Hair for Grownups-Slash-Dummies
November 12, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I have medium-thick, fine, kind of wavy hair that I have washed and either pulled back still-wet into a high ponytail or French braided every day since the beginning of time. It's a little longer than shoulder-length. I would like to find some more interesting and adult things to do with it, (maybe something that looks a little less severe?) but would not like to spend more than 10 or (gulp) 15 minutes of my morning on hair-related tasks. Is this even possible?

Complications: if I leave it down, it gets pretty wonky by the end of the day because of the inconsistent wave. I can't figure out how to get the waves to turn into curls- sometimes if I only pull back half of it, I'll get ringlets as it dries, sometimes I get a bizarro rat's nest. When I let it air dry and then pull it back, I have a ton of wispy/frizzy half-hairs that stick out and look weird at my temples. The people who cut my hair can get it straight with a round brush, a good deal of mysterious product, a hair dryer and a LOT more time than I am willing to commit to the process.

I am a good French braider but otherwise lack fancy lady skills or girly instincts in general. I would love simple step-by-step directions for some post-ponytail/basic braid options.
posted by charmedimsure to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Curly Girl/Naturally Curly method with air-drying (vastly preferred over any kind of mechanical dry) would probably suit you.

Start with the website or see the FAQs, instructions, and posts on /r/curlyhair.

Shortest instructions ever: wash hair with shampoo if you must, or just conditioner. Scrunch product into dripping wet hair (as in, keep it in the shower) and gently squeeze out extra water. No brushing or combing except immediately before washing, if you must.

You may need a haircut from someone who has a clue about cutting curly hair. See for a locator and reviews, and I also find Yelp to be helpful.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One very simple option that I do quite often: wash your hair at night, and put just a small amount of pomade or mousse in it. French (or normal) braid it, and sleep in the braids. Take them out in the morning, add just a touch more product, and then either put on a headband, on pull the top half of it back with a clip like this. The effect is pretty cute, slightly fancy, and not very young, I don't think. Takes very little time at all.
posted by hasna at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just saw this at Buzzfeed last week, and for the first time, I really understood the beauty of such lists: 23 easy hairstyle ideas! So easy to read! I can do almost all of these without a mirror!

See also.
posted by juliplease at 12:53 PM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also, my hair texture is different from yours, but hot rollers do AMAZING things for my wispy/frizzy problems. I blow-dry (5 minutes) and roll in about 5 large rollers (1 minute) and let them set while I do my makeup (5 minutes). I take out the rollers and walk out the door.
posted by juliplease at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Proper haircut with nice layers
2. Drip dry; when still damp add Moroccan hair oil (don't pay more than $10 for it)
3. Loosely clip hair back when damp - pull like you're going to do a pony tail, then add a twist, then clip.
4. Wait.
5. Nice waves.

1, 2 as usual
3. Air dry
4. Flat iron ($100-$120, ceramic plates, takes < 10 mins for a lazy job)
5. Ta-daaa!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have pretty much the same hair, it sounds like. The key for me is to wash less often (I can't do no 'poo, because of dandruff, but, like, once every three days). Then I put in some control freak serum, let air dry down, and flat iron it. It takes about 15 minutes and will look decent for a couple days like that. Otherwise, I put in some curling mousse, scrunch, and air dry.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:00 PM on November 12, 2013

Also, generally, for wavy hair I think it's best to go with its natural inclinations. Wavy hair is supposed to be wavy! Not perfectly tamed. I get as many compliments when I let my hair get like this as I do when I perfectly straighten it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:06 PM on November 12, 2013

I have similar hair and have always struggled with it when it was longer. The curls never looked great and when I brushed it just got frizzy. This summer I got it cut about shoulder length with some layers. What a difference the curls really came to life and now all I do is add some serum after washing - and a little mousse to scrunch the curls. I let it air dry a little bit and just blow dry a little around my face - the rest is just natural curls and I have gotten a lot of compliments on the change. It is a lot easier and if I need to I can dress it up at night with a curling iron.
posted by MrsMGH at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2013

Oh, and MrsMGH just made me think of something--unless your hair is straightened, don't brush it! Use a wide toothed comb while it's still wet.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:15 PM on November 12, 2013

My hair is a similar texture, though probably curlier/wavier and tends to like to grow horizontal from my head. "Polisher" products work really well for keeping those little frizzy bits tamed and giving your hair more shine/gloss. If you're like me, you're going to have to use a fair bit of the product in order to weigh your hair down enough so it doesn't look like you're mid-electrocution. If you try or have tried hair polish and it doesn't do anything, try another brand from the "natural hair" section. Personally, I look for things that have "oil" and "sulfate free" in the name, because anything that dries out curly/wavy/big hair is likely to lead to frizz and broken-off hair/split ends (that goes for shampoo/conditioner, too -- anything you're going to be using on your hair for any length of time).

I wash and condition (always condition! sometimes only condition!) my hair every couple days (2-3x per week). I wrap my hair in a towel when I get out of the shower, and then blot/squeeze it dry (don't rub, that'll get your hair going crazy). I put a quarter-sized dab of the polisher in my palms, rub my hands together, and then rub the polisher all over my hair (from the bottom up -- if you start from the top of your hair/head, it has a bigger chance of ending up looking greasy). Honestly, I try to err on the side of too much rather than too little, because it works way better when your hair is wet. Then I lift my fingers into my hair from the bottom, let the hair kind of wrap around my fingers, and "scrunch" in curls. If I'm worried about my hair still being too crazy once it dries, I use a hairdryer with a diffuser on my hair (don't flip your head over to dry it, you will end up with hair that wants to stay in every random direction once it's dry). Usually, I just let my hair dry, and about halfway through the day, I brush it with a boar-bristle brush. If I'm not in public when I'm trying to brush it, I flip my head upside down and brush it from the bottom, then stand up straight -- at that point my hair is like a huge cloud around my head. I brush my fingers through my hair to get it reasonably flat, and then brush it "normally." Only do that once, maybe twice a day, though -- too much brushing will brush out the curl and leave you with frizz. By the second and third day, my hair is pretty tame and in the morning, I just brush it the same way I just described and maybe add a little more polisher. The kind I use (and the only kind that has really worked for me) is called "Cream of Nature with Argan Oil from Morocco" and I got it at CVS. If after all that, your hair is *still* not looking how you want it to, bobby pins are your friend. Just pin back sections so your hair frames your face the way you want it to.

If you want to spend more time on your hair or a more complicated hairstyle, you can use a heat-protection product, then a blow-dryer, then a straightening iron, then a curling iron, then polisher, then maybe hairspray. I think that's sort of overkill, though, plus it's time-consuming and you risk your hair looking "crunchy" afterward. For case in point: see all my senior photos from high school.

Something that has also worked for me in terms of having more defined curls -- shorter hair. I keep mine not too far past chin-length (with some layering and a bit of side bangs). That keeps the weight off the curls enough that they stay defined and "cute"/bouncy even when my hair gets a little wild, and short hair also helps me keep split ends down to a minimum (if you already have some frizz/curl to your hair, split ends will be the death of you).
posted by rue72 at 1:15 PM on November 12, 2013

Best answer: I have very similar hair to yours - it's generally wavy, but can be straighter or wavier depending on how I dry it, and there are some weird parts that get curlier. I'll flatiron it if I have an interview or something, but otherwise I've stopped fighting it.

I tried following Curly Girl to the letter for a while; it was good for my hair's health, but didn't really do much for my waviness/curliness. Plus my hair frizzes horribly if I don't brush it. It may work for you, though. If you try it, make sure you plop your hair, i.e. put your hair in a non-towel thing while it air-dries. Keeping it from hanging will allow it to curl better.

Recently I discovered a weird thing: if I (gently!) comb my hair while it's still wet, gather it up into a ponytail at the nape of my neck, twist it, and clip it to the back of my head like so, it will be smoother and straighter when it dries. A large flat barrette can work in place of the clip if you want it to look more grown-up.

Similar to rue72, chin-length haircuts work very well with my hair. The best part about having shorter hair is that if it looks a little flat or weird, you can wet it and shake it out and it'll dry wavy in very little time.

(Big old disclaimer: I am lazy and my hair probably doesn't actually look very good most of the time.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:21 PM on November 12, 2013

I have similar hair, I think. My new go-to is a high bun (I just gather my wet hair like I'm making a ponytail and twist it around itself) that I clip with an octopus claw. When I take it down later it is dry and the waves aren't as weird as they are if I just did a ponytail.

I find the high bun isn't severe because I pull the hair in front to be in kind of a pompadour.

I only wash it every three or four days, which helps. I use Miss Jessie's quick curls and no other products right now.
posted by k8lin at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2013

Best answer: The sock bun.

(And no offence but the range of lady time investment in grooming is so widely variable that I think some people who comfortably reside on the medium to high end of the scale don't really grasp those of us on the "zero investment" end of the spectrum. I have the same hair as you and own no blow dryers, tongs, or ceramic anything. My sole styling product is Aveda Be Curly or Moroccan Oil when I want to wear it down, encourage curl and tame frizz. That's it. And FWIW I prefer the Be Curly.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have your hair cut regularly? Do you go to a good stylist, one that understands wavy hair? Life is a lot simpler for wavy haired people if they get a good cut regularly. So if you've neglected that a bit please get a cut. Be sure to explain to the stylist how much or little effort you're prepared to put into styling your hair and how frequently you want to get it cut. They need to know.

Get a Tangle teezer. They are like magic and allow you to brush your wet hair without any kind of nasty pulling or tangles.

You do use conditioner and/or other products with moisturising qualities like Moroccan oil, right? Not necessarily throughout the full length of your hair but perhaps from the ears down unless your hair is quite dry throughout. I'd have to wash my hair daily if I applied conditioner to the full length of my hair and I don't want to do that. And it has to be a good, rich conditioner because otherwise it doesn't seem to do enough to defrizz my hair.

Very simple styling suggestion. I like to wrap my wet hair into a microfibre towel whilst I get dressed, which absorbs a lot of moisture before I even get round to picking up the hair drier. I then blast my hair to rough dry it, it should be almost fully dry. Then I brush with my tangle teezer, take some large sections of hair around my face and use a large barrelled curling iron to fashion some nice, controlled waves around my face. Investigate some easy ways to pin/clip/hairband your hair out of your eyes and you are good to go. I have quite thick, wavy, shoulder length hair and this takes me no more than 10 minutes in total.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:05 PM on November 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! No, I don't get it cut that regularly and generally since I lack hair vocabulary* I go in every 3 or so months and say that I would like it with a few layers and long enough to still pull back all at once. I agree that it might look better/curlier a little shorter but I am pretty sure not being able to pull it all back would make me crazy.

Hasna, julifree and DarlingBri, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for.

I am at work by 7:30 and don't want to get up earlier than 6:30 for my own mental health, so my shower + get ready + prepare breakfast time needs to be about 45 minutes absolute max. I have a hard time seeing drying + combing + flat-ironing, for example, taking me less than 10 minutes. It is very possible I am Bad at Hair. So, to be really specific, the ideal style for me would be something I can do with towel-dried/damp hair (comb + product + twist here + stick special object there= magic?) which will air dry and look okay, or something that is simple enough that I can do it in about 5 minutes with air-dried hair once I'm at work but before my formal classes with students start.

*seriously, when I got married last summer, I went in the day of the wedding and said, "It has to be all pulled back and up because he says he won't recognize me otherwise, please do that and then make it look...pretty?" which actually worked pretty well, considering.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:39 PM on November 12, 2013

Best answer: How wavy is wavy? I have wavy hair, but the wave pattern is so weak that I can pull it out with a comb, but I have exactly three fat ringlets at the nape of my neck that complicate things and make my hair look wavier than it is.

I have two solutions for when I want to wear my fine, thin hair loose: hot rollers and pin curls. Hot rollers are so, so easy, with the caveat that you should try to use the u-shaped metal pins in the sections around your face to prevent dents. You just wrap your hair up and forget about them until the rollers are cooled - make breakfast, read the Internet, load the dishwasher, whateva. Take 'em out, shake it a bit, from in the mirror, hit it with hairspray and by the time you make it to work the curls will have dropped just enough to look polished, full and straight with a bit of bend.

Lately I've been setting my hair in big ole pincurls before I go to bed. I wash my hair at night and let it air dry until it's, like, 90% dry. I take big sections of hair and wrap them in a big loop around four fingers, roll to the root, and pin flat to my head with a bunch of bobby pins. I do 6 - two on the crown of my head, one either side above my ears, and two at the back of my head. Super comfortable to sleep in, and when I wake up and unpin I can just shake em out and my hair is, again, pulled straight with a bit of bend and fullness without frizz. I don't even use any product and it works a treat.
posted by nerdfish at 2:42 PM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a hard time seeing drying + combing + flat-ironing, for example, taking me less than 10 minutes.

Wash your hair at night, let it air dry, and straighten it before bed. Don't let it get wet before you leave the house in the morning. Since you're only doing this every few days, the time it takes is trivial.

Seriously, I have a $20 flat iron that I bought from CVS, have not had a pro haircut in years, and I find this hair routine way, way easier than dealing with trying to get my hair to behave in the morning.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:55 PM on November 12, 2013

A few thoughts on your update. As a rule, the less effort you are prepared to put into styling on a day to day basis, the more diligent you have to be about getting a good hair cut regularly.

I had a chin length bob for ages and I washed, added product and got in the car with with wet hair and let it air dry. Sometimes I twisted the damp strands round my fingers driving to work for extra curl. My hair was dry when I got to work. Just ran my fingers through to untwist any strands. Got loads of compliments. That only worked because I had my hair cut religiously every 4-5 weeks. If I went any longer the shape round my face looked wrong and my hair got way too thick. So find a good stylist who understands about curls and get your hair cut regularly.

Re the pulling it all back. You can go shorter and pull most of it back. You can keep the rest out of your face using clips, pins or hair bands. So that's not really a problem unless you want it to be one.

But really, be brave and go way shorter. Long hair is lovely if you wear it down but as you don't what's the point of keeping the length? If you go short enough, with a good enough cut you can get away with minimal styling.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:57 PM on November 12, 2013

Response by poster: I apparently have no pictures of my hair, since it is always pulled back (sorry, the first one features me helping a kid bonk a fish :

This wavy, given air-drying, but it doesn't always do it.
This is the frizzy problem, on an Extreme Hair Day.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:04 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on those pictures, I suspect your hair is actually curly, not wavy

Generally, though, I think the real problem is that it's probably a bit damaged. If you're shampooing daily, and tying it straight back while still wet, you've probably got a nice bit of split ends framing your face. So when humidity happens, all those little pieces curl up and frizz, because that's what short little pieces of curly hair do.

I think the best place to start is more layers, and maybe some sort of side-swept bangs, from a stylist who understands curly hair. I suggest the bangs mostly so that you won't feel obligated to pull it all back daily, exacerbating the split end problem. And really, less washing, more conditioner, more oil will make your hair happier.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:32 PM on November 12, 2013

No, I don't get it cut that regularly and generally since I lack hair vocabulary* I go in every 3 or so months and say that I would like it with a few layers and long enough to still pull back all at once.

Don’t try to describe something you’re unsure of. Find a few pictures you like, show them to someone who is good at cutting hair and ask them which ones will work for you being that you want low maintenance and the ability to pull it back. A good haircut solves a world of problems. If it’s a good cut you may not need to get it cut as often.
posted by bongo_x at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2013

I have very wavy/loosely curly hair and I use three frizz control tactics.

1. Wash every second or third day, and "plop" with a microfiber towel. I use a pack towel from REI. On days with no washing, add a smallish amount of product with a damp hand. I smooth it over my head, scrunch when I get to the ends of my hair, and run my fingers through the roots around my face (very gently, and not far enough to disturb the waves/curls), but ymmv.

2. After washing and conditioning, while your hair is dripping wet, work leave-in conditioner through. I use a nickel-sized glob of Suave naturals conditioner, diluted with water and combed through with fingers. This is the only combing my hair gets.

3. Product: Enemy of Frizz. This stuff keeps fuzzies down for me even after commuting via bike!

I keep my hair short specifically to avoid styling so I can't help there.
posted by esoterrica at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2013

Best answer: I have hair about your length that tends to go a bit wispy/frizzy. Here are some styles that work for me.

Try a simple gibson tuck (which, I guarantee, will take you two minutes to learn and one minute to do once you've learnt it).

Try an Odile Gilbert hairpin (I think these are stocked in some stores in the US) - these work on shorter hair than shown in the clip, and you can use them to make an updo as messy or as sleek as you like.
posted by girlgenius at 4:02 PM on November 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

data point: from your pictures, it looks like I have similar hair to you and I wear mine completely curly. however, if i go on vacation and pull it straight back for a week, for the first few days when I want to wear it curly again it never looks super great. You may find if you stick out the first week or so of bad hair days, your hair might "learn" to be more curly.

also, get a good cut (like everyone else says!) and buy a hair dryer with a diffuser. I've got a little shorter than shoulder length hair and my hair routine (scrunch hair dry with a tshirt, Deva Curl hair gel, scrunch some more, diffuse while scrunching) takes 10 min or less.
posted by nanhey at 5:22 PM on November 12, 2013

We seem to have the exact same hair, as well as the same level of hair commitment. What works for me is basically what hasna said. I wash my hair every other day, at night. Let it air dry a bit so the pillow doesn't mildew, french braid it, sleep on the braid, and then shake it out in the morning. I rub a little bit of Weleda hair oil between my palms and smooth down the frizzies if there are any. Done and done. Literally three minutes of work, and it looks great (at least I think it looks great).

And never ever brush it, or comb it. Use your fingers if you need to work out a tangle.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:22 AM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: FWIW: When I hit peri-menopause and the texture of my hair changed, I paid for the most expensive haircut in Manhattan from the Aveda master stylist who's sole speciality is training other Aveda stylists to cut curly hair. The process took forever and cost the earth and it was a great cut but the most valuable part was the instruction on How To Deal With Curly Hair.

1/ Shampoo your hair
2/ Condition
3/ With the conditioner in, comb through with a wide-tooth comb
4/ Rinse. Put down the comb because there will be NO MORE brushing or combing
5/ Step out of the shower and put some hair oil or Be Curly in your hands
5/ Bend at the waist and whip your head up and down a lot like you're in a poorly-coordinated thrash band. Your hair will divide naturally into it's natural rings or curls.
6/ Whilst inverted, rub hands together and apply goop to your hair, starting AT THE BOTTOM. We are looking to lock the curls so they stay in their natural rings and don't spread out from the bottom.
7/ I noticed you own at least one headband, so you could put the headband on at this point
8/ Stop now. Don't touch it, futz with it, brush it, comb it, apply more shit to it or anything else. You're done; just let it dry.

The only complicated part of this for me was figuring out what product to use where. In Ireland, our water is soft and the Be Curly works well for me; when I'm in the US, the water where I travel is harder and I have much better luck with Moroccan oil or just olive oil. In the US, I use no shampoo or conditioner; here I do.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:26 AM on November 13, 2013 [87 favorites]

Are you open to trying a new stylist? It sounds like your hair is similar to mine -- wonky, inconsistent, prone to frizz -- and I was a slave to the hair dryer and straightening iron for years, no matter what my hair length.

I talked it over with a stylist at an upscale salon, and she was able to cut my hair so that it air-dries into waves that actually look polished. I tend to use a bit of Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray or Biosilk Beach Texture to encourage the waviness (and occasionally John Freida Secret Weapon if I look a bit frizzy), but I can go without those if needed. I really thought that I would never be able to have low-maintenance hair, but I do! So I recommend shopping around for a stylist.
posted by neushoorn at 1:34 AM on November 13, 2013

Best answer: Okay, well while I'm at it with Buzzfeed, 29 Hairstyling Hacks was also kind of mind-blowing.
posted by juliplease at 9:18 AM on November 13, 2013

Your hair looks like mine with a bit of humidity. I have very much grown into my curls. I currently have it cut so that it sits a little above my shoulders when it's curly. I wash every 3-4 days and never comb (unless I have a ponytail day). It air dries after scrunching a little curl creme (Be Curly from Aveda does work well, but don't use too much - personally I mainly use a super cheap version from a UK shop) through it. If it needs to be dry in the morning I wash it at night, let it dry thoroughly and curly before bed. In the morning I scrunch a little water through it in the shower and a tiny tiny bit of product and it looks reasonable. Looking at DarlingBri's method, that's pretty much what I came to by trial and error.

The thing with curls is that there will always be frizz unless you are made our of plastic. It's just that you see the frizz and everyone else sees the curls.

When I had super short hair I got it cut every 6 weeks and loved it, but it was a lot of money. I think now my hairdresser cuts the bottom layers at the back of my head a little shorter than the other layers cos otherwise I get a straight bit at the back. Some kind of hairdresser voodoo. If my hair gets past my shoulders I never wear it down because it drives me mad.
posted by kadia_a at 10:20 AM on November 13, 2013

Response by poster: Holy crap, guys! I did not know. This is what I got with DarlingBri's steps this morning (using some generic curl mousse from Target); I really did not know it could be that curly without work since I have always just apparently brushed most of it out and then what's left is usually weirder than what I got today. Frizz is obviously an issue, but I have some strategies and different products to try and think you all have convinced me to get it cut at the one place in the state that is recommended on the Curly Girl website.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:38 PM on November 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

CONGRATULATIONS! You have magical fairy princess hair!

(This is a lot like living your whole life thinking you're a Muggle and then turning 11 and discovering you're actually a Wizard and will now be let into the magical world of Hogwarts: suprise, you have curly hair and while it's different than how you were raised and involves specific potions you need to learn, it's really pretty awesome.)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:09 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

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