Main content
Emily Rekstis details how her various hair transformations

The Ups & Downs of My 20s As Told By My Hair

Writer Emily Rekstis details how her various hair transformations helped her navigate major life changes throughout her 20s.

There’s no denying that your 20s are a confusing time, filled with self-exploration and self-discoveries. You’re trying to figure out who you are in the world and who you want to be. Some people explore their sense of self by switching up their career path, moving to a different city, or simply by picking up new hobbies. I loved my job, my city, and my weekends spent reading. So, instead of making any drastic live changes in my 20s, I made lots of different hair changes to help myself navigate the oftentimes confusing journey that is adulthood.

Throughout my teen years, I always sported long, blonde locks. I was your average all-American girl, throwing my healthy strands into a ponytail for soccer games after wearing it down and straight to school in true early-aughts fashion.

My first big change was your basic breakup cut when I was 20. It wasn’t my first relationship, but it was my first true heartbreak. To celebrate this crushing adult moment, I took myself to a salon off Washington Square Park and got my hair chopped into a sleek lob. As I sat in the park afterwards, admiring what I thought of as my chic New York City style in a black cape coat and dark glasses, I snapped selfies to celebrate the occasion all the while secretly hoping my ex would catch a glimpse of my new and improved look.

After graduating college a few months later, I celebrated this newfound freedom without structure, rules, or a fulltime job by coloring my ends pink, created using hair chalk instead of permanent hair dye. I was never ready to fully commit to this carefree phase, bidding adieu to the trendy look before securing my first job at Harper’s Bazaar.

With this new super grown-up gig, I needed to be seen as a professional adult. I swapped out my waitressing cutoffs and pink ends for a brunette, office-appropriate ‘do. Sick and tired of having to keep up appointments at the salon, I thought I’d just embrace my darker strands and go all in on brown once and for all. It only took a couple weeks of blow drying for the blonde to start peaking out.

Slowly but surely, I worked my way back to a sunny blonde color that was not quite right, but nevertheless, much better than the chestnut brown. It wasn’t long before I got bored with this, however, so in the midst of reading about the 1960’s and 70’s Chelsea Hotel scene from one of my favorite authors, I made an abrupt decision to go short and choppy with a chin-length cut and uneven bangs. Not long after this spontaneous cut, I quit my full time magazine job to go freelance. I may not have been able to pull off the author’s mullet, but I decided I was going to be a writer like her.  

I love this look and kept it for as long as I could, but a little over a year afterwards, I found out my dad was dying. Eight hour drives to Ohio got in the way of my regular salon appointments, so I let the bangs and roots grow out. My unkempt look reflected exactly how I felt inside.

After months spent grieving in bed, when I was ready to get my life back on track, I opted for a bold new look to celebrate. I dyed my hair a stunning bleach blonde just in time for summer. It gave me a burst of inspiration and energy that I needed. Unfortunately, my already thin hair was not up to the task of harsh bleaching sessions, so after a year or so, we took it back down to a more natural shade, where it’s stayed ever since.

Why I Changed My Hair So Often In My 20s

Changing up my hair was a way for me to take ownership of my life. Through these minor (and sometimes major) hair transformations in my 20s, I could embody the person I felt I wanted to be. It was almost like I was trying on different personas as I worked out the type of New Yorker I aspired to be. 

When I wanted to feel like a true edgy artist, I got a spontaneous choppy blunt ‘do. When I wanted to be seen as a professional and taken seriously, I embraced a less-stylized look. I discovered that as much as I loved going bold and playing dress up with bleached strands or blunt bangs, I never truly was comfortable with any of these looks. The bleach wreaked havoc on my already thin hair and I was too lazy to style my bangs every day. 

What My Hair Changes Taught Me About Myself

It’s not about redefining myself anymore. As I approach 30, I realize it’s more about settling in and being comfortable with who I always was: an unnaturally blonde, average American girl who dreams of an exciting, fulfilling life in NYC. Now I know that a happy and successful city life and career doesn’t come from mimicking someone else’s experience. It’s about embracing my true identity — inside and out.

Interested in more styling tips? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you. 

Orientation message
For the best experience, please turn your device