Uriegas-Reyes. “I love bright colors and big hair for any occasion.” While colorful hair and makeup are the mainstays of her look, her exaggerated pink blush makes her feel like a living doll. “Bubblegum pink suits my skin tone and makes me feel like me. I feel naked without it.”
The author and witch, Gabriela Herstik, knew she wanted to shave the side of her head after seeing it on the model and Karl Lagerfeld’s muse Alice Dellal in 2011. Herstik, then 17 years old, knew she had to get her parents’ permission. “I took the opportunity to use what I had been learning about logic and ethics in arguments in my AP Lang class to write my parents a letter and explain why I wanted this haircut, and that I was going to college the next year anyway and would be able to do what I want,” she says. They said no, but Herstik, in true rebellious teenager form, did it anyway.
Herstik says that her haircut makes her feel like “that witch, a bad bitch, and like I’m wearing my favorite pair of heels, lingerie, and red lipstick all at once.” It’s a visual representation of how she feels on the inside. “Knowing myself and honoring this through self-expression is one of my deepest and most cherished core values, and my side shave helps me live this. I feel the most beautiful and at peak sexiest with a fresh shave.” Herstik’s hair also has a spiritual meaning, as it marks an anniversary related to her craft as a fashion alchemist and glamour witch. “Glamour is something that veils what lies beneath it, which puts beauty and fashion in its domain,” she says. “By altering how I look—for no one but myself—I was marking an entry point into my practice of self-expression as a form of magick, or creating change on the physical realm through energy, intention, and action.”
Every year, Herstik proudly celebrates the anniversary of her side shave, (which had its 10th this past March). “It’s a way for me to honor how much a part of me this silly haircut is. It’s a way for me to remember the power in self-expression, and the power of my self-expression,” she says. “It’s a way to remember and honor the awkward, uncomfortable, 17-year-old Gabriela living in Johns Creek, Georgia who felt like a weirdo and like she didn’t fit in, and who followed her truth anyway.”
When Lenora Claire, a 40-year-old victims rights advocate and activist in LA, decided to dye her hair bright red as a teenager, it was actually a way to distract from her appearance. By the time she was in the sixth grade, she was a D cup, so when she got to high school, she was known as “the girl with the big boobs.” Taking inspiration from both Kate Pearson from the B-52s and Grace Jones from the movie Vamp, Claire decided to dye her hair bright red. “It just sort of occurred to me, like, ‘Wait a second—if I dye my hair super red, then I’ll be the girl with the hair. I’ll be the redhead. I won’t be like the girl with the boobs.’”
Ever since, Claire has kept her bright-red hair, though she admits she considered dyeing it blonde or a more subdued red a few times: once being when she was in her 20s and had difficulty with dating. She had wondered if she tried something new, would it attract different kinds of men, but ultimately realized it wouldn’t have been right. She has also been told by other people to dye it. As a stalking survivor, Claire was advised by police to dye her hair in order to be less noticeable. “I struggled with this sort of thought like, am I caught up with this as my identity, like, you know, does this matter? And then I realize, no, this is who I am. I don’t want to sacrifice that to make myself quiet, or less than, or to disappear.”
Claire speaks at a lot of schools and says that young women would come up to her, commenting on her appearance, saying that it was amazing that they brought her in. Claire points this out because back, when we were teens, having bright-colored hair and being in a professional space, was unheard of. “It’s important to not judge people based on physical appearances and life choices, and what we do to adorn ourselves and feel positive. So it’s kind of powerful.”