Knowing the contours of your face and what complements it are the key.
Thinking of getting a sleek new Sienna Miller haircut? If your face is oblong like Sarah Jessica Parker's, you might want to reconsider.
What's becoming on a heart-shaped mug may not flatter a woman with an oblong or square-shaped face. A perfect oval may be able to pull off many different hair lengths and styles, but a soft-featured, round face looks most pleasing in longer hair.
Knowing the contours of your face and what complements it is the key to choosing a haircut that's not only in style but also looks right on you. "It's one of the first things we look at," said Shane, a hairstylist and owner of Mask Hair Designs and Day Spa in Minnetonka and Plymouth, Minn.
So important is face shape in determining how to cut hair, she says, that many cosmetology schools devote two days to the study of face shapes.
Lyndon Barsten, an educator at Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, wrote a chapter on face shapes for a textbook that's used to train students. In the book, called "Introduction to Styling Hair," he identifies seven face shapes and advises which styles best suit each one.
The different shapes -- the heart, diamond, round, pear, oval, square and oblong -- are meant to serve as guidelines, he says, as some people have a combination of shapes. For example, a person may have an oval forehead and central area where the cheekbones are located, but a square jaw line.
A good way to determine your face shape is to pull all your hair back away from your face, look in the mirror and trace your face with a soap bar or lipstick.
Many consider the oval face shape ideal because almost any hair style and length is flattering. Heart shapes are marked by wider foreheads and a pointed chin. Their most flattering styles include medium to short lengths and wispy bangs.
People with square face shapes have a square hairline and strong jaw line. Curls soften the edges of the face. Sarah Jessica Parker is a perfect example of an oblong face shape. Bangs swept over the forehead help make the face look more oval, and people with this face shape should avoid too-short or too-long styles.
Round faces are wide across the cheekbone area and round at the chin. Hair that falls to the shoulders is ideal as it helps to create a longer, less round look.
"Feathered" and longer layers are also flattering.
With the ultra-long, flat-ironed "Friends" hair finally giving way to shorter styles, demand for chin-length bobs and bangs or "fringe," as Shane calls them, is picking up. Signature hair -- shorter and with distinctive details tailored to reflect the individual's personality -- was hot on the fashion runways.
The move toward signature haircuts reflects a larger trend in coiffure. Hair has become an accessory, Barsten explained. "It's an expression of who people feel that they are."
Occasionally, a famous person's signature hairstyle reaches the iconic level and the masses rush out to copy it. Think Dorothy Hamill and her wedge cut, made famous during the 1976 Olympics. Or actress Veronica Lake, whose widely copied peekaboo style became controversial in the 1940s when women working in factories were getting their tresses caught in machinery.
Who could forget Farrah Fawcett's "feathered" layered hairdo that became the rage in the 1970s? Or more recently, the Rachel cut -- Jennifer Aniston's signature shag in the late 1990s? Those styles worked well for these icons because they suited their face shapes. For example, Aniston is a heart and Fawcett is a classic square.
So what happens when everyone wants the cut of the moment regardless of their particular face shape?
Shane said she gives them what they want, albeit with some tweaking. "You can always bend it a little so they get what they want, but you tailor it for them," she said.