The Perm: Super Wearable, Non-’80s Looks for Every Hair Length

In case you missed it the first time, we're bringing curly back.

Like love, we believe some trends are sweeter the second time around—people pay more attention to detail, to getting the look just right and correcting prior missteps. The beloved perm is one of those things that kind of took its time to settle into itself. ’80s babies may fondly recall how aggressively it took us by storm when it first burst onto the scene: We associated it with everything from hairspray to pop music to aerobics videos, and the decade became so entrenched in this look that having deflated hair meant you literally weren’t part of the collective unconscious. We all longed to belong!

After nearly three decades (!) of palette-cleansing minimalism, the dust has settled on this once-polarizing trend and the perm is quietly, timidly raising its hand once again. But unlike the sheer audacity of its predecessor, it is now mature and self-aware, and, like the prodigal son who needed to learn a lesson in restraint, we’re more than ready to welcome it back with open arms. Especially in its latest iterations, which feature fun, non-crunchy textures and a more natural look and feel.

For all of those who reluctantly had to give up their radical perm hairstyles after the ’80s, this one’s for you. We’re so excited!

Perm Hairstyles for Every Hair Length

perm hairstyles short hair
Short, natural-looking perms evoke a youthful vibe. Photo credit: Dvora

1. Short Hair

The short perm features loose, somewhat lazier curls on a relaxed bob. More ingénue than incredulous, it’s a less uptight version of the original ’80s short perm, and as such is a more flattering look. Best achieved on straight to wavy hair textures, first ask your stylist for a chin-length bob—it’ll shrink once it’s permed or curled. Re-fluff every so often with a curl-specific mousse, such as Dove Style+Care Curls Defining Mousse, and air-dry or dry with a diffuser.

perm hairstyles medium length hair
Subtle layering on the ends eases up the weight of a mid-length perm. Photo credit: Dvora

2. Medium-Length Hair

Perms get a more light-hearted aesthetic when done on shoulder-length hair. Almost all face shapes can get away with a mid-length perm, and it’s a look that stands on its own—no accessories required. Tighter ringlets are the hallmark of this look for sure, but unlike the stiff, crunchy curls of yore, these ones are shinier and more well-defined, not frizzy. Lobs and cuts with slight, subtle layers give a bit of shape to the perm, especially around the bottom. A leave-in conditioner, such as Nexxus New York Salon Care Hydra-Light Leave-In Conditioning Foam, misted on before being dried with a diffuser, can help keep the integrity of those curls.

perm hairstyles long hair ombre
Long-haired perms are tighter than waves but still retain a manageable feel. Photo credit: Dvora

3. Long Hair

A long-haired perm can veer away from traditionally tight ringlets—the look here is more island-girl than cherubic, and as such, can be styled in a myriad of ways. Our favorite though is letting it cascade long over our shoulders, and just reinforced with a dime-sized amount of curl-recall cream, such as Bed Head by TIGI On the Rebound, so the structure remains. Perm hairstyles on long hair can last the shortest; washing hair less often can help extend the life of your perm, so a dry shampoo (we like the plumping formula of TRESemmé Fresh Start Volumizing Dry Shampoo) in between shower days can also help refresh your style.

Looking for more curly hairstyle ideas? Check out how to fishtail braid curly hair.