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Sorry, Steve: The real secrets of Stranger Things' amazing '80s hair styles

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Nov 15, 2017, 2:00 PM EST

You tell anyone I just told you this, and your ass is grass — but Steve's mane on Stranger Things? Not styled with four puffs of Farrah Fawcett spray. Billy's lovely locks? Not his own. And Hopper's actually sporting a mohawk.

Unlike the plot points of Stranger Things, the show's hair secrets aren't quite as guarded. With a little help from lead hairstylist Sarah Hindsgaul, SYFY WIRE was able to get to the bottom (or top?) of a few Stranger Things mysteries, including who was getting wiggy between takes.

Stranger Things Billy

Credit: Netflix

The Celebrity on Maple Street: It took a while to find just the right mullet for Billy Hargrove, played by actor Dacre Montgomery. Hindsgaul leafed through reference pictures of a number of mullet-wearing men in the 1980s — including Brad Pitt and George Clooney — before landing on one of Rob Lowe. "If you look at Brad Pitt's picture, it's pretty epic, but we needed a guy that represented what Dacre looked like, so he could sell the mullet," she explained. "Dacre is so beautiful, so it can't look clumsy."

When she found a Rob Lowe picture from his St. Elmo's Fire days, she knew it was the right look for Billy's wig, "because it had a bit of a softness to it." She's also proud that Lowe himself seemed to approve — he acknowledged the resemblance on Twitter. "That was a very happy moment for us," she said. "We did something right." Since it's a wig, though, most of Montgomery's time in the hair and makeup trailer was to bleach his mustache to match.

The Pollywigs: Real life intervenes when actors are prepping for parts. Before season one, actor Charlie Heaton (who plays Jonathan Byers) called Hindsgaul to notify her that he'd been at a New Year's Eve party with a few too many candles, and the whole front of his hair had accidentally burned off. (Her solution? Extensions.) The equivalent call before Season 2 came from actor David Harbour (who plays Jim Hopper), who had to break the news that thanks to a role in a Shakespeare in the Park production, he had shaved his hair into a mohawk.

"That was a bit of a shocker," Hindsgaul laughed. "He sent me photos, saying, ‘So sorry. Don't kill me. I know you're going to hate me.' And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I'm going to murder you.'" (She actually got a wig made for him to wear for the first three months of shooting, while his hair grew out). Since wearing a wig is not comfortable, she said, "I think I got pretty even."

Stranger Things Nancy Wheeler

Credit: Netflix

Not all wigs were made because of hair emergencies, of course. In actress Cara Buono's case, Hindsgaul offered her a wig to save her the inconvenience of getting a high-maintenance haircut to play Karen Wheeler. "Those really short layers would look very odd without the perm, without the styling, and it wouldn't work on an everyday basis," Hindsgaul said.

The Bobbed Sister: Nancy Wheeler, like many women before her, bobs her hair during a moment of grief — although for Stranger Things, this happened offscreen. "We needed her to have a big change, and we couldn't really do it with her wardrobe, because at that age, you don't go out and buy a new wardrobe. But you can chop your hair off," Hindsgaul said. "Natalia Dyer and I talked before Season 2, and she felt like Nancy would have gone home and chopped her hair off, by herself, in her bedroom. She had a whole breakdown of that, and it was beautiful."

Stranger Things Natalia

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Part of Nancy's grief is her guilt about Barb — whose hair, by the way, was modeled after Martha Plimpton in The Goonies — but also figuring out love, and feeling guilty about not loving Steve. By the Snow Ball dance, "she's finally okay with who she is," and ready for a little fun. Her tresses there were modeled after a picture of Bernadette Peters from 1984, "because who has better curls than Bernadette Peters?" Hindsgaul said. "Those curls are iconic."

The Fluff and the Acrobat: By far, the most fun hair to style on Stranger Things is Steve Harrington's. It's not based on any specific person, although Hindsgaul took some inspiration from the Norwegian band A-ha (whom you might remember for their video for "Take On Me"). Season 1, Steve's hair was a little more preppy, and Hindsgaul only needed a little hairspray and blow-drying to tame it. Season 2 was more "cool bad boy," but it wasn't courtesy of Fabergé Organics or Farrah Fawcett spray that anyone would ask him for styling advice.

Stranger Things hair Steve 1

Credit: Netflix

Instead, Hindsgaul used a combination of blow drying with a round brush, Rene Furterer mousse, and Kevin Murphy Night Rider texture paste on the back and the sides, "to get it up so you could see the mullet, because otherwise it would flatten itself out," and Oribe texturizing spray, "to give it a little bit of hold, so you can control it," she said.

Gaten Matarazzo's hair, however, is much harder to control than Joe Keery's, and so Dustin's efforts to duplicate Steve's hair were doomed from the start. "It's the sweetest moment we had this season," Hindsgaul said. "To do Dustin's hair like Steve's hair, we had to gel it down, with a hard, hard gel, and blow-dried the sides with a soft styler, and teased him on top. We couldn't stop laughing. Gaten would be like, ‘This is happening?' And we were like, ‘Yes, this is happening.' He's so good, that kid."

Stranger Things Dustin hair

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The Vanishing of Eleven's Buzz: Season 1, actress Millie Bobby Brown buzzed her hair down. This year, she grew her hair out — but in order to achieve the buzzed look for flashback scenes, Stranger Things used a combination of bald caps and CGI, transferring her look from last season on her head in post-production. She had one wig as in-between piece, for when her hair was starting to grow back and it was an inch long.

The rest of the time, it's her own natural, curly hair, tousled with only a little bit of mousse. "She had been living in the forest for a while, and living with Hopper," Hindsgaul said. "We wanted it to look like no one had touched, except maybe Hopper had cut a little so you could see her eyes once in awhile."

Stranger Things hair Eleven

Credit: Netflix

During Eleven's punk makeover, Hindsgaul slicked it back to make it closer to her shaved look, as little hair as possible in her face, "so you can see her eyes, her facial expressions."

"The whole first part of the season was to make her look childish, and by the time she figures things out, ‘These are my friends, this is my family, this is what I'm fighting for,' she becomes the kickass Eleven that we know," Hindsgaul said.

Stranger Things hair Eleven punk

Still, Millie herself has her childish side. During her breaks on set, she would play tag with Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers, and often mess up her wig, when she had one. "They're real children, so they run around, they get sweaty, and her wig would be twisted," Hindsgaul laughed. "One time, last year, she was so sick of the blonde wig, I found it hanging on a tree branch, hanging in the wind. I was like, ‘Oh my god, girl! You can't do that to me!'"