In the 1950s, it was Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy pompadour. In the '70s, it was Farrah Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels’ feathered ‘do. And in the '90s, there was no hairstyle more iconic than Rachel Green’s chic layered locks on the hit sitcom Friends.
Even though the show debuted on September 22, 1994, it wasn’t until the 20th episode of the series that the haircut — which came to be known as "The Rachel" – made its debut on actress Jennifer Aniston.
Since the end of Friends, the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress has starred in movies like The Break-Up (2006) and Cake (2014), and even returned to TV with the series The Morning Show. But no matter where her career takes her, she remains grateful for her Friends roots.
"I miss a lot about that time. Having a job that was absolute, pure joy,” she told InStyle in 2019. “I miss getting to be with people I love massively and respect beyond words.”
Despite that tug, there’s one thing she clearly doesn’t miss about the time — "The Rachel." “How do I say this?” she told Allure. “I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen.”
Aniston's longtime hairstylist came up with 'The Rachel'
Although the hairstyle became a major symbol of the show, it wasn’t a calculated move, per se.
“I first created 'The Rachel' back when I met Jennifer, which was more than 20 years ago,” hairstylist Chris McMillan told The Telegraph. “Back then, Jennifer had really long hair with a fringe.”
The show was in the middle of its hugely successful first season, but McMillan thought maybe it was time to change things up. “I told her she should grow her fringe out, get some highlights and just try something a bit different,” he continued. “We cut the length and added in all these layers to blend the bottom to the bangs — and the rest is history.”
The fresh look was a welcome change. “Her initial reaction was great, she loved it then,” McMillan said. “It was a really fun cut and different to anything else around at the time.”
As for Aniston, she said at the 2018 InStyle Awards: “I got that haircut and was like, ‘Wow this is amazing,’ and then I was totally left with this frizzy mop on my head, because I had no idea how to do what he did.”
Fans and celebrities tried to mimic the haircut
What Aniston discovered right away was also what fans around the world quickly found out — although it looks simple and chic, the style was quite challenging to recreate.
“'The Rachel' was high maintenance,” Aniston told Marie Claire. “I'd curse Chris every time I had to blowdry. It took three brushes — it was like doing surgery!”
Hair salons across the United States started getting an overwhelming demand for the cut — and across the pond, 11 million British women admitted to having tried the look.
And it wasn’t just fans that wanted to get Rachel’s locks. Other celebrities, ranging from Savannah Guthrie to Selena Gomez, modeled their own locks after Aniston’s waitress-turned-fashion executive character.
Even other sitcoms at the time wanted a piece of the popularity. Will & Grace star Debra Messing told Refinery 29 that she tried out the look in the '90s. “Partway through the series, when Friends was also on TV, we were like, ‘Wait a minute, look at Jennifer Aniston's hair — everyone loves it,’” she recalled. “They said, ‘Maybe we should try and make you look like her.’ So I went to Jennifer’s hairstylist and got the cut.”
Even though McMillan himself cut Messing's hair, the actress’ team back at Will & Grace still couldn’t get it quite right. “It was a whole debacle when we tried to do it on the show,” she continued. “They literally tried for three hours to straighten my hair like hers. It was so full and poofy that it looked like a mushroom. The whole thing was just a disaster, so [the producers] decided to just keep it curly.”
Aniston calls the cut 'cringe-y'
While wannabe trend-followers soon found the difficulties, McMillan revealed the secrets to The Telegraph. “It was an easy cut, but it needed regular trims to keep the layers looking sharp,” he said. “It’s high-maintenance, not a wash-and-go style.”
That was the part that frustrated Aniston as well. “Honestly, even during that time, I couldn't do it on my own,” she told Glamour. “I needed Chris attached to my hip. Left to my own devices, I am not skilled with a hairbrush and blow-dryer.”
And it’s because of the detailed complications that Aniston declared to Glamour: “I was not a fan of the 'Rachel.' That was kind of cringe-y for me.”
The iconic haircut went against Aniston's style preferences
The actress admits she looked up to a different TV icon’s hairstyle. “As a youngster, I was a big fan of Valerie Bertinelli's hair,” she told Glamour. But on her own, she prefers “long, natural-looking beachy waves — that feels most like me.”
After all, her go-to hairstyle requires simple maintenance. “I’ll wash it, brush it, then put styling cream in and let it air-dry on its own,” Aniston added.
And if there’s any question just how much she detests "The Rachel," the radio hosts of The Kyle and Jackie O Show asked her in 2013 if she’d rather sport the Friends style for the rest of her life or shave her head one time. “Shave my hair once, definitely,” she replied defiantly.
Ultimately, as perfect as the locks were for her, Aniston and the iconic hairstyle just weren’t a happy match. As she told Allure, “I love Chris and he’s the bane of my existence at the same time because he started that damn 'Rachel,' which was not my best look.”