I am not alone. People, animals and babies all flock to the conversation of her hair. Friends of mine who don’t know Harling ask me about it! Part of the appeal is the hair itself, of course. After all, if someone wants to know who did her color, it’s because they like the color. But what I’ve always found most intriguing about my halo’d seat mate’s scalp noodles is how she uses her hair as one more accessory (sometimes, as the main accessory) in the maximalist compendium of her colorful, graphic, proportionally-playful outfits. I don’t think I’m alone here either.
And so, given that there’s a whole fan club out there waiting to know what kind of shampoo Harling uses on her self-sprouted curls, I asked her a whole bunch of hair-related questions. I also think you should also know that, thanks to one of her below answers, I will now be purchasing a silicone brush. — Amelia Diamond
How did your current hairstyle and color come to be?
In terms of color, I started getting highlights when I was a junior in high school. I vividly remember the first time I did it because I went to a slightly suspect salon where the stylist made me way too blonde. I had a college tour right after and coincidentally ran into my boyfriend and his family, who happened to be touring the same college on the same day. I was stressed because we were fighting at the time and it was our first encounter after a three-week spring break, which was all compounded by the fact that — as I mentioned — I was alarmingly blonde.
You’ll be relieved to know my relationship survived, but I did move on to better colorists. I went to the same person as my mom for a few years, who was good but would occasionally make me a bit streaky, so I decided I wanted to start seeing someone else. I did a TON of research before making an appointment with Cara Craig at Suite Caroline (Suite Caroline is known for doing blondes, and Cara has great reviews on Yelp). It took a few sessions, but Cara ended up nailing the formula for what I would now call my ideal blonde — which is fully inspired by Frederikke Sofie, for what it’s worth. It involves dying my roots to a lighter shade with a single process and then painting highlights on top of that.
An appointment with Cara is not cheap (and her prices have gone up in the years since I first started seeing her); however, the outcome is so good I’ve decided the expense is worth it to me, and I budget for it in advance when I know I’m going that month. She’s also a delightful human being and really fun to talk to, so I’m sufficiently hooked.
What’s the upkeep like in terms of cut and color?
I’m very unscientific about how often I get haircuts. I do it whenever the ends of my hair start to look noticeably broom-like, which is usually twice a year. I don’t have a go-to stylist or salon for haircuts, but the last place I went to was DevaCurl, which was great. For color, I usually see Cara twice a year for full highlights and a couple times in between just to touch up my roots and hairline.
What’s your daily styling/shower routine and how long does it take?
Washing my hair takes forever and is a huge pain, so I don’t do it more than once a week if I can help it. My process looks something like this:
Step one: Using a silicone brush, vigorously scrub hair and scalp with DevaCurl Low Poo. (I also use IGK Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub if I have buildup and need something more clarifying, or Briogeo’s Scalp Revival Shampoo, which I’ve been testing for a story and really like.)
Step three: Finger-comb hair while the conditioner is still in, until hair is completely detangled.
Step four: Rinse out conditioner. While hair is sopping wet, split into two sections and scrunch a quarter-sized dollop of IGK Hair Mistress Balm into each.
Step five: “Plop” hair with an oversized T-shirt until it is no longer sopping wet (usually around 20 minutes).
Step six: Air dry — which takes hours!
Halfway through my wash cycle when my curls start to sag or get frizzy, I’ll dampen my hair with a spray bottle and scrunch in some IGK Hair Mistress Balm or DevaCurl Styling Cream. This technique typically gives my hair a second wind and lets me procrastinate on fully washing it for a couple more days.
If my hair is super dry, I’ll apply a mask when I’m in the shower. I like this one by Tony Moly. It smells like coconut cupcakes.
Have you gone through a bunch of hair phases or had the same hair your whole life?
I’ve definitely gone through a few. I had super smooth hair for the entirety of my childhood, but when I hit puberty around age 13, it suddenly turned incredibly frizzy and incredibly curly. It was like someone had transplanted a completely different head of hair onto my scalp overnight (which is essentially what my hormones did, I guess!). It was dry and brittle all the time because I didn’t know how to take care of it. Online resources about curly hair were more limited then — and besides that, I had no idea where to even look. I truly hated my hair and felt like I was constantly battling it. For years, I wore it in high bun or ponytail that I slicked back so tightly it gave me traction alopecia, which is when your hairline starts to thin out or recede. Luckily mine grew back out when I started wearing my hair down more regularly later on, but it was a pretty rough experience.
I went through a chemical straightening phase in high school, starting with Japanese straightening the summer before 9th grade. It made my hair absolutely stick-straight, which I loved at the time. I decided to grow it out when I was in 10th grade because the upkeep was too intense, so I spent my entire 16th year of life with half of my hair curly and the other half straight. Total nightmare. In college, and for the first few years after I graduated, I blew it out straight on a (strict) weekly basis. No one knew what my natural hair looked like. I think I even forgot myself. Though I never did Japanese straightening again, I dabbled in other chemical treatments like Keratin and Brazilian Blowouts.
Working at Man Repeller had a big impact on my relationship with my hair. I wore my hair curly to work one day during my first month (because I didn’t have time to blow it out for whatever reason), and I remember being self-conscious, but everyone was really positive about it. Our photographer at the time asked to shoot me for Man Repeller’s Instagram, and the resulting photo was one of the first times I remember liking my curly hair in the whole history of having it. Honestly, it was also probably the impetus for me wanting to invest time in learning how to take care of my hair in a way that made me want to wear it curly regularly. After spending months combing curly hair forums online, stopping women on the sidewalk who had beautiful curly hair and asking them what products they used and experimenting in my tiny bathroom, I finally established a routine that allows me to delight in the natural texture of my hair instead of trying to subdue it.
Tell me about a standout hair-related memory.
When do you hate your hair?
When I desperately need to wash it and know that if I want it to look its best I’ll need to do my whole “routine,” which can be especially daunting if I’m feeling lazy. As much as I enjoy my hair now, I do get jealous of my friends who can just wash and go without having to think about it too much. Curly hair, bless its heart, can be incredibly high-maintenance. I try to keep my hair protocol as efficient as possible, but it’s still a whole THING, you know?
When do you love it?
When I’m getting dressed to go out to dinner on a weekend night and my hair is freshly washed (haha) and looking satisfyingly voluminous. Big, curly hair is so fun to accessorize with, especially when I want to look kind of glam. It changes my entire outfit, like the best kind of statement shoe.
What’s the most tragic or absolute best hair-related decision you’ve ever made?
Tragic: straightening it for years of my life. Best: purchasing a silk pillowcase.
What’s the most important thing to know about your hair?
That I used to hate it and now I love it. Knowing that this kind of drastic shift in perception is possible is significant to me, and something I consider whenever I’m sucked into an anxiety spiral about an aspect of myself — external or internal — that I don’t particularly like. At the end of the day, hair is just hair, but as with anything that feels connected to our identity in some way or another, the evolution of how we relate to it can say so much more.
Oh, also, when my hair is partly wet, it closely resembles that of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Photos via Harling Ross and by Edith Young. Image of Denethor via the Everett Collection.