I Convinced 3 Women to Get a Perm in 2018

Man Repeller community members get a perm before and after.

What do you think of when you hear the word “perm”? I think of Chutney Windham in Legally Blonde, who sported a C-C-C-CURLY perm so delightfully frizz-filled it stuck out from her head at least six inches on either side. It perfectly encapsulated the 80s prom queen hair aesthetic (think Janet Jackson in the music video for “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” Sandy at the end of Grease, Whitney Houston on the cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or Baby in Dirty Dancing) that made perms so popular back in the day. The bigger the hair, the better.

I’m a big fan of the 80s perm look (it’s so fun and expressive!), but I also associate its enthusiastic va-va-voom-ness (often exacerbated by a half-ponytail pile-up) with a bygone era. As with neon leg warmers, tank tops layered under skin-tight off-the-shoulder tops and acid wash jeans, perms seem indelibly inked into the aesthetic fabric of a specific time period. What would the 2018 version of a perm even look like? The too-perfect, chemical-induced uniformity of a perm seems a mismatch with our current times. I should have known, then, that the answer would be something along the lines of: “Whatever you want!!!!!!” A 21st-century classic.

I learned about the modern iteration of perms through a PR email from Takamichi Hair in New York that called it “a very popular service.” When I reached out for more information, they told me they use a technique wherein the perm rods are randomized, resulting in an unconventional wave pattern that looks more subtle (i.e. less like a perm from the 80s). Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Since I already have curly hair myself, I assembled a group of three Man Repeller readers with different hair types* who were interested in volunteering their beautiful craniums for a modern perm test-drive. Each of them received the Milbon Prejume Wave Perm treatment at Takamichi Hair (which typically costs $350+ depending on hair length and texture) for free. Below, their before and after photos and uncensored reviews.

*Note: Participants also had to have untreated hair, as the perm can be damaging to hair that has been recently bleached or relaxed.


Why were you interested in getting a perm?

I was getting bored with my hair! I’ve had the same hairstyle for years — dark and straight with a center part. Also, I don’t have the most manageable hair and always need to spend some effort in the morning that involves a hair straightener or a curling iron, which makes me anxious when I need to rush out of the door. Not to mention I travel often and always need to consider whether I want to dedicate some space in my carry-on to fit in hair-related appliances.

How would you describe your natural hair type? What was your hair routine pre-perm?

I have very dark blackish-brown hair. Very coarse, straight, doesn’t hold its shape, but very healthy. I remember back in college, I would spend an hour doing my hair with my roommate before going out. And after about two hours of dancing, my hair would lose those painstakingly done curls and go almost completely straight. Some days I am very into the straight, center-parted look, but I get bored.

I shampoo my hair about three times a week, usually in the evening. I prefer to air-dry my hair because it gives my hair a better shape, i.e. more fluffy and less flat (or because I completely lack blow-drying skills). I need to make sure I don’t fall asleep before it dries completely otherwise I wake up with my hair totally flat on top, split in different directions on the bottom. I apply some argan oil or leave-in conditioner when my hair is about 60% dry. I am also very into brushing my hair and massaging my scalp with a large wooden hairbrush I got from my mom.

How would you describe your hair after the perm? What is your hair routine like now?

I worked with Lian to create this type of easy casual wave after telling her how much I love Alexa Chung’s perfectly tousled hair. It’s a lot more voluminous and airy (which I love) than the straight hair I used to have. The downside is it looks a bit more frizzy. And I still occasionally have to pull out my hair straightener to fix that one strand of hair next to my chin that’s flying away from my face, or try to fluff up the section right on top of my head that has gone completely flat during the night.

I am trying to reduce to shampooing to twice a week (after my stylist Lian suggested the optimal frequency is once a week). Then I blow dry my hair using a hair diffuser to keep the waves intact (also suggested by Lian) until my hair is damp, then apply my usual argan oil or leave-in conditioner.

Mornings have become so much calmer! All I need to do is spray a bit of water on my hair and run my fingers through it. I add a bit of hairspray on days I feel like putting in more effort. My bangs look much shorter with the new curls; I use dry shampoo on them between shampoos to make them less oily and give them a more airy look.

How do you feel about the treatment overall? Has it changed your life in any significant way? Would you do it again?

It definitely saves me some precious time in the morning. I no longer worry that if I oversleep and need to roll out of bed and get out of the door in 10 mins (which is 80% of my morning), my hair would sell me out. And on days I put in some effort to look more together, it actually looks effortless. I would definitely do it again.


Why were you interested in getting a perm?

I was feeling impulsive and wanted a change. I’ve always wanted curlier hair because I get tired of my in-between texture. Getting a perm felt like a more unusual way of changing my look than dying my hair or chopping it off.

How would you describe your natural hair type? What was your hair routine pre-perm?

Somewhere between straight and wavy, depending on what I do to it while it dries. Before I got the perm, I typically washed my hair every day to every other day, depending on what I did that day/how much I thought it needed washing. I usually let it air dry. I ended up straightening my hair or curling it a lot.

How would you describe your hair after the perm? What is your hair routine like now?

Pretty curly and big, because it’s naturally super thick. Post perm, I wash my hair every day because it needs to be wet to style it. I’ve started using Davine’s Love curl shampoo and conditioner, which Gene, the stylist who did the perm, recommended to me. I don’t feel the need to apply heat to it at all, so I really just let it dry and go out like that!

How do you feel about the treatment overall? Has it changed your life in any significant way? Would you do it again?

I’m so glad I got it, and most people don’t even realize I got a perm until I tell them. When people think perm, they think super artificial-looking curls, but my hair looks like it’s just naturally curly now. One of my friends saw me after the perm and told me I looked like I stumbled out of a rom-com, and that’s basically how I’ve been feeling. I feel like my outfits have been more fun since getting a perm, and I’d definitely do it again in the future!


Why were you interested in getting a perm?

My hair is so straight that it has always required maximum effort to bring some life into it. While I enjoy the ritual of getting ready, it becomes really time-consuming to have to start from square one every morning. Also, I’ve always envied people with beautiful curly hair and I wanted to know what that was like.

How would you describe your natural hair type? What was your hair routine pre-perm?

Straight, soft and heavy. I could sleep with it braided or in a bun and it would go back to being straight within minutes. I would wash it every evening (I’ve never confessed that to so many people) except on weekends, let it air dry, and style it in the morning. I’d always have to style my bangs with a flat iron so they wouldn’t look so straw-like.

How would you describe your hair after the perm? What is your hair routine like now?

Still soft but with more volume at the root and a nice, gentle wave that I can enhance with products and styling. I wash two to three times a week (shampooing twice) and I let my hair partially air dry before drying it with a diffuser. I’ve never really needed conditioner in the same way that I need it now. While my hair is still wet, I put in this curl serum that Sara recommended to me and it makes a big difference in terms of giving the curls more hold. I’ll usually sleep on it like that and do some touch ups in the morning like taming my bangs so the sides don’t flare out too much or defining some of the front pieces with a curling wand.

How do you feel about the treatment overall? Has it changed your life in any significant way? Would you do it again?

I’m so happy with how it turned out! I was weirdly calm about the idea of putting my hair through this process before going into it. Almost every response that I got from friends and family was a variation of, “WHAT? A PERM?” but my hair is relatively healthy, so thankfully it fared well. I didn’t actively dislike my hair before this but I always felt more confident, or more “done”, when my hair had some waves/curls in it — almost like it compliments my face and sense of style. And now it’s like 75% of the work is done for me which is great. It’s technically more maintenance, but with less frequency. I love the idea of my hair being like this all the time, but am well-aware that it’s not the most realistic or healthy approach.

If I were to do this again, I’d get it done at the same time of the year so the perm could last throughout the summer, because straight bangs in 80+ degree weather are not enjoyable. But for now, I will happily ride out this hair stage until the next inspiration strikes.

Photos by Edith Young.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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