Charlize Theron—who has experimented with hairstyles ranging from a blonde buzz cut to a short brunette bob—recently took to Instagram to share what is perhaps her boldest hair transformation to date. In the photo, the South African actor is seen sporting a super-chic bowl cut for her role as cybervillain Cipher in the next installment of the Fast & Furious franchise. The blunt fringe, dark undercut and honey highlights make the retro chop feel fresh again—and we’re seriously obsessed.
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Charlize is not the only celeb daring to give the ’90s throwback haircut a try—Céline Dion can be seen donning a sleek, high-fashion pageboy wig (a close cousin to the bowl cut) on the cover of this month’s Harper’s Bazaar, actor Mackenzie Davis’ short do steals the show in the trailer for the upcoming action flick Terminator: Dark Fate and Timothée Chalamet recently chopped off his luscious curls into something that can best be described as a regal mushroom for Netflix’s new Shakespearean drama The King, in which he portrays Henry V. Even Harry Styles, a true fashion icon, has been spotted with a textured bowl cut, thus confirming its status as this season’s hottest hairstyle.
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While the bowl cut is now being adopted by celebrities, it’s worth noting that it has a long history of being associated with marginalized communities, especially low-income families and LGBTQ people. As Toronto-based hairdresser Selena Hofmann points out, the DIY cut has long been a staple in working class households (remember that haircut your mom gave you with a literal bowl and kitchen scissors?), and it remains a necessity for people who don’t feel welcome or comfortable in hair salons. DIY styling is empowering and liberating: “I know of lots of queer and trans people—including myself—who have done haircuts outside of traditional salon spaces. If you can cut a straight line and you enjoy the DIY aesthetic you can create a fun new style for yourself or your friends,” says Hofmann.
Edgy, fierce and a little nostalgic, the bowl cut is fashionable again and more stylish than ever. We asked hairstylist Adir Abergel, the mastermind behind Charlize Theron’s bold new hairdo, what it takes to pull off—and maintain—a modern bowl cut.
So, how is the modern bowl cut different than the one I had as a kid?
The words “bowl cut” may bring to mind the school photos buried somewhere in the depths of your parents’ basement, but there’s nothing childish about this modern version. The stylized chop we’re seeing everywhere this season is softer and more delicate than its ’90s counterpart, and—believe it or not—doesn’t actually involve putting a mixing bowl on your head. To give the blunt cut an update, Abergel left the edges of Charlize’s hair longer to frame her face. “The perimeter of the “bowl” was notched into, taking out the weight, so it’s collapsed. It has movement, and that’s what makes it so incredibly modern,” he explains.
Can I—an adult who was not blessed with the bone structure of a Hollywood actor—really pull off a bowl cut?
The modern bowl cut is all about finding the right proportions for your face and highlighting your best features. Don’t be afraid to leave your bangs a little longer or to opt for a side-swept variation—this hairstyle doesn’t have to be cut directly across the brows in a blunt fringe to work, says Abergel. Leaving length in the bangs is also an easier transition, especially for those who have always worn their hair long. “People have worn their hair in very soft ways for a very long time. [The bowl cut] is just a fun way to transition into something else and see yourself differently,” says Abergel.
Hofmann suggests looking in the mirror and holding up your hair in different ways to experiment with new styles and see what you like. If you have doubts or concerns, don’t hesitate to talk to your hairdresser, she adds—they’re trained professionals and will be able to guide your decision.
What kind of hair type is best suited to a bowl cut?
This type of cut works best on straight to wavy hair types. “Wavy to curly hair makes it a lot more difficult, because you have to work hard on making it feel small,” explains Abergel. If your hair has a lot of volume, try using product to take some of the frizz away. It’s worth considering that it might take longer to style your hair in the morning if it’s curly, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try the bowl cut if your hair is voluminous—after all, if Timothée Chalamet can make it work, so can you.
What should I ask my hairdresser for to get a modern bowl cut like Charlize’s?
When it comes to haircuts (and pretty much everything else in life), knowing how to ask for what you want is half the battle. The key is to make sure that you and your hairstylist are on the same page. To replicate Charlize Theron’s style, ask for a short fringe that hits above the ears and wraps around the head to meet at the back in a low V-shape. The next step is to create a very short (approximately one-inch long) undercut. Abergel recommends asking your hairstylist not to use a buzzer. “You should use scissors, so it still feels soft,” he explains. If you’re looking to get your new bowl cut coloured, keep the roots dark and ask your colourist to focus their work on the ends for a lived-in look that’s still delicate and pretty.
How do I style a modern bowl cut?
Today’s bowl cut is a surprisingly versatile hairstyle. Unlike the shelf-like versions of the past, the layers give the style a lot of dimension and the freedom to be creative—wear it with side-swept bangs, slicked back with gel or style the top layer upwards in messy waves for a chic rock’n’roll vibe.
But there’s no need to get fancy. Even just a little bit of wax to separate the ends and create movement is enough. As Hofmann points out, the great thing about rocking a cut like this one is its wash-and-go nature—it requires very little styling to look good. To keep your hair healthy and frizz-free, Abergel recommends using the Split End Serum and the Polish Un-Frizz Cream from the luxe haircare line Virtue, favourites of Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart.
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What is the maintenance of a bowl cut like?
Like any short hairstyle, the bowl cut needs regular upkeep. It’s simply a matter of keeping the undercut short and trimming the fringe as needed. And when you’re ready to experiment with a new look, you can easily grow out your bowl cut into a cute bob, Abergel says. Because the modern bowl cut is layered, it looks good even as it grows out, which means that the awkward transition stage between hairstyles is relatively short.
Abergel gives the example of Kristen Stewart, another celeb client of his: “The bowl would kind of grow into something like [Kristen’s haircut] eventually. It’s still super fashionable. It would still feel soft, would still have like all those soft edges.”
I’m intrigued by the bowl cut, but not ready to commit. How can I fake the look?
The secret to faking the bowl cut, Abergel says, is to opt for a haircut with two layers: an undercut and a top layer. “How you blend both of those layers together gives you the ability to have some dimension,” he adds. If you’re not ready to chop off your locks just yet, you can adapt the trendy bowl cut to your comfort level by leaving your hair longer on the sides and slicking it back with gel to give the illusion of an undercut—but keep in mind that this clever trick will only work on shorter styles.
What if it all goes wrong and my bowl cut is more my-mom-cut-my-hair than modern?
We can all agree that growing out a bad haircut is the worst, but as Abergel says: “Hair is your greatest accessory and it should be celebrated without any fear, because hair grows.” And if you end up looking like a pencil (à la Claire in Fleabag, above), just remember: it’s not terrible, “it’s French.”