“It’s such a dorky thing to do. Like you can’t find your alice band and you’ve got to do your maths homework.” Tilly Macalister-Smith, a British fashion writer based in New York as director of content for DVF, is talking about the power beauty move of the moment: tucking your hair behind your ears. Forget twice-weekly blow-dries, dip-powder manicures and dragons’ blood sheet masks. The beauty hack of the season is literally at your fingertips. Hook your hair behind an ear or two and you’re good to go.
In 2018, the look is not just for getting your homework finished. Margot Robbie did it at the Golden Globes, in a plunging black custom-made Gucci gown, with soft blond waves falling loose on one side, tucked behind the ear on the other, accented with a hazelnut-sized Tiffany diamond earring. Emma Stone, in golden Givenchy, sported an eartuck for the Oscar red carpet last year. Meghan Markle chose it for her first evening engagement with Prince Harry, looking sharp in an Alexander McQueen trouser suit. Gigi Hadid did it on the cover of US Vogue.
For high-octane glamour on the S/S 18 catwalks, the Versace show – the one where Donatella took a victory lap with Naomi, Cindy, Helena, Claudia and Carla – was hard to beat. But for Kaia Gerber, the Hadid sisters and the rest of the model army who stalked that catwalk in a baroque homage to Gianni, Guido Palau “didn’t want to parody any old idea of glamour,” he explained backstage. With Donatella, he decided on a look that was “polished and beautiful in a very simple way. Shiny, without too much volume.” The hair was centre-parted, tucked behind the ears and fixed in place with sparkling gold barrettes on both sides. The idea was echoed on several of the most glamorous catwalks. At Valentino, hair-tucking was emphasised by a wash of pink blush on the cheekbones. At Dolce & Gabbana, it was framed by jewelled tiaras.
“It has become a look, but it still has connotations of being a buttoned-up schoolgirl,” says Macalister-Smith, a committed (and very chic) hair-tucker. “I mean, it’s so much more sexy to have your hair in your face, isn’t it? That whole cool French girl thing. The body language of tucking your hair behind your ears is quite English, I think. Princess Diana used to do it.”
Tucked-behind-the-ears hair boils down to practicality. Which is precisely why it is in vogue now, at a moment when fashion is more engaged with women’s real lives than it has been for years. Just-stepped-out-of-a-salon bounce is much less on-trend than it was a few years ago. The cool salons report that while ladies who lunch of a certain age still keep their twice-weekly standing blow-out appointments, younger clients are dropping the habit. Tucking hair behind your ears – which would have been sacrilege if you had just paid £30 for someone to wield a hot brush for volume around your hairline – looks right again.
The inimitably elegant designer Roksanda Ilincic has always tucked back her long, poker-straight hair. “It used to be that I would do it without realising. In fact, I would start the day with my hair down, and catch sight of myself in the mirror and be annoyed that I had done it. But at some point it started to grow on me as a look and these days, if I have an event, I put my hair behind my ears on purpose. I am not so keen on hair that looks very ‘done’. With a nice dress and a red lip, hair that is tucked behind your ears is a good counterbalance.”
Tucked hair is practical, but styled up – with lipstick, or a barrette, or an earring – it adds impact. “I can’t work with hair in my eyes, so that’s how it started,” says Pandora Sykes, journalist and co-host of the High Low podcast. “It’s quite old school – a bit Enid Blyton, a bit Margot Tenenbaum – but I quite like the contrast of having one side neat behind my ear, with the other mussed up and slightly forward.”
If the behind-the-ear tuck evolved from the Céline hair-inside-polo-neck look – “Which was revolutionary when we first saw it, but is now a generic cool-girl uniform,” Macalister-Smith says – the newest, most cutting edge take on hair tucking is the sideburn tuck. Leaving a section of hair loose in front of the ear takes the tuck from schoolgirl to edgy tomboy. At the Alexander McQueen S/S 18 show, hair was inspired “by a girl coming out of the water,” Guido Palau says. After the hair was tucked behind the ears, strands were pulled out using a fine-tooth comb. “It’s a little dark, a little romantic, a little strange,” the hairstylist adds. This take on the tuck, Macalister-Smith says, is “the hardest to get right. Brigitte Bardot did a version of it that was very sexy. But it is an ‘editorial’ look, really. It tends to look contrived in real life.”
The vogue for big earrings, on the other hand, has crossed over happily from catwalk to the street – and in doing so has helped drive the hair tuck. Macalister-Smith began Ear After Ear, an Instagram account for earring lovers, after one snap of a great pair of earrings earned a huge response. “The classic style, when you have big earrings on, is to scrape all your hair back,” she says. “But the tuck is another option. It is definitely connected. If you’ve got a great earring on, tucking your hair behind an ear is like drawing the curtains.”