How Jennifer Aniston Changed Hair as We Know It

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Occasionally, a signature hairstyle becomes nearly as iconic—and imitable—as the famous woman wearing it. Think Audrey Hepburn’s updo, Amy Winehouse’s beehive, Grace Jones’ box-cut afro, or Farrah Fawcett’s feathery waves. And sometimes, the hairstyle nearly eclipses the woman known for it. Cue Jennifer Aniston and “The Rachel,” named for her beloved character on Friends. One of the most popular sitcoms in television history, the show debuted in 1994 and ran for 10 seasons, making Aniston—whose birthday is today—a bonafide star in the process.

Ahead of the show’s premiere, Aniston’s longtime friend, hair stylist Chris McMillan, wanted to give her a style that suited the character Rachel Green, a fashionable, admittedly spoiled and somewhat naïve young woman who had just moved to New York. McMillan began by shearing inches off Aniston’s then-long locks, creating multi-length, tapered layers around the face. Instead of cutting shears, Macmillan used a razor, adding additional volume to the actress’ already-thick tresses. Styling the new ‘do with a large, round brush and blow dryer, McMillan instructed Aniston on how to replicate the look at home. As would myriad hairdressers with their own clients in the years to follow.

For a period in the mid ‘90s, the Rachel was inescapable. If you didn’t have the layered, Hollywood-highlighted shag, then one (or two, or three) of your friends did. Ditto countless moms, teachers, and neighbors. Launched in Beverly Hills, it creeped eastward to U.S. cities like Boise, Idaho, Boca Raton, Florida, and Buffalo, New York. Women asked for it by name, and hairdressers knew what to do. Some women reportedly brought in copies of magazines with Aniston or even VCR recordings of Friends episodes to ensure accuracy. Buoyed by the show’s success, the Rachel, and untold iterations of it, had officially permeated popular culture. Briefly, McMillan even had people flying out to his salon to get the look from the creator himself.

Despite its immense popularity, the Rachel was not beloved by all. “I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen,” Aniston said in a 2011 interview. Her main gripe? It was extremely difficult to maintain, especially without the help of a pro like Macmillan. “Nobody seems to know how to do what Chris does. And I figured out that’s called creating job security,” Aniston quipped. (For the record, Aniston cops to having naturally wavy, frizz-prone hair and next to zero skills with a brush and blow dryer.) Keen Friends observers will note a shift as early as season two, when Aniston began growing out her then-iconic cut in earnest. By the fourth season, her choppier layers had been replaced by long, pin-straight, honey-blonde tresses. It’s a look she’s more or less maintained since.

Yet while Rachel Green had moved on, others just couldn’t quit the Rachel. Lesser-known celebs, local news anchors, and everyday women wore the look into the early 2000s. And much like the ‘do, talk of it still follows Aniston. Asked whether she’d rather shave her head once or wear the Rachel in perpetuity, Aniston was definitive: “Shave my hair once, definitely. The Rachel for the rest of my life? Shave my head once! Yeah, I’d shave my head once!”

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