World famous hair stylist John Frieda spells out the vital guildelines for your ultimate cut

There is a moment when you know you are ready for a new look. Logic seldom plays a part in this life-changing decision; more often it’s a subconscious bid for freedom. You may not be able to leave your safe job, with mortgage and pension rights, or your nice but uninspiring man, or even buy a new wardrobe, but no one can stop you going for a new hairstyle.

Practically speaking, shearing off your mane has a lot going for it. It boosts the hair’s condition, whatever type you have, gives movement and bounce (once it hits your shoulders, hair lies stock still) and makes hair easier to maintain. Most importantly, a flattering cut can enhance every face shape.

Satisfaction, however, is not guaranteed. Most of us have gone into a salon buoyed up with the hope that we will be transformed by Mr Golden Scissorhands, then slunk out afterwards longing for an all-concealing cloche hat. So what goes wrong? Quite simply,

G. Scissorhands, who may actually be a megastar in the styling world, decides to plonk a hairstyle on your head which does not suit you. Even more astonishingly, you let him.

‘There are a lot of good hairdressers, but there’s always some risk in having your hair cut, and many people have had distressing experiences,’ acknowledges John Frieda. He advises: ‘Never ever have your hair cut the day before something important – get it done a week or two before so that if something goes wrong you have a chance to do something about it.’ Personal fashion consultant Amanda Platt advises you to take charge yourself: ‘Be mistress of your own hairstyle.’ Remember, you want a hairstyle, not necessarily the latest fashion cut. ‘If a cut is right for you, it’s right absolutely,’ points out John Frieda. ‘After all, your face shape doesn’t change with the seasons.’

For many women, the ideal hairdresser is as much, if not more, of a prize than the most engaging escort. Be prepared to put in time. At a consultation, thoroughly discuss what the stylist proposes doing, suggests John. (The consultation should be free but be prepared to fit in with his or her schedule.) If you don’t like the stylist or the salon, don’t go back.

If the worst happens and you hate your shorn mane, it’s not a life sentence. Hair grows at the rate of 15cm (6in) a year, so it will take two years maximum to get it back to shoulder length. But, however desperate you are for it to grow, do have it trimmed regularly. Most hairdressers suggest a trim every four weeks for short hair, four to six weeks for medium-length hair and up to eight weeks for long hair.

Before you cut

Schedule time for a consultation before you commit yourself. Most stylists work to a tight schedule, and can’t always take the time they should to discuss what you want for your hair. Salons should be able to book you in for a ten-minute (free) chat to talk things over before the appointment (maybe even several days before).

Make sure you choose a supportive stylist. It’s worth shopping around – and having more than one consultation if necessary – to discover someone who sincerely listens to you and is on your side. You shouldn’t feel shy or uncomfortable about showing them a photo that’s dramatically different from your current look; it may be just what’s needed to pep up your appearance. They should also be able to give you sound advice on any hair problems, such as condition. If ever you sense that your stylist’s ego is getting between them and the best interests of your hair, it’s time to move on.

How to look at your hair

It’s not creativity you need when assessing what hairstyle will suit you, explains John Frieda, but the ability to see yourself as you really are. First of all, tie your hair back so that you can study the shape of your face. Then, if possible, he advises standing in between two long mirrors placed at a 45° angle from each other: ‘Look at the reflection of your image in the second mirror so that you see yourself as others see you. You can be more objective like this.’

What to look for

When thinking about different styles, consider three criteria, says Frieda. Any hairstyle problem you have will fall into these.

1) Face shape

This is defined by your hairline, by the width and length of your face and by its proportions (how features relate to each other). Remember also to look at your face and neck from the side. The basic face shapes are:

A classic oval faceThis can take any style: with the other face shapes, the aim should be to create the illusion of an oval shape for the face and head silhouette.

A round face The hair should be cut onto the cheeks to shade them and narrow down the sides. A soft feathery look is the most flattering – you don’t want a flat sleek look.

A long face  This can be made to look less long with a fringe and a chin-length cut which is fuller at the bottom to add width. Anything but a long straight bob, which will make you appear even more long-faced (and maybe even miserable).

A square face Avoid symmetry, short crops or anything geometric and go for soft curves which will hide the jaw.

Heart-shaped facesThese look good with a kicking-out bob, which gives volume round the bottom of the face.

TIPThe way to disguise a high, low or uneven hairline is to have a fringe. Nicky Clarkepoints out there are ‘At least 50 ways of cutting fringes, from the Cleopatra block to Claudia Schiffer’s wisps…so don’t decide a fringe won’t suit you.’

2) Head shape

Look at yourself full on and sideways, and at the relation of your head to your body.

Ask yourself: what is the shape of my head? Do I need more height or less? A little more or a little less width across my face? What does my head look like in proportion to my body?

A good haircut doesn’t start and end above your neck. The ratio of your head to your body is vital. The classic example of what can go wrong was Charlene Tilton in the original Dallas, whose long wavy hair romped around a head that disappeared almost straight into her elevated bosom and short body. You also need to consider head size, neck length and width of shoulders. A close-cut Eton crop on a small head with long neck and wide shoulders is unlikely to look balanced. Examine your clothes too: a big winter coat may look great with a swinging page-boy bob, but will hopelessly overwhelm a much shorter-layered urchin cut.

The crucial jawline

The distance and angle between your earlobe and your chin is the defining factor in deciding the length of your hair, according to John Frieda. ‘It’s the most important proportion,’ he believes.


‘If that distance is short and you’ve got a sharp angle where the jaw turns and goes almost horizontal, like Audrey Hepburn or Isabella Rossellini, you can wear virtually any length hair or have it swept up.’


‘If your jaw is long and sloping like, say, Jerry Hall, you can’t wear really short hair – it exposes your jaw and is unflattering, whether it’s a cheek-length Chanel bob or drawn back into a very severe style,’ says John Frieda.

TIPFringes can disguise patches of thinning hair at the temples. Grading the sides of longer hair from the fringe downwards can be very flattering – it’s the gentle, casual look you get when you are growing out a fringe.

TIPFor the longer jaw, Frieda recommends an adaptable chin-length cut: ‘Though it could be slightly shorter, say, level with the crease between your mouth and the bottom of the chin. It’s worth scrutinising your chin; if it sticks out you may need an extra half inch in length as well as volume at the bottom; try also drying the ends under to soften the jawline.’

3) Surface and texture of hair

What styles should you consider to make the best of your hair type?

For instance, if your hair is fine and flyaway, think about having a short, layered cut – it’s easier to manage and will give your hair body. Talk to your hairdresser about how he/she will layer your hair. ‘The layers shouldn’t be of equal length,’ says John Frieda. ‘The problem areas are in a circle going from your forehead right round your head, where the head is sloping down and the hair grows in a downwards direction so there is no natural lift. So it’s vital the layers there should be shorter to give you height and volume, gradually getting longer all the way down – unless you want it very wispy at the bottom.’

If you have thick, uncontrollably frizzy or curly hair, the number one rule according to John Frieda is to avoid extreme layering. This type of hair expands upwards and outwards at every opportunity, and needs its own weight to stay down. However, gradual layers may be desirable around the hairline (to soften it) and at the bottom of the hair (to stop it flying out). Whether you cut it short or long depends primarily on the face shape, but a very short style, if it suits you, may make life easier. Maintaining good condition is essential for all frizzy hair, particularly if you have long pre-Raphaelite tresses. Since this type of hair tends to dry and split at the ends, John Frieda recommends trimming it every month; this is even more important, he insists, if it is very long.

To brush or not to brush?

Our grandmothers would argue that brushing hair was its best beauty treatment. But that was when brushing was hair’s only conditioner. Now that we have a galaxy of products to stimulate shine, brushing has come under fire for damaging hair, with some experts saying brushes should only be used as styling tools.

Top colourist Jo Hansford, however, protests that she, like many of us, would miss tipping her head upside down and giving her hair a good brush. She prefers a wooden brush with a cushion base and soft, flexible wooden bristles. A good solution, according to Dr Hugh Rushton, is always to detangle your hair before brushing by combing it, from the ends up, with a wide tooth comb. Hard rubber (vulcanite) combs, such as the range by Kent, are anti-static, easy to clean and moderately priced.

How to speak your hairdresser’s language – in pictures

Pictures taken from a magazine can be a great way of communicating with your stylist. Trying to describe the look you want can be tough because words such as ‘feathering’, ‘wispy’, ‘layers’, ‘fringe’ can mean a different look to you and a stylist. Think what happens, for instance, when you ask for only ‘half an inch off’; it can show all too disastrously how your mental tape measure differs from your hairdresser’s. A picture can give vital clues. Here are a few tips to making it work best for you.

  • Before you go to the stylist, consider whether it is in fact the mood of the picture and the overall look that has seduced you. Separate the model’s clothes and face from the haircut, and see if it still seems as appealing. (Having your hair cut like Catherine Deneuve’s won’t turn you into her – besides, we’ve heard that she goes to the hairdresser’s once a day, sometimes twice.)
  • Using the guides we have given, work out whether the model’s cut will suit your face shape, hairline, bone structure and neck length. Discuss these points with the stylist at the consultation.
  • When you do talk to the stylist, also ask if that cut will suit your hair texture. We always want the kind of hair we haven’t got – but even Nicky Clarke can’t turn fine, limp hair into a Farrah-esque mane. It may be that you could achieve the look in the picture but it would take 45 minutes of daily styling. Remember, the model probably has great hair naturally – apart from the fact that it was twirled and tweaked for hours to look that way for the shoot. Just outside the frame of the picture is the hairdresser with comb and spray can at the ready.

 John Frieda’s blowdrying tips

  • Get your hair to the point of being almost dry before you start styling. The critical time is when it’s turning from wet to dry – whatever you do then will get locked into the hair.
  • Start with your hairline; that’s the bit that shows.
  • Do the hair on top of your head before the underneath. Imagine looking down on your head and see it as a big diamond shape. Again, it’s the important part that everyone will see.
  • If you’ve got time, then dry the underneath.

John Frieda’s styling tips

  • Pump up the volume on dead straight hair by applying thickening lotion near to the roots and dry with your head upside down. Avoid using too many styling products.
  • Use a thickening spray at the roots and a finishing spray to control fine, flyaway hair. You need to avoid static, so don’t brush excessively or blowdry on a hot setting. Also try washing your brush or comb before use, then shaking dry.
  • De-frizz bushy hair with serum products that coat the hair in a fine, light film (Frizz-Ease is the bestselling product in America). Don’t towel dry and avoid heated styling tools. Once you’ve styled your hair, keep out of steamy bathrooms.
  • As there are very few truly efficient styling brushes available to private customers, ask your hairdresser to get professional brushes for you: he/she will know exactly which ones you need.


  • Use a brush with a rounded cushion, which stops hair being tugged by the bristles
  • Brush tangled hair from the ends; if you start at the top, you’ll just pull the tangles into a clump
  • Always use your brush gently; try not to pull or twist the hair too much, especially when blowdrying.