The year was 1997. Shiny, frosted, feathered hair with grown-out bangs was on trend. I had just entered fourth grade in a new school. The beginning of middle school was the time where you either made new friends or cemented the friend group you already had. Basically, it was the one opportunity to either stay the way you were or become more popular. At the time, I was pretty shy and naive and had no clue about any of this.
Throughout elementary school, I had a close friend who lived down the street from me. While we lived in the same neighborhood, we were from really different families and backgrounds. We were the sort of friends you know when you’re little, but don’t stay close with. At the start of the school year, she invited me to go with her to get a haircut. We went to her salon, a couple of towns over.
I remember wanting that shiny, cool girl hair with bangs so badly. I guess I didn’t realize that girls with curly hair couldn’t really get that look. I came home from that haircut, sat on the stairs and cried. I felt so ugly.
I don’t remember if my mom came up with the idea on the spot, but she suggested that perhaps it could help if we dyed my bangs purple. I had already been interested in the idea of coloring my hair, so the concept was appealing. That week she bought some Manic Panic dye and we colored my bangs in the bathroom.
For the rest of the time we were in school together, my friend who had brought me to that salon desperately tried to be a part of the popular group. I had unfortunately already decided my fate with a tin of purple dye.
Throughout middle school and high school, I went on to lighten my hair with Sun-In, color the tips with Kool-Aid, bleach it lighter and color the tips hot pink, dye it a natural blond, flat iron it, cut it short, color it all pink, and bleach it white-blond again. All the while, I was sporting some of the most unique hairstyles of the late 90s and early 00s.
When I was younger, I was really into experimenting with different styles.
The town I grew up in was fairly preppy and that wasn't really my thing.
After I graduated high school, I went to college at Parsons in New York City and studied fashion design. Throughout school, I was still developing my
design sensibility and with that my personal style. By my senior year of
college, I had pretty much figured out who I was, both personally and as a
designer. I didn't feel the need to continue experimenting in that way.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college when I decided to grow my hair out. I started getting balayage every few months. I blew out my hair every day. My hair was still very tied to my identity but I decided it was time to be more polished.
Now, I still wear my hair mostly the same. Either straight or up in a ponytail. Sometimes I mix it up with a French braid if my hair needs to be washed or I’ll leave it curly if I’m at the beach. I express myself with bold and colorful clothing rather than with my hairstyle.
It’s funny seeing the photos of that terrible haircut so many years later. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as I remember it feeling. And while I hated it at the time, it definitely played a part in helping me embrace my quirkiness and shape me into the person I am now.
Today I am a fashion designer and illustrator. I love collecting and wearing vintage clothing. I actually began wearing vintage clothing in high school but I really started taking it more seriously while working at my first job after college. I mostly buy very colorful 60s and 70s clothing and wear it often. I think the bad haircut inspired a certain confidence to care less about what other people think in my work and my personal style and do more of what I like and what makes me comfortable.
Find Ivy Kirk on Instagram @illustrationsbyivy and @ivykirkcollection