Set Me Straight
Which flat iron can conquer my crazy curls?
Ease of use: 4.7
Final result: 1.3
Final score: 3.1 (out of 10 possible)
Vidal Sassoon, $69.99 The Vidal Sassoon looks cool, with hot-pink felt along the top and a temperature gauge that resembles one of those arcade games that tells you whether you're a cold fish or hot lips. But how many college graduates does it take to master a flat iron? More than three, apparently. Penney, my mother, and I all had trouble setting the Vidal Sassoon to the proper temperature. I continually pressed buttons until it finally reached the highest setting. Then, the box claimed, it should have heated up in 30 seconds. It took three to four minutes—not an eternity, but not as quickly as advertised. The low heat required me to keep it on my hair longer, causing damage, and my hair got caught in the iron's hinge, causing breakage. After all that, it did little for my appearance. Penney was its sole defender, but even she admitted that by Day 2, her hair looked terrible.
Ease of use: 3.7
Final result: 5.7
Final score: 4.9
BaByliss PRO Ceramic Straightening Iron with Anti-Static Detachable Comb, $49 It's clunky, unattractive, and cumbersome—at 2.25 inches, it's the widest flat iron we tried. But the BaByliss is pretty serviceable, and it's affordable. I tried one with a comb on Melonyce's recommendation, and it did seem to give my hair a smoother finish. But my mother, Penney, and I all noted quite a bit of breakage (not to mention painful hair-pulling). The comb also grabbed hair from sections I wasn't trying to straighten. The sheer wideness of the iron made it difficult to straighten those hard-to-reach spots behind my ears and near my scalp, so I had some incongruously wavy spots. I do give the BaByliss credit for one thing: It gave one of the longest-lasting final results. I wore mine straight for four and a half days, longer than some of the $100-plus irons.
Ease of use: 4.7
Final result: 6
Final score: 5
T3 Bespoke Labs Wet or Dry, $200 The T3 says it can dry and straighten in a single step—something I hadn't attempted since a disasterous high-school-era encounter with a straightening-iron-and-blow-dryer-in-one gadget. (Think Krusty the Klown.) But the scars from that incident have healed, and it was time to try again.
The first thing I noticed about the T3 is that one of the handles is adorned with an inexplicable row of rhinestones. My mother, Penney, and I all found this little touch hilarious. The next thing I noticed was that it heated up to 400 degrees in a matter of seconds. While the loud sizzle it made as my wet hair touched the plates was rather scary, and the steam streaming out of the side vents occasionally singed my hand, I was impressed. The T3 transformed my hair from sopping mop to straight, if a little poufy. It took more than an hour to finish the job—long enough to hurt my weak arms—but the final result was decent. My mother liked this one so much that she held it hostage for a week.
Ease of use: 7.3
Final result: 8
Final score: 7.2
Farouk Chi, $190 (available for less on Amazon.com) The Chi has a cult following. It's the standard by which straight-hair hunters measure all other flat irons—as in, "It's not as good as the Chi." I expected great, life-altering things of the Chi.
And it was pretty good—comfortable to use, with a great swivel cord that makes it easy to maneuver. There was no messing around with temperature because, well, there's only one temperature: really, really hot. The curved shape of the iron makes it easy to flip or otherwise style the ends, which is a great feature. The design is simple and appealing. It also caused minimal breakage, though my ends looked kind of frayed when I was finished. But it's not appropriate for all hair types: Melonyce found her hair matted and stiff, "like Barbie hair."
While the Chi seems to have everything going for it, I wasn't thrilled with the final result. The sections I straightened didn't blend together well, and my hair looked slightly bushy. It's a solid product, but not the best out there.
Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project from Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that covers emerging technologies and their implications for society and policy.
Photographs of: curly hair and hair straightened with the Hai DigiStik by Christopher Coccaro; hair straightened with the Revlon Floating Plates by Penney Berryman Davis.