How to best show off partly curly hair?
August 18, 2012 12:42 PM   Subscribe

After a lifetime of stick-straight limp hair, I've finally gone curly! . . . partly. What do do with hair that is half straight and half curly? What haircut can I get to maximize the curl?

After giving birth to my son almost two years ago, I've discovered with delight that some of my hair is coming in curly. I mean full on sproingy ringlet curls. Here's the problem, though; it's only the UNDER part of my haiir, the part around the nape of my neck and halfway up the back of my head. The top part of my hair is still mostly straight, mmmmaybe a little bit of wave. If I pull back my hair with a clip, I have a waterfall of straightish hair over an underlayer of tight curls.

I would love it if it were ALL curly, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards, unless I give birth to several more children (which. . . no). So what can I do to maximize the curly appearance, apart from just wearing it back all the time? The curly part of my hair is about this curly, while the upper part of my hair is more like this. I am a busy and low-maintenance woman, so blowdrying or product is not likely to be a part of my regular routine.
posted by KathrynT to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is the underside part of your hair shorter than the outer part? Possibly you want something with layers because longer hair, in my experience, tends to pull curls into waves. (I love the term "sproingy!")
posted by Aquifer at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

The lowest maintenance thing I can think of is a perm for the top layers. I have a similar issue in that my lower layers are thick, soft curls but the top layers are thinning, dry and frizzy. I've taken to trimming them as short as I can without looking like a mullet, but there isn't lot of top layers for me so that might not be viable if your top layers are thick and healthy.
posted by missmagenta at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't do blowdrying or product. I have naturally curly hair. It was curly enough to get me called "Shirley Temple" as a kid, then became sort of wavy at puberty, then became kinky-curly again with steroids prescribed for a health issue.

Shorter cuts encourage more sproing effect. If my hair on top gets too long, the weight makes it look just wavy again. Cutting your hair shorter, especially the just wavy part, might help even out the amount of curl.
posted by Michele in California at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2012

1. Shorter hair is curlier, because the weight of longer hair straightens it out.
2. Nape of the neck hair tends to curl more easily for three reasons: it's shorter, it's finer, and it gets more rubbing from clothes and hands that kinks it up (on me at least).
3. To increase curl and body, wash your hair last thing at night and sleep with it wet and spread out above your head. As it dries, it sets in a sort of anti-gravity position that will keep a lot of its characteristics once you're vertical.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2012

I have hair kind of like that, and have been having a great time this summer following a Curly-Girl style routine. You'll like it because it's very low-maintenance. You can read the Curly Girl book or just google around for tips. I follow a regimen I found on a blog:

1. Do not ever use shampoo on your hair.

2. Do not ever brush your hair. Do not comb it except in the shower when it is wet and has conditioner on it.

3. In the shower, work conditioner through your hair. Use a wide-toothed comb--more like a pick, really--to comb through it, then rinse the conditioner out.

4. When you get out of the shower, wrap your hair in something like an old t-shirt rather than a terry towel. Do not "scruff" your hair to dry it; just let the fabric soak up some of the water.

5. When you take off the towel, flip upside down and lift your hair up from your scalp. You can, at this point, use a little bit of gel on the hair nearest your scalp to give it more lift. I find the gel is pretty optional; my hair, at this stage anyway, looks about the same whether I use it or not.

6. Let your hair dry naturally. If you used product, you can leave it a little crunchy or squeeze it with your hands to break up the product and get a softer look.

7. About once a week, I scrub my scalp with a paste made of baking soda and water. You can also rinse your hair with vinegar periodically; I have been too lazy to do this.

I have been amazed at the curls I get doing this. The top of my hair is curlier and has more body than I expected, though as it gets longer it's losing some of that. I am growing my hair out after shaving my head for several years, so have no experience or advice about haircuts. I may be facing my first haircut in years soon...and am pretty nervous about it but I am thinking of working toward something like a chin-length bob with long layers that will let the curliest part of my hair do its thing.

If your hair is long, you can sleep with it in a style called "the unicorn," which is a ponytail at the top of your head, which will help it keep its body. You can also use hair clips to lift the first half-inch or so of hair off your scalp while it dries. I haven't tried either of these things yet.

Today, it has been about 36 hours since I took a shower--I went to bed with wet hair two nights ago. This morning more of it has made itself into ringletty curls. It's pretty neat.
posted by not that girl at 1:03 PM on August 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

My new white hairs (hello, aging!) are curly and thick. My non-white hair is the same limp mousy shit. My fix? Headbands! Displays the rock star old woman hair and sort of hides the limp mousy stuff.
posted by angrycat at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My hair dried similarly - ringlets underneath, straight on top. It seems to have to do with the friction against my neck/body - if I sleep with wet hair, I get more of an overall curl since it's all against the pillow. As a rule, when I let it air dry, the part that dries slower gets curlier.

Also, product. It's not that hard to scrunch in some curl gel or work through whatever curly product you like with your fingers, and really makes a difference.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2012

Chop it off. Get it layered in a way that shapes your face well.

Maintenance: Shampoo it highly infrequently - curly hair does best if left alone for long periods of time. Let it dry naturally w/ a bit of high-conditioning/curl-friendly product combed through. Never go near your hair with a brush or hairdryer - towel-dry, comb only.
posted by heyjude at 2:25 PM on August 18, 2012

Seconding the suggestions for getting a cut from a stylist who knows curly hair.

You also might find these two tutorials useful:

sock bun curls
no-heat curls (using headband)

They involve a minimal amount of prep the night before. I spend very little time styling my hair (I usually comb it after getting out of the shower and then let it air dry, so there's a major clue as to my level of laziness) but even I would be willing to do these if my hair were long enough. I think they'd help you get a more even curly effect all over.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:40 PM on August 18, 2012

In addition, I'd like to suggest that the difference in texture is enhanced by the fact that the neck hairs get to nestle in the shade, as it were, nourished with trickle-down oils, and the hairs front and top take all the brunt of sun, shampoo, hot water, etc.

Finding the right cleanser/conditioner that hydrates and pampers that top hair while leaving it with a texture you like (eg not greasily) could aid you in your quest. They're out there ... just takes some experimentation finding them. I do find paying more for stuff tends to mean it works better, ymmv.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 3:36 PM on August 18, 2012

the CurlTalk forum on is a great resource for curly hair of all kind. Most people on it follow the Curly Girl method that Not That Girl describes, with some variation.

The basic variation I use, similar to Not That Girl's:

-Never brush hair
-Wash with a light condition instead of a shampoo that's free of sulfates and non-water soluble silicones. I like Suave Naturals for this
-Condition with a heavy, moisturizing conditioner that is free of the same stuff (I like stuff from the Aubrey Organics line, which is overall great for all your needs)
-While still VERY wet, scrunch in a sulfate and cone free curl cream (I LOVE Deva Curl) and then gel that is also alcohol-free (I like Eco Styler)
-"plop" hair into a turban made out of a t-shirt (NOT a towel)
-When it's mostly dry, you can blow dry with a diffuser if you want.
-If there's any "crunch" from the gel, wait until your hair is completely dry and then just "scrunch out the crunch" a bit

This really doesn't take that long and isn't very complicated. Plus, I try not to wet my hair very often, so I only wind up doing this every 5 days or so.

Definitely go to stylist who cuts curly and wavy hair. Ouidad and Deva Curl (the latter of which is related to the Curly Girl book/system) who are two salons/training systems that are pretty popular. Things can be expensive, though. Just try searching on yelp for "curly hair."
posted by lalalana at 4:59 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

As others have said, air drying or towel drying is best (or heat lamp, but that is time consuming). My hair is very short in recent years, so I don't own a comb or brush. I finger comb it into place after a shower. If you have longer hair, get the right tools specifically for curly hair, including a wide toothed comb for wet hair similar to this and a round brush with plastic bristles with little protective blobs on the end. No metal bristle brushes.

I have gone through periods where I do not use shampoo. When I do use shampoo, I am extremely picky to the point where other people think I am a neurotic drama queen. Balsam does evil things to my hair. It makes it feel tacky and look dull and lifeless. I normally get lots of compliments on my hair. Balsam is a good way to end that. However, Jojoba oil is very nice as an ingredient. I have also been known to oil my hair in the shower with virgin olive oil, though that was a long time ago.

Certain Pantene shampoos and conditoners work fine for me and I have used certain herbal shampoos to good effect. As a rule of thumb, shampoo should be clear. If it is not, I probably don't want it on my hair. When I find a brand I like, I am fanatically loyal for a time. Most brands are not a good thing for my prissy, tantrum-prone hair.

YMMV, of course. But finding the right shampoo makes curly hair much easier to live with. The right hair cut, the right tools, and the right habits make curly hair a low maintenance dream to live with. The wrong ones make my life miserable, my hair untamable, and make me wonder why anyone would be jealous of my natural curls. I have at times gone around looking like a cartoon character that stuck their finger in a light socket and desperately wishing I had someone else's hair.

And, yes, get someone who knows how to cut curly hair. Hair is typically cut wet. With straight hair, wet vs dry is roughly the same length. With curly hair, it dries a great deal shorter. I used to really dread and loathe haircuts. I always got something shorter than I wanted and felt like I had been scalped. Now I wear it so short that I have to convince stylists, no, really, cut it that short. I have had it that short before. If you can find a shorter cut you can be happy with, for me, going short has made having naturally curly hair a much happier experience. It has enough body I don't need product. As long as it is short enough, it looks great with just a smidgeon of finger combing into place. For me, leaving a little extra around the face keeps it feminine and I get lots of compliments (which still blows my old-fashioned, prejudiced mind -- I think my hair is too butch for a hetero woman to be getting complimented on it).

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:16 PM on August 18, 2012

Oh, and the round brush is a styling tool, not a brushing your hair type brush. If your hair is short enough, you can skip that and just get a good comb. As someone else said, you don't really want to brush curly hair. You want to put it where it belongs while wet so you have some hope it behaves while dry, then try to leave it the hell alone.

I have also used headbands to good effect or even put my hair up in a ponytail while still wet. A curly ponytail can look like you spent forever trying to get a high style look when, in fact, you spent less than five minutes on it. For me, taking the ponytail down after it was dry left me with a great look later in the day while making long wet hair behave earlier in the day without having to spend time drying and styling it. This works well in warm weather, not so much in cold.
posted by Michele in California at 5:32 PM on August 18, 2012

KathrynT, we are hair twins! I have the exact same issues that you do (though mine came from the hormones of puberty, so I've had longer to adjust to them), and I suspect they're not uncommon in others either.

A couple of notes:
-I echo the 'shorter is better' theme. Taking the weight off the curls on the top is a huge help; they may never get as curly as the ones underneath but layers will help them get as curly as they can.
-I have tried the no-'poo regimen before and found it ineffective for my hair. I now do the opposite of what all the advice suggests: ONLY shampoo and no conditioner at all. My stylists refuse to believe I don't use conditioner, and I never ever have split ends. The point of that bit of information is to let you know that if no-'poo doesn't work for you, that's ok; do give it a shot, as it works for many women, but if it doesn't feel work free to give it up and try the next thing.
-don't brush your hair. Brushed curly hair is a Sad Thing. You'll need to brush your hair before a haircut, perhaps if it gets terribly wind or sand tangled, but otherwise finger combing is preferable.
-I echo the 'get a curly-experienced stylist' theme as well. My hair always looks better when my stylist has curly hair AND knows what she's doing. Be willing to put aside a decent chunk of your budget for this; my best haircuts have been $50+tip and that's not that bad in the world of curly folk.
-The good news is, you are not likely to ever need to blowdry your hair again--unless you live (like me) at or above the 49th parallel. When it's -10F and colder I will blowdry my hair lightly but that's because otherwise it freezes solid, which is disgusting. If you live in a place not blessed with winter, you can pretty much throw away your hairdryer.
-Get a good cut and your routine will develop naturally from there. I currently use Garnier Fructis Curl Sculpting Cream-Gel (it takes between 1-2 minutes! Truly, this is not time consuming stuff) but as a curly, you will soon discover more product than you can shake a stick at will be taking up residence in your medicine cabinet. Find which one works best for you, whether all natural or all silicone or something in between, and buy it in bulk.

Best of luck with your new hair. You'll always know what the weather will be--curly hair gets much curlier when it's humid--and your style may change from day to day or week to week as your hair does. Feel free to MeMail for commiseration ;)
posted by librarylis at 7:16 PM on August 18, 2012

You could do rag curls to the straight bits overnight.
posted by h00py at 4:20 AM on August 19, 2012

Response by poster: This is a all really great information. It sounds like the first thing I need to do is get a different haircut; right now everything is all one length, and it is absolutely true that my shorter hair is curlier than my longer hair. I will call my salon and ask if they have anyone who specializes in curly hair. Thank you all so much!
posted by KathrynT at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2012

Good plan! One more technique for after you get a good haircut. It's called The Ice Queen Method named after the curl talk forum member who came up with it:

When you're in the shower and your hair is wet, flip your head over and squeeze in some curl cream and some gel. Squeeze it until (as the Ice Queen puts it) it feels squishy and like seaweed. Flip it to the right, squeeze. Flip it to the left, squeeze it. Let air dry. Do not touch until completely dry, at which point you can scrunch out the crunch if you need it. You'll need to experiment with products-- I have coarse, thick, porous hair that's actually curly on top but not on bottom, so I need more moisture (a leave-in conditioner) and a pretty heavy gel. You might need a lighter mix to not weight your hair down. It's probably the most successful easy technique I've found.

Also google the Ouidad "Rake and Shake" method, which is great for some but doesn't work for me.
posted by lalalana at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2012

Response by poster: Update! I went in and saw my salon's most experienced stylist, who herself has curly hair. She took 6-8" off my hair (my hair was VERY long, now it's about shoulder length), cut it into layers, sold me a bottle of criminally expensive but extremely effective Curl Enhancing Serum stuff, and showed me how to sort of twirl-style it. It is not as curly as I had hoped it would be, but it is a hell of a lot curlier than it was, and in general is a really light bouncy style that I really love. Thanks y'all for giving me the courage to do it and the knowledge of what to ask for!
posted by KathrynT at 9:18 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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