It turns out I have a hitherto unexplored talent: hairdressing.
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. But after eight or so months trimming my own undercut with the clippers I bought in my first week of university, I’ve picked up a few things. And my friends have been capitalising on this.
My first guinea pig was Louis, who had previously had an undercut. That was now growing out, and Louis also had another challenge for me that went above and beyond trimming and reshaping the existing shave: he wanted to shave the other side and have a style more like a mohawk.
The first side was relatively easy, even in terms of re-shaping — there’s less to lose if it goes wrong, since the hair is already short. I felt like that went pretty smoothly.
Louis’s hair is also forgiving because of the bright colours, and the way the darker roots naturally give it shape. But I was still pretty proud of this. It came out looking punk rock as well as pretty.
The other side was harder. Louis’s had an undercut for a while, and even before that he had a fringe going to the right, so his hair naturally goes that way. In order to shave the other side I had to pin that up, and I also knew the end result would not look as good as it will when his hair learns to lie backwards rather than sideways. Nevertheless, I took up my scissors and braced myself to make the first few cuts.
(“I take no responsibility if this goes wrong. You wanted me to do this.”)
With hair on top pinned back it was possible to see approximately how it will look when styled, but I also ran into another problem: making it symmetrical. Nobody’s head is exactly the same shape all the way around and bizarrely, Louis’s hair grows differently behind his right ear, so I thought I’d shaved too much but had actually shaved too little (a much better way for it to be, though). We got there in the end.
I thought that would probably be the end of my haircutting adventures but when Charley came to visit me today she was very taken with Louis’s hair, and I suggested that I could give her an undercut. At first she was a bit taken aback, because it is a pretty drastic thing to do on short notice, but after thinking about it for the better part of the afternoon she eventually said, “Screw it, let’s do this.”
And although never having had an undercut before meant Charley was as ignorant as me as to how it would look, it turned out awesome.
Charley’s hair is a lot longer than Louis’s, so it was a more nerve-wracking experience cutting the long parts with scissors before getting out the clippers. I started out just cutting the area short in a fairly rough manner, which led to some interesting patterns.
After that it was time to get the clippers out. I started with a number two — Louis’s is a number one, the shortest cut with a cap on the clippers, and that’s what I usually use to trim mine too. After a while, though, we concluded that a number one would look better and be more consistent with the parts I’d snipped a little too short (whoops).
I took photos throughout the process and kept showing them to Charley to check she was absolutely okay with what I was doing, even when it was too late to change tack. Although it was a more major operation, though, I felt a lot more comfortable doing Charley’s hair, because I’ve had a bit of practice now and I knew what I was doing.
Even before we’d finished I knew it would suit Charley brilliantly, and actually I’m a bit jealous — hers ended up looking better than mine. The problem is, you see, that I can’t trim mine as well as I can trim other people’s, and also my hair is still boring and brown instead of bright red like both of my models so far.
It’s funny to realise I have this skill, narrow and fairly unhelpful as it is — it reminds me that there’s more to being talented than studying at Cambridge. Being able to cut hair is probably more likely to get me a job than studying Old Irish, you know? I’m impressed by hairdressers who can do so many different styles, since I’m fairly limited in my knowledge of undercuts. I offered to cut Charley’s fringe a bit too, but she declined. I guess she doesn’t trust me that much.
It’s not that I didn’t always think vocational skills were useful — I just didn’t realise I had any. And while I think I’m unlikely to be opening a salon any time soon, if any of my friends want an undercut I’d be happy to oblige… for maybe a fiver or something.
Also there’s something that seems distinctive to being a student about cutting your friend’s hair over a spread of newspaper on your bedroom floor, something youthful and punk rock and fun, so I’m glad it’s been a part of my university experience.
Also, to be honest, I’m just glad about the number of undercuts in my friendship group. When I got mine I barely knew anybody else who had one, and now I have a squad — there’s a sense of unity there. Even if I’ve yet to catch up with the hair dye side of things because of allergies.
If you’re anywhere near me and you want an undercut, though, you know who to call…