Worried about making a great impression on the first day of school?
Even Miss Teen USA, Logan West, admits to feeling nervous on first days. "I was like petrified," the 18-year-old says. "I think it's just because it's a new year, it's new people, it's everything."
Often it's tempting to want to start a new school year — or any new chapter — with a totally new look as well. Just last weekend Miley Cyrus chopped her long locks into an edgy pixie crop and tweeted it for all the world to see.
"Miley's cut is a bold move, and I have to say it's flattering on her," says Yesenia Almonte, beauty director for Seventeen magazine. But too big a change could backfire.
"Girls always imagine that they'll return to school looking a million times better than they did in the previous year," she says. But drastic changes can end up seeming "fake-y." Instead, a girl might incorporate a bit of edginess with more subtle changes, such as bold accessories or black winged eyeliner.
Almonte says high school and college women take cues in part from the rich and famous. "Teens are influenced by celebrities and they look to them for inspiration, not just for special occasions like prom and homecoming, but just for everyday school looks," she says.
For Seventeen readers, big influencers are Selena Gomez, Bella Thorne, Keke Palmer, Emma Stone, Taylor Swift and reality TV stars such as Kendall and Kylie Jenner (from the Kardashian clan). "They really love the girls from 'Pretty Little Liars,'" Almonte says, who "continuously sport these amazing hair and makeup looks."
Readers love Zooey Deschanel too. "Her role on the TV show ['New Girl'] is such an awkward yet ordinary normal girl that our readers relate to because our readers are just normal girls going to school, going through normal life situations," Almonte says.
Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Miley Cyrus, Alexa Chung, Willow Smith, Vanessa Hudgens and Lauren Conrad are also popular, regularly appearing among the top searches on TeenVogue.com.
But more than ever, teens are embracing their unique features too. "I feel like our girls are taking a trend and they're making it their own," Almonte says. "If the girls are wearing glasses, they're embracing it. If they have braces, they're rocking it out. If they have a face full of freckles, they're showing it off. I think girls are really embracing everything that makes their beauty different and unique. … They are expressing that in such a positive way that others embrace it as well. There's a lot of positivity happening with teen girls today that's incredible to watch."
Experimenting with hair is a time-honored way to make a statement, even without going to the extremes of a Cyrus-style cut. Teen hairstyles differ from adult 'dos in two key ways: hair color and accessories. Bright hair elastics, headbands and jeweled clips are "more young and teen-focused. … And streaks of color are something that you'll see more of with the younger girls," Almonte says. "Color is where they are experimenting. They're into the ombre effect. They're into highlights. They're into bold color."
Cool hair doesn't have to be pricey. "There's so much in the market that you can buy and do yourself at home. … It's more about knowing how to use these [at-home color] kits," Almonte says, adding that teens are also wearing affordable, natural-looking synthetic hair extensions, especially for special occasions.
As for style, braids are strong this season, though with a new spin. "I've seen celebrities do thick braids and skinny braids together, or they're doing Dutch braids," in which the braid sits on top of the hair, Almonte says.
Another big trend has been very sleek and perfect ponytails, "not as messy as they used to be," she says.
Top knots, low side buns and beach waves are popular too.
As far as texture, "there's an organic hair movement happening where girls and celebrities are really embracing their natural texture, whatever that may be," Almonte says. "You see girls like Solange Knowles who basically decided to chop off her hair and start over and Jordin Sparks, who as of recently has been tweeting that her hair is growing out and she's growing it out naturally with no relaxer."
To find the best style, Lynn Tully, head of "American Idol's" hair department for the last three seasons, says teens need to learn to communicate with hairstylists.
"Communication is a little trickier sometimes with younger people," she says. "They're not always comfortable being honest."
But honesty will get a better result.
"If you really don't like something. just speak up because at the end of the day the hairdresser wants you to be pleased, because we want you to come back," Tully says. Show the stylist pictures of styles you like and talk with him or her about what will work for your hair texture and face shape. And really think about your lifestyle before considering a new look — how much time and upkeep will a new hairdo take?
Don't be afraid to try new things, as long as your style is genuinely you, beauty queen West says. "If wearing your hair in a crazy bun is what you want to do, wear it that way. If wearing an Afro is what you want to do, do it," she says. "But be comfortable with who you are because if you go in feeling uncomfortable about the way you look then it's easy for people to get to you. It leaves you vulnerable. So as long as you are comfortable you'll be fine."