NEW YORK-At the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala last month, Ginnifer Goodwin showed off bangs as short as the mowed grass in Yankee Stadium. Jessica Biel had fringe so thick and long, she looked like one of the Beatles. And Marion Cotillard had a tuft on her forehead seemingly styled by a weed whacker. As if those bangs weren't sufficiently extreme, days later at the Chanel cruise show in Versailles, the stylist Sam McKnight gave the models fringe in pastel hues typically reserved for Easter eggs.
For centuries, tastemakers of all kinds-Cleopatra, Louise Brooks, members of the band Poison-have used bangs to make unspoken style statements. A recent article on Vogue magazine's website titled "The Rooney Mara Effect" described how the actress's microfringe in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" inspired similar looks on runways in New York, London and Milan.
At the same time, softer, classic Gidget bangs are also back, popularized by a new generation of television's leading ladies, like Lea Michele and Zooey Deschanel (who in April parlayed her thick, blunt bangs into an endorsement deal with Pantene).
Celebrity gossip magazines are already calling 2012 the year of the bang, with Beyonce, Rachel McAdams, Ivanka Trump and Nicole Kidman (who introduced her new fringe at the Cannes Film Festival last month) among the converts. It seems everyone who's anyone is getting snipped. But the look is fraught with peril.
"Superthick bangs look great, and everyone wants them right now," said stylist Alan Tosler, a founder of the Tosler Davis salon in New York. "But if you have a cowlick in your hairline, they will not work. Or if you've got a superlow hairline."
Johnny Lavoy, a hair stylist and a consulting hair expert for L'Oreal Paris, agreed.
"If you have a low hairline already, you don't want to do bangs," he said. "You're going to get lost, like Teresa Giudice from 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey."'
Bangs tend to look best on people with high foreheads, he explained, because they make the hairline appear lower. They're also "a great alternative to Botox," he added. The latter might be why celebrities of a certain age choose fringe.
After all, bangs can "help correct a problem," Lavoy said, by camouflaging a thinning hairline or making a narrow face seem wider.
But only if done right.
"Nothing looks worse right now than those skimpy little bangs," Tosler said. "It looks like you broke it off or something. If you're going to do them, do them thick and chunky."
And the length has to be just so. The sweet spot, Tosler said, is what he calls the dimple of the nose: the slightly indented area between the eyebrows.
Of all those attempting the style, Deschanel seems to be accomplishing it most successfully. A catchy music video parody called "Bangs Like Zooey," performed to the tune of Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," suggests that her career ignited not because of her acting chops, but rather because her locks were chopped.
In the video, two defeated young women (performers known as MadMoni) visit a salon and emerge with new bangs and new attitudes, singing: "Grab me by the hair and transform me. Chop until you drop and I can't see. I want those bangs like Zooey. Give me those bangs like Zooey. I need those bangs like Zooey."
The look has so enhanced Deschanel's brand that Allure magazine has likened her bangs to McDonald's arches. Briefly a blonde with a bare forehead, Deschanel told the beauty website BellaSugar that her bangs, now back to their natural chocolate hue, "have their own personality."
Another recent spoof that has gone viral, "An Infomercial for Bangs" by the writers and comedians Giulia Rozzi and Brooke Van Poppelen, begins with a deep, booming voice-over: "Can't get anyone to notice your band? Look dumb in vintage dresses? Do bearded guys ignore you? Sounds like you need bangs! You've seen them all over Hollywood. And now they can be yours."
Unless, that is, you have curly hair.
"If you wear your hair naturally curly, I'm not a big fan of bangs," Lavoy said. "They have a tendency to shrink up and create this odd shape. There's nothing worse than someone with a full head of curl and these straight bangs. It just looks ridiculous."
Even if your mane has the requisite swing, stylists still recommend using face shape as a guide. An oval face can handle almost any sort of bang. Round faces are said to look better with longer, sideswept bangs. Square faces may also benefit from sideswept bangs, with a slight part instead of a curtain of hair straight across the forehead. On long faces, a softer, lengthy fringe is typically most flattering.
And those with heart-shaped faces are encouraged to embrace their inner fashion editor with bold, heavy bangs or, as Lavoy reverentially calls them, "Anna Wintour bangs." (NYT)