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How to Give Yourself a Haircut

We asked Los Angeles stylist Jen Atkin, who grooms George Clooney, Kid Rock, and others , for tips and tricks on giving yourself a haircut or a trim.


By Jeremy Berger, Men's Journal

The preponderance of grooming advice for men has much to recommend when it comes to shampoos and detanglers, hair wax, facial exfoliator, shaving cream, and cologne. Under-eye cream: also covered. But when it comes right down to it, the single most important element of grooming – aside from basic washing and scrubbing, which we trust you to manage – is the haircut. It frames the face. It says, “I’m a successful Madison Avenue ad man” or “I live in the woods like Jeremiah Johnson” or “I just don’t give a damn.” Haircut advice typically suggests where to go and what to ask for.

Our question, to the chagrin of partners and loved ones: Can we just cut it ourselves? To find out, we met with Jen Atkin, a Los-Angeles-based hairstylist and the celebrity stylist for Clear Men Scalp Therapy. Atkin has cut some famous hair in her day – George Clooney, Josh Hartnett, Kid Rock even – and was kind enough to give this author a cut. She also rather cautiously outlined a strategy for tackling the do-it-yourself haircut. Not surprisingly, she has strong reservations about us men cutting our own hair – “You don’t want to do major damage right in front of your face,” she says” – but we believe in it. The idea here is not to replace haircuts altogether; it’s to keep a good cut looking fresh without going to the barber or salon.


Get the right tools.

“The first thing is, don’t get big scissors,” Atkin says. “Get little cuticle-nipping scissors from CVS – you don’t have to spend a lot of money – and get a good small-tooth comb.” The important thing to remember is that small scissors minimize the risk of big mistakes because they’re easy to handle and they have short blades. They should also be sharp to ensure clean, precise cuts. We did our trimming with mustache scissors, which also did the trick.


Part your hair the right way.

Part your hair at the outer edge of each eyebrow and comb the hair that’s below the part down on both sides. “You’re sectioning it off so you’re not cutting the hair on top too short,” she says. This should be a familiar technique: Hairstylists do it at the beginning of every cut, right after they wash your hair. The tricky steps are coming up next. Pour a glass of Scotch to prevent shaky hands.


Start cutting around your sideburns.

Start by combing your sideburns and the hair near your temple forward toward your face. Cut into it with the scissors perpendicular to the comb. It’s a good place to start because you can see your progress and it doesn’t require much cutting to clean up.


Cut into the comb.

“Pull your hair [on the sides] out with the comb and take your little scissors and nip at it,” she says. “You don’t want to cut a straight line, a blunt cut. You want to cut into it (again, scissors perpendicular to the comb).” This takes away length and weight without risking too much damage. “Cut a lot,” Atkin says. “As long as the comb is pulled out away so you’re not cutting right at the scalp. That comb is your stopper.”


Trim the top.

Pull the hair on top straight up and cut into it. Start by cutting a centimeter and then continue from there. We found that even small cuts were surprisingly noticeable, so don’t be too bold at first. “People are going to forgive you if you have little spots on the side of your head,” Atkin says, “but if the top of your hair is screwed up, you’re in trouble.”


Use a shaving razor or beard trimmer to clean up the edges.

Use a shaving razor to trim your sideburns. Again, no blunt cuts. The length is really up to you. If you’re going for an early-1970s Michael Caine look, then leave them at the bottom of the ears, perhaps lower. Otherwise, a good baseline is the depression just below your cheekbone. After cutting, put your fingers right underneath your sideburns to make sure they’re even. The back is a bit more challenging. What you’re looking to do is trim the “wings” that develop when most people’s hair gets too long. Atkin suggests going into a barbershop instead of doing it yourself. In the spirit of DIY, we did it ourselves using a beard trimmer. Start on a high number setting so that the razor just barely touches your hair when you run it up the neckline. Continue with lower numbers as necessary, being careful to cut just enough to taper the hair at your neckline. Use a second mirror (or the iPhone camera in reverse) to check your progress.
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Men's Magazine: How to Give Yourself a Haircut
How to Give Yourself a Haircut
We asked Los Angeles stylist Jen Atkin, who grooms George Clooney, Kid Rock, and others , for tips and tricks on giving yourself a haircut or a trim.
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