Felicity's Big Chop: An Iconic Hair Moment, Explained

As Coco Chanel once said, "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." And at no time is a woman more prone to cut her hair than after she goes through a bad breakup. On TikTok, the #breakuphair tag has over 6.5 million views, while #traumabangs has over 5.4 million, so it's definitely a cultural phenomenon, and it's mirrored in the media we watch. For example, Maggie McKendrick's chop from 1961's "The Parent Trap" might be the first but not the last. When Carrie broke up with Aidan for the second time in "Sex and the City," she gave herself the chop. In "Sliding Doors," Gwyneth Paltrow gives herself a stylish pixie cut after finding her boyfriend in bed with someone else. Even our heroine from "Emily In Paris" didn't take long to shed her all-American boyfriend and hair for a more chic French fringe.


But perhaps the most iconic "bad breakup" haircut was the 1999 episode of "Felicity" starring Keri Russell, who gave her long luscious locks the heave 'ho after a breakup. "It's such a typical college-girl story," Russell shared at the ATX Television Festival. "The guy breaks up with her, and then she goes and cuts her hair and it's really bad." Her chop was a huge cultural touchstone, but it turns out there's real psychology behind #breakuphair.

Felicity's chop caused 'hysteria' among fans

"Felicity" was a hit show in 1999 when it entered its second season, with star Keri Russell sporting long curly locks. So when she cut off her iconic tresses after a breakup, she insisted in her recorder she wasn't doing it for a man. "I was doing it for me." Fans, however, were definitely not happy. The second season ratings suffered a huge slump, and many behind the scenes attribute it to the chop. Russell told W Magazine that "hysteria" ensued with fans. Because of that, this has been immortalized as the "bad breakup haircut" horror story of the century. It became a cautionary tale, warning folks to exercise self-control when it came to making any radical hair changes. 


But seeing it through today's lens, it's much more than a "bad" haircut. Not only was it a way for Felicity to take control of her situation, but it was also a moment where a curly-haireded person fully embraced their hairstyle. The titular character was one of the few curly-haired women starring in a hit show, and rather than fighting her hair or straightening it, she fully embraced it. So it only made sense for her to embrace her curly-haired pixie cut. She loved how it looked — and the change it brought — regardless of what those around her thought. 

#Breakuphair can signal a rebirth in your life

Perhaps 1999 fans were unaware of the psychology behind getting the breakup haircut. Rather than getting a regrettable haircut, Felicity might have been motivated by change, taking back control, getting rid of bad energy, and entering a rebirth phase. The character even says in the episode that she's welcoming in a "new me." And this is totally normal. Psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez told Mane Addicts, "When something ends, it's a time of a new beginning. Sometimes people want to mark this new beginning by getting a tattoo, cutting their hair, or even plastic surgery." 


Clinical psychologist Dr. Jaime Zuckerman agrees, telling Harper's Bazaar that getting #breakuphair is a "rebirth of sorts," drawing a line between your old and new life. "Our hair is very personal. It is one of only a few aspects of our body that we can outwardly convey our style, personality, and identity." It's also something we can control in a situation that often feels out of our hands. "Sometimes a change to our appearance during a difficult or transitional time in our lives can give us a much needed boost in mood, energy, and confidence," she explains.

Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell adds that #breakuphair can eliminate bad juju. "Hair holds energy," she told Mane Addicts, "and to cut that hair off cuts off that bad energy [...] A new hairstyle can make us feel like a new person, not the person who was dumped or heartbroken."


Make sure a haircut is really what you want

In the episode where Felicity debuts her new hair, she gets mixed reactions. Some friends shared toxic opinions like, "Guys are gonna hate it," while others were supportive and gushed about how much they loved it. Yet, what we love about the character is she takes other people's opinions in stride. Rather than being offended, she focuses on rockin' it, regardless of whether the cut is flattering. It's a great lesson in knowing who you are despite the pervasiveness of beauty standards (which are always changing anyway). However, if you want to do something drastic, Brooklyn hair stylist Coby Alcantar has some words of advice. 


Speaking with Vice, Alcantar advised, [A breakup haircut] is like a f**k you to that person, and that is rad. But, you want to make sure it works for you and you are going to be confident with how you feel."

So how can you be sure the #breakuphair is really what you want? "I'd say wait three months, as by that time the intensity of your emotions should have settled somewhat," Jacqui Manning, a psychologist and relationship coach, told Elle. "In that time you can still think about it, finesse your ideas and, if it still feels like the right thing to do after three months, then go for it."