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Hair: Hairstyle Design Key Elements


All hairstyles contain key elements of proper hair design ranging from the outline as well as the line of the hairstyle along with the style's hair color.

As I mentioned in Hair: Secrets Of Hairstyle Design, over the year's I've transitioned from consumer hair expert to licensed hairdresser and perpetual student of cosmetology.

It's a lifetime passion. I'll probably still be studying new cutting techniques while propped up in a high tech rocker someday.

I've spent time in cosmetology college learning all about hair style design, cutting, color, chemicals and the elements of good hairstyle design but working with braids, long hair, updos, hair extensions and natural hair care is my passion.

At my first cosmetology college we were not even allowed to cut "real" hair for many weeks.

In fact, before we were even allowed to cut hair we had to do scissor practices. Just imagine cosmetology students doing a series of drills learning to be fluid with a scissors in order to cut with precision and expertise. It happens.

From scissor drills the next step is cutting the hair on mannequin heads. Brave cosmetology students may even volunteer to have their tresses trimmed by practicing core students.

Many cosmo students do everything imaginable to their hair while in school. Having their hair temporarily botched by a core student is not as big a tragedy as botching the tresses of a visiting hair client.

Hairstyle Design - Key Elements

Along with scissor drills, mannequin cutting and fellow students cutting each others' hair, students have theory classes where they're taught the key elements of great hair design.

In the world of hairdressing everything starts with the cut. A great cut is the basis for a fabulous hairstyle and a happy customer. A less then great cut can result in a less than stellar hairstyle and the potential of an unhappy customer.

Although every cosmetology school may teach different hair design techniques, I have attended two completely different styles of cosmetology colleges. Both focused on the following key elements of proper hair designs:

1. Basic Outline Of Hairstyle - The outline of the overall hairstyle is the first key element and it consists of the basic form of the hairstyle. The outline of the hairstyle encompasses all angles. The form of the hairstyle design takes into consideration a number of factors such as the overall head, face and body shape, the length and width of the neck, the line of the shoulders and in some cases the chin.

The form of the hairstyle changes as it's viewed from front, back and side views. From a practical viewpoint the outline of the hairstyle should flow well and be a simple, pleasing and a clean design.

The ultimate outline of the hairstyle is what the hair client will see first.

2. Hairstyle Lines - Each hairstyle is composed of a series of different lines that include:

a. Horizontal or parallel lines. These lines extend in the same direction. They maintain a constant distance from each other. For example, the lines of a hairstyle are equally distant from the floor or the ceiling. Horizontal lines frame the width of the ultimate hairstyle. They extend from the front of the face to the back of the head.

b. Vertical lines run straight up and down. Visualize these lines running from the bottom edge of the hairstyle up to the top of the head.

c. Diagonal lines call between the horizontal and vertical hair lines. They are deployed to maximize certain facial features. They are also used to add an edge to hair designs. A common diagonal line is used on bob hairstyles.

d. Curved lines helped to soften a design. They can be large or small, full circle or parts of a circle.

Curved lines can be placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Curved lines repeating in opposite directions create a wave pattern.

3. Hair Color

Many people would be surprised to learn that color plays a key part in overall hair style design from a number of angles. Properly applied color complements a well designed outline and can maximize any design.

Although I learned massive amounts of information about cosmetology, I never felt that I had walked the cosmetology walk. I finally started attending night school at a very well known (and very difficult) cosmetology school in Dallas. The culture shock was overwhelming.

Even though I knew enough about hair to win an updo contest during the first weeks of school, I was stunned by the stamina required to stand on your feet for hours every day constantly using fingers, hands, shoulders, and elbows to shampoo, rinse, blow dry, brush and iron endless heads of hair.

After receiving a hair license from a school specializing in European hair I eventually attended a second well-known cosmetology college which was originally a CJ Walker school. I learned all about natural hair care for women and men of color including braiding and locking.

It was an awe inspiring experience providing with a newfound respect for all types, textures and lengths of hair.

Hair Style Design

One of the secrets of hair design that I learned at both of the cosmetology colleges I attended is that the principles of hairstyling design are basically the same regardless of the type of hair.

One college was focused on natural hair care for people of color and the other college dealt more with Caucasian hair issues.

Hairstyle design is truly an artistic exercise. Which may explain why some hairdressers are famous for their designs while other hairdressers may not be as celebrated for their hairstyle designs.

Hairstyle design is as much an artistic talent as it is learning technical techniques. Hairstyle design also requires practice, practice, practice.

Truly dedicated hairstylists will be surrounded by mannequins with every imaginable hair length, color and texture. This is because they are constantly working and learning about hair. A great hairstylist never feels like they are finished learning.

Hair Design Inspirations

Hairstyle design requires a very strong visual orientation. Whenever I have the great fortune to interview famous hairdressers like colorist Rita Hazan, Robert Hallowell and Laurent D, to name a few, I always ask what inspires their hair styles.

It's interesting what inspires great hair style designers.

Some well-known forms of hair design inspiration includes:

  • Hairstyles from the past. Celebrity hairstylists do a tremendous amount of research into past fashion and beauty trends for modern day inspiration. They love to design stunning hairstyles for his celebrity girls based on past movie star goddesses like Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow are often inspired by shapes and colors.
  • Furniture, buildings and architecture provide other forms of hair style inspiration. Kate Hudson's celebrity hairdresser told me in an interview that he is often inspired by a wide range of random objects including security cages at the airport.
  • Flowers, trees and many elements of nature such as wild animals inspire other hair designers. Have you ever wondered why some hairstyles end in feathered ends much like some exotic birds? Why are some hairstyles described as poodle cuts or shaggy mops?
  • Food is another form of inspiration for hairstylists who seek to reinvent the form, color and texture of a variety of food items into fabulous hair designs. I personally designed an updo inspired by a pineapple I bought at Whole Foods Market.
  • Waterfall, rivers, streams and ocean waves provide other great hairstyle inspirations. Cascading curl infused hair designs might have sprung from the hairdresser's fond memories of a trip to the local waterfall.
  • Fashion magazines are great sources of hair design inspiration since hair follows fashion in its evolution.

Of course there are more common hairstyle inspirations such as what the current celebrities are wearing or designs from rock stars, TV news reporters or even what hair salon clients suggest.

Original Hairstyle Designs Versus Formula Hairstyles

While the great hair style designers such as those who are in high demand for runways and red carpets work hard to tap into constant new inspirations for fabulous new hairstyle creations, the majority of hairdressers follow formula hairstyle creation.

This means that they have a technical workbook that carefully outlines the most common cuts and they stick to those cuts for the majority of their work.

Is a hairdresser who designs hairstyles based on technical formulas versus inspiration received while on a trip on Safari a hairdresser of less worth? No, not at all. Both types of hairdressers serve a major need for hair consumers.

Just as some celebrity hairstylists have a lot of opportunity to design award winning new hairstyles for the covers of major fashion magazines, they also need to be able to cut a precision bob.

It is however important to understand the difference between a hairdresser who does very creative hair style design versus a hairdresser who cuts according to formula. You most likely will find a hairdresser who cuts in the precision model at fast cutting locations where all the hairdressers do is quick and basic haircuts.

On the flip side, you most likely will find the most inspired hair designers at full service salons, working on models on runways or celebrities on Red Carpets.

Depending on your own personal hair style design needs and budget you may do great with a formula haircutter.

If you want a basic bob or shag, it would be overkill to seek out a high end hairstyle designer. A formula hair designer generally charges much less than a high design hairdresser.

Also, many high end hair designers want to have free reign to create a hair work of art. They do not want to be told to only trim 1/2" from the sides and make the fringe choppy.

They want to treat your hair like a canvas and design as their inspiration flows.

If you're a free spirit wiling to turn over the outcome of your hair to a high end hairstyle designer you will have quite a unique hair design experience.

On the other hand, if you are a more into controlling the outcome of your hairstyle, go for a technical hair designer, take a photo of the style you want and be assured that you will have more say in the final design.


Hair style design performed by licensed hairdressers is a true artistic talent which requires a very strong visual orientation.

While some hairdressers are inspired by a wide range of items ranging from Mother Nature to food and furniture, other hairdressers work from a technical formula foundation which means they cut and design hairstyles according to a proven hairstyle formula.

The high end hairstyle designers are truly artists who generally charge a lot more then the formula hair designers.

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Original Publication Date: 9/15/2001 - Revised Publication Date: 10/19/11

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