PEOPLE: Bree “Shag Queen” Ritter is the hair stylist trying to make the world a shaggier place
Interview: Katharina Lina
Photography & Hair: Bree Ritter
Bree Ritter, also known by some as the ‘Shag Queen’, is a Portland-based razor wizard. She studied hair at a cosmetology institute, but looking back she says “I know I speak for a lot of us when I say that school and state board testing was more of a formality than a real holistic education”. The real education came from experience: growing up she spent a lot of time in her grandfather’s best friend’s barbershop, where she quickly learned her way around a pair of clippers. She then put her skills to use in high school when Ritter gave her wrestler friend Chase a haircut. The word spread and suddenly she was cutting the whole wrestling team’s hair on her Grandma’s back porch for $20 a head.
These days Ritter is known for her shag makeovers, and without personally having sat in her chair (yet) it is clear how much special attention she pays to each individual that, as she says herself, she only deems her work finished when she sees her client’s face light up. The shag has many benefits: you don’t need to spend a fortune on products and styling tools because it comes with enough texture and shape. Straight hair that lays flat against the head suddenly has movement and volume again; and once curly hair that has been weighed down miraculously springs back into its curl patterns. The idea revolves around the right amount of weight being taken off the hair without necessarily losing length, while also, and this is optional, framing the face with the signature shag fringe. The shag might be the ultimate effortless cut, and Bree Ritter is one of the leading razor masters behind this resurfacing trend.
How long have you been cutting and perfecting the shag? I had a few clients that would let me give them shaggy cuts back in 2016, but my real creative breakthrough was taking the leap and leaving the barbershop I’d spent most of my career at to become an independent contractor and focus my attention on the type of work that made me most excited. It all happened really fast. Instagram was huge for me. Once I started posting my work it sort of just spread. The more I gave it, the more the platform and community reciprocated. The more people gravitated to me for shags, the more opportunity I had to explore this style of cutting and learning with each unique head of hair and type of person. There are so many variations to each head of hair and to each cut, I’m still constantly learning.
In your opinion, what sets the shag apart from other haircuts? Honestly…so much. The look, the maintenance (or lack thereof), the grow out, the referential nature of this style. It’s a cut that sets itself apart from the pack. It’s natural and unnatural. It seems effortless, but exudes power and confidence. The fact that the cut is an investment is a huge part of it for me. It’s a haircut without an expiration date. It can grow out forever and just be a big, beautiful, layered mop. And in my opinion, it works for everyone. It’s one of very few haircuts I can think of that IS the style, and doesn’t need to be manipulated or fussed with to make a strong statement.
"I would kill to get my fingers in Sandra Oh's incredible curls!"
Why are people so drawn to the shag again now? What does this particular hairstyle represent or mean to people? There are so many answers to this question and I think they vary from person to person, but I think part of it is that connects us to the past but has adapted and somehow still feels modern. It defies gender norms and feels really affirming. So many people spend their life fighting their natural hair. They’re made to feel like they need product and tools and all of these things to fight their texture. All of a sudden they’re given the solution and it’s….a haircut. It’s so simple but it feels revolutionary. And it’s liberating. Patti Smith wrote a great bit in her biography about giving herself a haircut and copying Keith Richards that I think says it perfectly. “Someone asked me if I was androgynous. I asked what that meant. “You know, like Mick Jagger.” I figured that must be cool. I thought the word meant both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Whatever it meant, with just a haircut, I miraculously turned androgynous overnight.” I love that.
What is your favourite kind of shag? That’s hard to answer! They’re all my children and I love them equally! Haha. Honestly though, there are as many shags as there are heads of hair and I love them all for different reasons. But if I had to choose….the really long and wildly curly ones make me extra happy.
Do you use razor blades for all your cuts? Why and when are they preferable to scissors? I use both my razor and my shears with every client. I’d say I’m about 90% razor and 10% shears, but I don’t follow and set rules in my hair cutting. I hardly ever use shears on wet hair, but I enjoy using them when I’m finishing and for certain texturizing techniques. Razor, for me, is preferable because I’m hardly ever trying to create a hard line on the shaft of the hair in my cuts. I’m slicing out weight and carving almost sloped lines. It’s easier on the hair and my body, more fluid overall to use a razor. That being said, it’s absolutely possible to create a hard line with a razor. That’s why I like it so much. I feel like I have more control. Shears are really incredible for finishing and snipping away and flyaway weirdos that went rouge. I also really like using them for point cutting in bangs.
Who are your favourite hair inspirations? ABBA, Goldie Hawn, Jane Fonda, Cher, Tina Turner, Debbie Harry, Cinderella (band), Hall & Oates, Poodles, Spaniels and of course, Horses.
If you could give anyone a shag makeover, who would you love to get your hands on? I would kill to get my fingers in Sandra Oh’s incredible curls! I’d also really love to work with Ellen Pompeo.
What is the most important thing to you, when it comes to handling clients? Making them feel seen, heard, and at ease, while still maintaining my boundaries. Whether it be just validating their vision or making them feel totally taken care of by being completely in control, prepared and professional, but still real, warm and caring. I ask them a few questions to establish their boundaries or hard “no”s as far as length, shape and general vibe of the cut, then I take the wheel and keep cutting and carving until I feel like it’s perfect for them. I don’t stop after a certain number of steps are completed, I just keep going until I’m satisfied and I can see them start making that “mirror face”. It’s more sculptural than structural, if that makes sense. When it’s done we both feel it.
Would you open your own shag salon in the future? It’s definitely a dream to have a place of my own one day, but to be honest I love working around people so much I would probably get lonely! I’ve never really wanted to be a manager. I love where the trajectory of my career is pointed right now and I just want to travel as much as I can for as long as I can, teaching and cutting and connecting with new people who support and inspire me.