Are you a 5-minute hack addict on a quest to amp up your hair game? If so, I bet that you’ve previously dug up clean socks, weaved them into your hair and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning—all in the hopes of waking up with ‘effortless’ waves. Beach babies and theybies, it’s time to leave your $50 three-barrel curling irons at the door, because perms are back. Only now, they’ve gone digital.
Invented in Japan and now insanely popular in South Korea, a digital perm (also known as a hot perm) is a type of treatment that involves a combination of infrared heat and chemical restructuring to add a natural and wavy definition to your hair. Think permanent Chrissy Teigen locks, but with a bit of effort and aftercare to make it seem effortless.
Unlike traditional perms, a digital perm can only be applied to the mids and ends of the hair. The procedure can also create a variety of waves to be sported by everyone from surfer girls to movie stars. Basically, if a wave can be created using tongs or rollers, you can mimic it with a digital perm. Another key difference is the shape and texture of the wave created. The modern perming technique uses less-damaging chemicals to create loose waves with natural volume over tight and uniform ringlets like in the case of traditional perms.
Remember, no wiry or spiral curls here. Digital perms simulate natural waves rather than resembling those carefully-styled ones created using a curling or flat iron.
In terms of the process, your stylist will essentially restructure each hair strand with chemicals and reset it with heat that is digitally regulated through curlers at around 80 to 120 degrees. It starts off with a deep clean and condition, followed by a treatment using one of those heat halo machines in the salon. This opens the cuticles to deeply infuse the hair with conditioner, giving it more elasticity and softness.
After a good wash comes the chemicals. The same product used in Japanese thermal straightening is applied to the hair in order to break down its original bond. The hair is then sectioned off into electric rollers that will set it into the preferred choice of waves. An anti-frizz solution is also drizzled to help soften unruly hair and give it a smoother finish. After about 30 minutes of being hooked up to the rollers, a neutraliser is applied once the heat dies down. This step echoes the aim of reforming the bond and setting the preferred shape.
Then, the process is all about blow drying with a special technique: twisting your hair and blasting it with hot air. Among TikTok’s 3.8 million views for the procedure, this step is kind of hard to miss. The iconic hair twist has, in fact, become a signature move for those who sport digital perms—wringing sections of hair into spirals to refresh and bounce the waves off to Neverland.
Although the process can take up to 5 hours and an intense bonding sesh with your stylist, digital perms last anywhere between five to ten months. And like most hair treatments, the procedure has both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ candidates.
For starters, digital perms work best on thick and coarse hair. It is also preferred by those who want to add volume to their limp hair, though it may result in looser curls in this case. On the flip side, however, thick-haired people may struggle with the excessive volume and frizz the procedure gives. In such cases, clients are suggested to permanently straighten the hair before digitally perming it to create a hairstyle with larger and softer curls. The procedure is also not ideal on baby-fine or bleached hair. Short hair is additionally harder to perm given the heat exposure closer to the scalp.
If you have a history of severely damaged hair, you may want to stay away from perms of any kind in general. This is because of the chemical nature of these treatments, which can aggravate any existing damage. A consultation with a professional is recommended before scheduling your digital perm to ensure that it’s the right fit for you.
Although digital perms require less aftercare and styling, these efforts are not entirely out of the loop. Simply put, the combination of heat and chemicals is bound to cause damage to the hair. I’m talking about frizz and the lower half of your hair exploding with volume. Not exactly a desirable outcome, given the cost of the treatment (which ranges between $150 and $200 depending on your residence), right? Well, the expensive nature of this treatment links back to the use of professional machines—which is quite an investment for salons. The technique and stylists performing it are also sparse in the West compared to Asian countries, making the treatment quite exclusive.
But as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a wave. So if you want to get a digital perm, arm yourself with a three-ply mask and march into the nearest salon—dorm bathrooms don’t count by the way. And if anyone questions your intention of getting beach waves that are going to last you all winter, drown them out in the volume digital perms are guaranteed to bless you with.
Every summer, we look for a new aesthetic to define our style, or at least influence it enough to update some of our key looks and avoid posting the same outfit twice on our Instagram feed. I know I do it, even though I try to shop as little as possible. You probably do too, whether you want to admit it or not. My point is, as much as we like to convince ourselves that trends don’t dictate our consumption habits or the way we look, they have a crucial influence on what we deem ‘cool’ or not—be that the latest trend in question or its exact opposite.
And this summer, the ‘coconut girl’ aesthetic certainly looks like it’s about to be crowned first place. Where does it originate from and how will it impact your wardrobe this summer 2021?
The fashion trend is mainly defined by the hibiscus flower print, a motif associated with Hawaiian shirts (also called Aloha shirts) that originated as early as the 1920s in Hawaii, along with surf-inspired graphics, puka shells, crochet details, halter tops, and platform sandals in bright colours. As a kid, I owned the ‘Barbie Cali Girl Summer’ called Lea—her skin was slightly tanned, and her hair smelled like coconut. A typical coconut girl icon if you ask me.
You guessed it, the aesthetic initially appeared on TikTok, now home to countless new trends, ranging from fashion to food and everything in between. Just in time for this year’s summer, and after countless COVID-induced lockdowns spent dreaming about the perfect outfits for a tropical holiday, many TikTokers have decided to replace their cottagecore, grunge fairy and egirl statement pieces with a more relaxed and carefree approach.
Think maximalist pastels mixed with youthful tackiness. Surfer girl mixed with pastel Scandinavian interior design—Roxi and Billabong with a touch of House of Sunny femininity, you know? Many fashion experts define the coconut girl trend as an evolution and amalgamation of Y2k fashion and the VSCO girl.
As an aesthetic, the coconut girl highlights a cultural moment where people are daydreaming of a summer that’s both carefree and removed from the troubles of our current times. That’s exactly why fashion is looking joyful and optimistic at the moment. According to Saisangeeth Daswani, head of advisory at trends intelligence company Stylus, it’s also one of the reasons why we’ve seen such a huge burst of colour on the runways recently. “It takes inspiration from beaches and that disposable camera finish,” said Daswani when speaking to NYLON. “It’s about halter tops and miniskirts, pastel colors, glitter tattoos, floral prints, and Claire’s-inspired accessories. It’s equal parts escapism and joy.”
It’s all about chilled out vibes, colourful (but not super bright) clothes, wavey prints and hair, shell necklaces and key pieces featuring hibiscus prints. You can probably already picture the real-life version of my Barbie Lea already—she’s tanned, most definitely smells of coconut and never wears shoes. She spends all her free time on the beach, her diet consists solely of fruits, and she exudes good ‘Sun’s out, bun’s out’ vibes only. Now, take all of the clichés I’ve just listed and try to find a common point between them. Nonchalant, positive, and relaxed are probably adjectives that came to mind, and it makes sense the younger generation would be craving those same attributes for their summer of 2021.
Who doesn’t want a laid-back summer after over a year of non-stop, stressed out panic? If that sounds like a dreamy way to spend your summer, then feel free to indulge in the aesthetic (responsively). If it sounds too cheesy for your miserable ass—no judgement here—don’t you worry, the coconut girl will probably only last a couple of months before we all get sick of it and move on to the next flashy and novel aesthetic.