The Difference Between Choppy Layers & Wispy Layers

By Angela Bakke

When it comes to hairstyles, layers are a girl's best friend. Whether you've got long locks or a short do, layers add volume, variety, and texture to your mane. Decade after decade layers have stood the test of time and ever-changing hair trends.

Giffoni Film Festival Day 7
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Actress Meg Ryan opts for choppy layers on both short and long hairstyles.

In addition to the length of your layers, you'll want to decide whether you want them to be choppy or wispy--might not sound like a big difference, but it is. Here's a basic breakdown on the differences...

Wispy Layers

Noche De Ninos Gala
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Jennifer Lopez with soft, wispy, face-framing long layers.

Wispy layers are smooth and soft, and create gradual changes in length, (also called face-framing layers). The wispy ends are created by a styling technique called shearing. Shearing involves running the sharp side of scissors down the length of the hair and/or turning the scissors vertically and cutting upward in millimeter-sized pieces, slowly chipping away at the ends of the layers. This achieves the tapered, barely-there ends that create a flowing frame around the face and neck. Wispy layers are used commonly for side-swept bangs on long or short hairstyles.

Choppy Layers

Premiere Of Tri Star Pictures' "The Call" - Red Carpet
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Halle Berry in a short, choppy, heavily layered pixie hairstyle.

Choppy layers are a bold cut, used to create volume, definition, and movement in hair. Stylists cut large chunks of hair in defined, yet uneven or asymmetrical proportions to create a blunt, edgy look. This style is modern, chic and requires some at-home maintenance. Styling wax or pomade is often used on choppy layers to accentuate the style.

Which is the Better Choice for You?

Wispy layers are subtle, and will add shape and volume to most hairstyles. Note: If you have curly hair you want to avoid layers that are super short, as this will require extra maintenance. Wispy layers are a fantastic way to balance the symmetry of your face, and add definition to your cheekbones.

If you have straight, thinning hair choppy layers will do wonders for creating volume and thickness. If you have a long or angular face, choppy layers add breadth to your face, which can make it appear fuller and softer.

Communicating with Your Stylist

Whichever style you choose it's important to clearly communicate with your hairstylist exactly what you want--to avoid anything getting lost in translation. If you want wispy layers you can say wispy, but also include adjectives such as subtle, soft and sweeping. If you want choppy layers, use words like chunky, shaggy, edgy, modern, and asymmetrical. The ideal option is to find a picture that clearly depicts your expectations. Also be open to your stylist's feedback. Perhaps your hair texture or face shape doesn't suit your desired style and the two of you can work together to find a solution.