The term “stepped” haircut is one that many people have heard, but few actually understand. For some stylists, the term is interchangeable with a “graduated” haircut, but technically
there is a specific difference.
A “graduated haircut” transitions from one length or point on the scalp to another and uses smoothly transitioning layers. However, a “stepped haircut”, while featuring differing hair
lengths, does not take as much action to create smooth transitions in the varying lengths. This is often considered a “choppy” haircut, but the choppiness is a result of the cutting technique rather than an texturing
effect applied afterward.
While both qualify as “layered” haircuts, the lack of smooth transition, gives a stepped haircut an edgier feel (typically) although varying techniques create any range of looks.
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The Benefits of the Stepped Cut:
A stepped haircut has a benefit over the traditional layered (graduated) cut in that it can be applied in certain situations where the traditional layering is unsuitable. A stepped
haircut can work exceptionally well for those with curly hair, as it allows the bulk of the hair to be balanced while avoiding over-thinning at the bottom of the perimeter.
In addition, most stylists will warn against using the traditional layering on fine hair types, and those with less-dense hair, but by using carefully staged stepped layers, one can
actually make less-dense hair appear fuller, and add apparent volume to fine hair types while avoiding the stringy-looking perimeter at the bottom of the style. Since the hair’s “layers” are carefully crafted with the
idea of keeping the “steps” minimized, one effectively creates overlapping haircut styles that complement one another and create an overall fuller effect.
Finally, the stepped haircut allows for an edgier, more-youthful appeal to most styling applications. It works remarkably well with asymmetrical styling, and therefore is often
flattering to many individuals who have problematic features that must be accommodated.
Varieties in Stepped Hairstyles:
There have been a variety of hairstyles in history that qualify (at least in principle) as “stepped” hairstyles. Stepped styles are, at their most basic, also “disconnected” styles
since the layers are more separate rather than smoothly transitioning from point to point. The 90’s classic Rachel hairstyle was – in effect – a stepped hairstyle, in spite of the smooth, razor-cut layering. One of
the hallmarks of the style was the use of at least two separate termination points to separate the areas of layering. This allowed the upper layer to be softly curved inward, while the layer beneath was allowed to turn
outward and create movement and keep the hair looking bouncy and romantic.
Similar aspects are present in the classic “rocker chick” mullet hairstyle. The short, spiky hair at the top and crown of the head with a separating zone as the lower lengths are allowed
to remain razor-cut to taper below the shoulders.
Even Florence Henderson on television's “Brady Bunch” sported a stepped haircut in her classic “mullet with a flip”. Her hair was a cap of short layering at the top,
sides, and crown, giving a full look in the upper part of her head, with a long nape section that flipped outward to make her neck appear longer.
How to Enhance Stepped Hairstyles:
If you select a style that is “stepped” rather than traditional graduation, there are a few things you can do to make the style stand out more.
First is judicious use of hair color techniques. If your stepped cut has one or two specific lengths, consider using an edging technique to highlight the separation of layers and give a
dramatic effect, or simply use a two-tone approach and allow the separate layers to appear more distinct. Or if your stepped cut has a lot of disjointed layering, try using highlights to emphasize the layering.