Medium-length hairstyles — the ones that aren’t too short but aren’t exactly long either — have the potential to look awkward. The in-between-length hair sits right at the shoulders or just below and it can certainly either look stunning … or it can look, frankly, like it’s in transition. While there are tons of beautiful medium-length hairstyles to try out, there are some you should definitely avoid.
Whether you’re trying grow out a short ‘do or are thinking about chopping off some length, you should check out the most popular medium-length hairstyles that are trending, but you should also consider your face shape as hairstyles are generally not a one-size-fits-all solution. According to hairstylists and haircare experts, these are the best — and worst — medium-length hairstyles for women.
Disclaimer: If you do happen to rock one of the not-so-ideal styles right now, wear it with confidence. Confidence is sexier than any style, anyway, and hair grows back!
Best medium-length hairstyle: Soft layers
Layers never go out of style — if they’re done well. Soft layers that fall like feathers, especially, can really do wonders to any medium-length hairstyle. “Soft layers show movement and texture in your haircut,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, confirmed to The List. Simply put: Layers can take an otherwise bland medium-length haircut and give it some fun flair.
“Lots of textured layers create a soft shape, which is perfect for curls and waves,” Chicago-based hairstylist Nicole Coil of Blueberry Moon told Glamour. “And it works to give lift and volume to smooth styles.” While that surely sounds magical, you should also know that not all layers are created equal. And there have definitely been bad haircuts thanks to too many, too choppy, or too short layers. That said, make sure you choose your layers carefully and consult a trained stylist to have yours done professionally.
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Perm
Getting a perm might seem like a fun idea, but the harsh reality is that a perm can seriously damage your hair — especially if your hair is already damaged. “A perm can damage your hair when not done or taken care of properly,” Casey Wintheiser, a hairstylist at The Blowout Parlor, told Bustle. “It changes the chemical properties of your hair to get that curl or wave. The chemicals used are harsh on your hair but not in the way bleach is.” The expert continued, saying, “With a perm, you are not stripping it like bleach and making your hair very fragile, but a perm is going into the cuticle of the hair.”
If you have virgin hair, you should be able to get away with a perm, but if you bleach or color your locks, Wintheiser said you may want to think twice before going in for a perm. Otherwise, you risk some very serious breakage, not to mention regret.
Best medium-length hairstyle: Lob
Lobs — also known as long bobs — are a classic look. “With the right stylist, growing out your hair doesn’t need to be a dreadful experience,” Charlie Martin, creative director and owner of Salon One Six One, told Glamour. “Women are growing out their short hair and are into collarbone-length lobs. This cut works great with softened layers throughout the crown, not to compromise fullness around the perimeter or length.” The expert continued, saying, “Adding a subtle fringe is also a great way to not get bored.”
This haircut doesn’t have to sit at the collarbone, however. “The lob looks good with varying lengths, which makes it perfect for all face shapes and hair types,” Stacie Bowie, owner of Bowie Salon and Spa in Seattle, Washington, also told Glamour. The point is to find the length that works well for you. If you have medium-length hair already, a lob that sits at about your shoulders or collarbone is going to be easy to achieve.
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Too-long lob
While lobs can come in different lengths, it’s important to remember that a lob is a “long bob.” This means that if it falls too long, it’s no longer a lob — it’s just a totally different hairstyle at that point. While there’s technically no right or wrong when it comes to hair length, there is a point when the lob misses the mark.
“When it comes to looks, there really aren’t any good looks or bad looks; there’s just the ‘right look,'” Gina Rivera, founder of Phenix Salon Suites, explained to The List. “The best thing to do is to rely on a salon professional to help you.” If you’re looking for a lob, though, there are some guidelines to follow.
“Lobs should have a thickness at the bottom especially in the front by the face,” Devin Toth, hairstylist at Salon SCK in New York City, told The List. “When they are overly layered or a little too long, the hairstyle can look see-through and ratty at the bottom by the face.” This means you’ll need to find the sweet spot. The lob should be “not too short, not too long, but very flattering,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, told The List.
Best medium-length hairstyle: The modern shag
Through the decades, we’ve witnessed various iterations of the shag hairstyle. This ever-evolving look remains a great one for women with medium-length haircuts because it’s both simple and easily styled. “The modern shag — almost everyone can wear it, and it’s versatile,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, confirmed to The List.
Shags are all about fluidity. “A modern shag should have really short hair in the front that seamlessly blends into longer hair in the back,” Devin Toth, a stylist at Salon SCK in New York City, told The List. “There should only be a few mid-length pieces between the front and back. Modern shags look best with a wavy or curly style. When you style a shag too straight, it becomes a little dated.”
The shag actually works very well with curly hair, in particular. Lauren Moser, curl specialist and owner of Hair Lab Detroit, told Glamour exactly how to achieve the curly shag: “For wavy curls and dense, tight S-curl types, be sure to request internal [channel cut] layers to be added in after the shape is cut to encourage weightlessness and texture throughout for ease of styling.” The expert continued, saying, “For coily and kinky hair, this step is unnecessary.”
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Mullet
Many hairstylists seem to agree that the mullet just doesn’t do most people justice. Yes, ot needs to go. “The mullet with shaved sides and a long back — that is ugly,” celebrity hairstylist Paul Labrecque of Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa put it bluntly when chatting with The List. The “business in the front, party in the back” look of the ’80s probably should have stayed in the ’80s.
“The mullet was never a good look,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, admitted to The List. Despite how much so many people seem to dislike the mullet, some argue that it’s almost so bad that it’s good, according to The New York Times. Some celebrities are trying to bring it back by sporting a current version of the mullet, too. Miley Cyrus, for example, recently rocked a piecey mullet that her hairstylist, Sally Hershberger, reportedly said is a “modern mullet,” according to Glamour. Modern or retro, the mullet is certainly a questionable one.
Best medium-length hairstyle: The modern "Rachel"
If you know Rachel, the character played by Jennifer Aniston on the 1990s television sitcom Friends, then you know what we’re talking about when we say “The Rachel.” Although Aniston’s iconic hairstyle may have been synonymous with the ’90s, it isn’t relegated to the past.
“Rachel rocked this look years ago, and it’s still resonating among women worldwide,” Adel Chabbi, hairstylist and owner of Adel Atelier, told Allure. “Why do we like it so much? Mainly, it gives a lot of movement to a haircut, creating a fabulous [look].”
But there’s a more modern version of The Rachel that’s resonating even more with women these days. “The nouveau version of the famous ‘Rachel’ haircut Aniston had is a shaggier longer design with the addition of a sexy curtain fringe,” Amy Abramite, creative director, salon educator, and stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, told The List. “The original ‘Rachel’ length sat on the shoulders while this one is well beyond the collarbone. The bombshell blowout is done with a large round brush to curve the layers inward and flair out at random. More Bardot, less Aniston!”
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Face-framing layers
Face-framing layers just don’t work for everyone. These kinds of layers really depend heavily on your face shape and hair type. “Hair shorter in the front, longer in the back creating a ‘v’ shape makes the hairstyle look weak and like it’s a bad haircut,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, told The List. “And over-layering in the front is dated and unflattering.” If you want to layer without that shape, you might want to try a technique that stylists have taken to using instead.
Devin Toth, a stylist at Salon SCK, told The List, “Ghost layers are trending now — the effects of the layers are seen, but it’s not obvious where all the tips of them are. They fall more vertically and hidden as opposed to outwardly cascading and obvious.” Besides, most hair already has invisible layers.
“Layers are pretty much a part of any haircut,” hairstylist Luke Hersheson of Hersheson’s told Glamour. “To the naked eye, it might look like it’s more one length, but actually it would give you more shape when you tong it or style it,” he explained.
Best medium-length hairstyle: Blunt cut
Make no mistake: Blunt is not boring. Blunt cuts can actually be really liberating as they’re fairly basic (in the best way), simple to style, and nevertheless beautiful. “Blunt cuts make your hair look thicker and add a youthfulness,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, revealed to The List. Blunt cuts are really all about structure and simplicity, making them one of the best styles to try.
“I think the best haircuts for 2020 will be all about structure — out with the messy texture, in comes the polished structure,” Riawna Capri, co-owner of L.A.’s Nine Zero One, told Glamour at the outset of 2020. She further foretold “more blunt thick lines in haircuts instead of shattered, piecey, texture.” Other stylists agree. Garren, celebrity stylist and co-founder of R+Co, told Refinery29 that the blunt haircut trend is a sort of “back-to-basics movement.” He explained, “From short pixies to long cuts, the razor-sharp structure signifies a certain freedom from excess weight.”
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Choppy layers
Choppy layers don’t work so well with all hair — especially if your hair already isn’t super long. Choppy layers in medium-length hair can make the hair seem even shorter and thin out the length that you do have.
Skip the choppy layers and go for understated “ghost layers” instead. These are layers of varying lengths; some are longer, and some are shorter, but they’re all worked in to the hair to add motion in a subtle and sexy way. “[Ghost layering] is a technique that adds movement and texture while giving the illusion of a one-length haircut,” celebrity stylist Ramon Garcia told Mane Addicts. “It works for all types of hair, so it really is the best of both worlds.”
Garcia told Mane Addicts that he wanted to give his clients a fresh ‘do, and that’s why he started adding ghost layers as opposed to more readily apparent layers. “I wanted to give people a more modern look,” he said. “You can’t see it until you’re walking down the street and the wind hits you.”
Best medium-length hairstyle: Naturally curly bangs
Letting your naturally curly bangs do their own thing can be lots of fun. “Natural curls — everyone loves natural curls,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, told The List. Curly forehead fringe is also so much simpler to style than straightening your bangs or blowing them out smoothly all the time.
“It’s an easy way to soften a look and add dimension,” Michelle Lee, owner and manager of Salon Eva Michelle, said of curly bangs when speaking to Glamour. Celebrity stylist Vernon François told Allure that people care less about their hair being straight these days, so that’s why curly fringe is having a serious moment. “People are now getting into exploring [curly bangs] because it’s a fresh approach,” he said.
Still, you have to be careful with curly fringe. “With curly hair, it’s always a hit or miss,” he went on. “[Bangs] can look epically amazing or really bad,” which is why he suggested working “very closely with your stylist and [having] a really good consultation.”
Worst medium-length hairstyle: Bouffant
Bouffants are a thing of the past — or at least they should be. You know the one, right? That classic ’60s hairstyle characterized by teased-up hair styled high on the head. It typically covers the ears or hangs down on the sides, and it looks like a style your great grandmother would have rocked in her glory days.
“The bouffant adds to your age and looks [like] a helmet,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois opined to The List. If it’s volume you’re seeking, however, there are some retro trends that you can choose instead. For example: The hair flip. It gives you height without the antiquated style.
“I have always admired a good flip,” celebrity hairstylist Paul Labrecque with Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa told The List. “From Jackie O to Rene Russo’s look in The Thomas Crown Affair to Margot Robbfie wearing it on the red carpet, it’s hot and timeless.”
Best medium-length hairstyle: Undone waves
Waves have never gone out of style. Perhaps because they look — and many times are — natural. And who doesn’t love that effortless natural beauty? If your hair isn’t naturally wavy, there are countless tutorials promising easy, beautiful waves. And yes, you should try the style. “Undone waves are soft and playful,” Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois, told The List.
There are several ways to really spruce up your waves, too. “Incorporate a few spritzes of sea salt spray or dry shampoo from the mid-lengths to the ends to recreate the same airy texture,” Mickey Charles, a stylist at Cutler Salon, told Self. If you need some extra help, a curling iron or wand can achieve these waves, as well. “If you’re using a curling iron or rod, the key to natural waves is to wrap different-sized sections in opposite directions so they’re not uniform,” Christine Healey, a hairstylist at Rita Hazan Salon, told the publication.
Worst medium-length hairstyle: The awkward-length cut
Medium-length haircuts can be truly beautiful, but the mere length of your hair isn’t the be-all and end-all of a good look. “I don’t necessarily think it’s the length of the hair that makes it good or bad,” celebrity hairstylist Michelle Cleveland admitted to The List. “Instead, I believe it’s the face shape that you should work with.” Yes, work with it, not against.
Even if you do pick a style that works for your face shape, medium-length haircuts can still feel a bit awkward if you leave your hair in that sort of unsure and in-between place. Though, you may need to do that if you’re trying to grow out your hair.
“When it comes to awkward, mid-length, in-between hair lengths, just remember that braids and hair accessories are completely on trend right now, which is fortunate because they can fix and camouflage almost anything,” Devin Toth, a stylist at Salon SCK, told The List. “A well-placed barrette, snap clip, or headband can go along way, and so can a strategic braid.”
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