What are your best alternatives to hair ties for buns, pigtails, etc.?
May 31, 2022 7:41 AM   Subscribe

After years of getting my hair all twisted around them, having them just plain snap (even the ones for "thick" hair), feeling like they pull my hair painfully, and of course losing them, I've decided that I'm done with hair ties. Any alternatives? I've seen banana clips around the Internet, but is there anything else? And if so, do you have recommendations about specific ones to buy so I don't end up with a bunch of flimsy Amazon junk?

Additional details:
- My hair follicles are of normal thickness.
- But I have a lot of hair, which you could call "dense" or "thick."
- My hair is quite long and I typically wear it in twin buns or pigtails in varying styles.
- I do twin buns/twin tails because one bun or one ponytail feels like murder on my scalp. The hair doesn't necessarily feel like it's pulling downward with gravity, though. It just feels like the hair tie pulls the hair unnaturally, so the less hair in each tie, the better. If anyone has a solution to this, I'd be fine with larger clips/pins/whatever to do just one bun or just one ponytail.

I appreciate all input. Thank you. :)
posted by elzpwetd to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (37 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, I just found a hair tie that I love. These are made out of a jersey-like material and have good stretch but when I'm ready, they slide right out of my hair without pulling any hairs or anything. I can also loop them around enough times to get a really tight ponytail.

They are not to be confused with these, which have a knot at the end. Those just kind of hung in my hair and I couldn't get them tight at all.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:50 AM on May 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Spin pins! They hold hair in place without pulling. I have hair with very little texture and spinners miraculously hold it up where bobby pins or clips fail. I still regularly use the set I picked up at the drugstore several years ago. Pretty sure they are Goody brand.
posted by prewar lemonade at 7:54 AM on May 31, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Long ago, in a different gender presentation, I had long, thick, fairly straight but unruly hair. I used to twist my hair up on the back of my head and use two large barrettes to clip the twist in place. That is, I'd gather all my hair together, twist it a couple of times, fold the twist against the back of my head and use the barrettes to clip the twist to my head. At the time, it was fashionable to leave the ends loose a bit, but it was also possible to tuck them in. It was a little bit like a very easy french pleat. (Do you ever braid your hair? Braiding it and putting it up with pins would probably work.)

In any case, this was only possible because I bought the very finest in barrettes from France Luxe. Two of their large-but-not-"volume" barrettes held my hair up; the "volume" barrettes weren't quite enough for all of it. They also have pony tail volume barrettes which I think would have worked, plus a selection of combs which don't work in my very straight hair but my work in yours.

During the pandemic my hair grew out and I did get a couple of barrettes to pull it back for a while. IIRC, Camila Paris and French Amie also produced good barrettes although France Luxe is the best. If someone has hair that will stay in place with Target barrettes, these seem insanely expensive, but if you have in fact tried the easily available alternatives these are a godsend. I had just the two in the nineties, used them every day for several years and they were perfectly good at the end of that time, so I gave them away. I have another couple from wearing my hair up for several years in about 2005 and again, I used them for two years every day and they are like new.
posted by Frowner at 7:58 AM on May 31, 2022 [6 favorites]

My hair is, I suspect, less heavy than yours, but I use little 1-inch claw clips, usually these ones from Scunci. Two of them is sufficient to keep a top knot in place all day for me; if I wear a low bun it's a little less durable but that's probably because I mostly wear the low bun when I wear a hat or helmet.
posted by mskyle at 8:04 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to get blinding headaches from ponytails but now I use these elasticized hair combs. They are two plastic combs and the beads that hold them together are strung on elastics. They hold my hair up but seem to spread the weight and pull around so nothing hurts. I wear them constantly. Sometimes I wear them to bed.

I bought mine from someone who sold them at a flea market, and they had a softer comb than the ones generally available on the web, which I like better. The harder combs are fine in terms of not making my head hurt just from wearing them, but if you're sitting in a chair with a head rest, the softer combs are more comfortable to lean against.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:08 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Spin pins are good... I also really like the Pattern claw clip. Really excellent hold.

If you *must* have a hair tie, I find that the only ones that don't really bother my scalp or hair are the spendy silk ones from Slip which come in small, medium and large. I have to admit that I love a scrunchy moment with a big, fancy silk one in pink. Beauty Pie also has some less expensive silk small ties.
posted by honeybee413 at 8:17 AM on May 31, 2022

My go-to updo (large 3a-2c thick curls) is a messy chignon with is the Scunci octo claw. I'm just now getting my hair grown out from years of short hair, and the spin pins were still pretty new the last time I had long hair, but I can see where they would be nice for more delicate-looking applications. But the Scunci thick/claw clips have been my go to for nearly 20 years and the only time I've ever broken one was by stepping on it.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love the various claws and clips from Chunks Shop. They have claws for thick hair, fine hair, etc., with videos showing these applications. They come in fun colors and patterns and are a woman/bipoc owned business. They also have barrettes.
posted by happy_cat at 8:25 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ok, I just found a hair tie that I love. These are made out of a jersey-like material and have good stretch but when I'm ready, they slide right out of my hair without pulling any hairs or anything. I can also loop them around enough times to get a really tight ponytail.

second for these. my hair isn't particularly long but very thick, and claw clips make my hair hurt if i use them to hold it all up. if you use them to just hold in the ends, like a bobby pin would they might not.
posted by domino at 8:27 AM on May 31, 2022

Best answer: I use a scrunchie at the base and then scunci claw clips to secure the ends of my topknot. My hair hurts if I have it up in just a hair tie, but with a scrunchie base it doesn’t pull as hard, so I don’t get hair headaches. My hair is only mid back length now, though, so you may still need 2 buns with this method.
posted by assenav at 8:34 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also if I ever wear my hair partly down, I use an octo clip to pull the sides back! But I don’t find it comfortable for a bun bc it grabs too much hair from one side of the bun and sometimes it pulls.
posted by assenav at 8:36 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: U-shaped pins - the trick is to get long ones, at least 3 inches, so they're leveraged against the scalp. My go to hairstyle is a quick braid rolled into a snail-shape at the back of my head and pinned with four of those.

I'm also very fond of my mini scrunchie covered in raw silk. The raw silk doesn't slide against the hair, but is smooth enough not to snag, and the mini size - about an inch in width - hides under a topknot nicely and generally isn't as in-your-face as a full-size scrunchie.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 8:48 AM on May 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

Have you tried hair coils like these? I'm not sure how they would work for buns, but wanted to suggest them since for me they are the magic hair accessory that both stays in place but also doesn't pull or snag my hair.
posted by Sabby at 9:00 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I use Pro Hair Ties, which can be cut to a size that works best for you, and can be removed by opening them up instead of pulling them out.

I also use this technique which keeps me from getting headaches and seems to be doing nice things to my hair line!
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:05 AM on May 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

Seconding Sabby's recommendation of hair coils. I have stick-straight fine hair; my kid has epic thick wavy to curly hair, and somehow they are the magic hair accessory that works for us both. I use them for buns, braids, and ponytails. They do stretch a bit with use over time but not in a way that causes them to snap or fail the way elastic hair ties tend to.
posted by BlueJae at 9:07 AM on May 31, 2022

2nding Lyn Never's octo claw suggestion. I twist my hair into a bun at the top back of my head to swim, and secure with an octo claw. It stays put really well and doesn't pull at my scalp. My hair is about bra-strap length and not particularly thick, so I can't vouch for how it would work for a thick-hair bun. But I think it would work nicely for twin buns.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:20 AM on May 31, 2022

Seconding hair coils. I had always thought they seemed dumb but recently got some as a freebie with a brush i bought and now I've been using them exclusively. Not sure how well they would work for thick or heavy hair, which I don't have, but might be worth a shot.
posted by amycup at 9:21 AM on May 31, 2022

Best answer: I have fine, thin hair but also dislike the hair tie pull and have had some success with hair forks. They actually work better with more hair and look more distinguished than your generic black Goody tie.

I've had great experiences with this Etsy store but there are tons of sellers out there (and if you have thick hair, you can try wooden forks and I am very envious of you!)
posted by kingdead at 9:29 AM on May 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Pins. It is a question of training, but not months of training, more like days.
It sounds counterproductive, but back when I had thick hair, backcombing it a bit before making a bun and putting it in place with pins was a good idea. When you put in the pins, you sort of turn them to gather some of the hair, like when eating pasta with a fork. I hope this makes sense

Apropos forks, a hair fork can work well, but is not as reliable as a handful of pins.
posted by mumimor at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't have thick hair, but I love the hair coils for preventing migraine while allowing me to pull my hair back. When I had a lot of hair (touched the top of my underwear wearing low-rise briefs), I pinned it up using traditional straight U-shaped hair pins--these can accommodate a LOT of hair.
posted by epj at 10:31 AM on May 31, 2022

I hate the right feeling of hair ties, and I have put my hair up with the cut-off top of an old sock. It’s gentler but still stays put, even in my slippery fine hair.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:35 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

With the same problem (I have tons of hair) I use this sort of domed metal barrettes. They work both where bobby pins would and at the end of a braid (they stay put because: tons of hair.)

Edited to add: despite the icky Amazon description, they're entirely gender-neutral.
posted by Shunra at 10:58 AM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also have a lot of hair, and even when it was mid-back I was able to put it into a bun with hair sticks. Even a pencil is enough to hold it now (just below shoulder length) if I have nothing else at hand. Aside from sometimes drawing on my scalp with the sharp end of the pencil, it seems to be pretty easy on my hair and head.
posted by Gray Duck at 11:09 AM on May 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've had good luck with hair forks (although they seem to work best if I use them on wet hair) but my go-to choice are the elasticized dual combs mentioned above. I use them for buns or to pull the sides back and leave the rest down.
posted by quiet wanderer at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2022

re: hair coils... I have a bunch of the Invisibobble brand, and the best of them are the "power" ones, because even after they stretch out, they're still usable. I have very long, fine, mostly straight hair that I wear up like 24/7, and the messy bun is my favorite and these are perfect for it.
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:00 PM on May 31, 2022

Claw clips. Get ones that are large enough to hold your whole thick ponytail, and you can use them to hold either a ponytail or a messy bun. There are a TON of shapes and different plastic textures (flexibility affects durability and is important if your hair is really thick). You'll likely have to head into a dollar store and play with a bunch of them to find the shape that works for your hair length, thickness, and preferred style.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:07 PM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hair sticks. Try with a pencil first if you're unsure and stick (ha) with the simple, plain "just a wooden stick" ones at first until you get the hang of it.
posted by sailoreagle at 2:49 PM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

These are the best hair clips ever: Roche large curved concord hair clip
I bought them on the recommendation of a friend. They don't break my hair like the "French" barrette clips always do, they can hold a much larger amount of hair than most hair clips or barrettes, they don't make it impossible to lean your head back like the claw clips do, and they come in a lot of different colors. They work for any sort of bun or hair twist; the plastic spikes on the inside of the clip hold firm, without poking your head. They also last extremely well. The one I've been wearing every day for over a year is still completely new. I bought a package of six and gave half away to friends because I'm never going to need that many.
posted by metonym at 3:00 PM on May 31, 2022

Response by poster: Mumimor, if you're here still, what kind of pins do you mean? Just bobby pins? Something else?

And Shunra, how do you place these pins on your head/ The photos appear to show images of the clips pasted onto photos of hair. (I apologize if this is a silly question. My parents gave up on my hair when I was a kid, favoring cutting it quite short, and I actually never learned how to style it very well.)
posted by elzpwetd at 4:40 PM on May 31, 2022

Another vote for spin pins, they’re the only fastener I’ve found that works for securely holding up a very loose bun.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:04 PM on May 31, 2022

I’ve put up long hair with pins like these:
Bobby pins including curved ones

though when I had the most hair I used ones about twice as long and heavy. Possibly hair-curler pins? Standard ones work you just need more.

The two tricks IMO are scooping up extra hair as mumimor said: when putting in a pin for a bun, say, it starts at the bun base but pointing away from the bun, picks up a little more non-bun hair, drags against your scalp as you lever it down parallel to your scalp and drive it under the bun.

Second is making a "split rail fence ": each bobby pin crosses two others, one near each end going alternate angles, sort of like
 X X X X
but the Xs should touch.

I find more pins easier on the scalp, though they aren’t as dashingly casual to put in as single big ones.
posted by clew at 9:49 PM on May 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I also use this technique which keeps me from getting headaches and seems to be doing nice things to my hair line!

Wow, just tried that technique and it is BRILLIANT. My scalp muscles will be eternally grateful to you!
posted by mydonkeybenjamin at 12:05 AM on June 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hair forks were the best when I had my hair long. If you get a good one, it provides more stability than a single hair stick and they can stay in all day if put in correctly. This one is the one I had and the Etsy seller also carves medium and mini versions for their shop. It’s not as cheap as spin pins but even now that I have my hair short, I still keep it around as it’s pretty.
posted by donut_princess at 3:32 AM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also re the wooden fork mentioned above. I have a lot of fine hair that often slips out of buns and it worked fantastically for me.
posted by donut_princess at 3:39 AM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh! You guys are amazing. All the people recommending hair forks or hair sticks: You are wise and I am ashamed to say I didn't believe you when I first saw your answers. I got home, opened my cutlery drawer as I heated up dinner, saw a nice set of chopsticks my sister had gotten me and thought, "Hmm. Maybe they're right." I thew my hair in a bun, stuck a chopstick threw it, and the bun held effortlessly, painlessly, just as you knew it would.

I'd seen photos of people with hair sticks and hair forks in their hair, but I had thought that they were more decorative than functional. How wrong I was.

I'm also going to look into a bunch of these pins. But I'm most excited that I can just stick a stick into my hair. I'll need to do some practice to get a neat style that's appropriate for my work in the courtroom, so anyone with resources for that should feel free to send me a message.
I've found a few so far, but, you know... I can't be the only one who thinks this. Google is just not as good as it used to be. Feels like everything's been lost and replaced by a sponsored listicle.
posted by elzpwetd at 6:30 AM on June 1, 2022

Instructions for this style came with one of my Japanese hair sticks and it's definitely court-appropriate.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:33 PM on June 1, 2022

Sorry for the late response elzpwetd - I've been trying to figure out how to photograph how the domed metal barrettes work (They take two hands, the camera takes another, and I could only think of camera angles that would entirely *not* work.) So, in words: the clips open into a sort of a notched v shape - with the bottom side going under and through some hair - and coming out and meeting the top side, which has a folded-over thingamie that holds the other piece in place.

What works so well for me with it is that it can hold a nice, large bunch of hair - pretty much wherever I put it. So to make a neat bun I make a (long, gray) braid and twist it in a circle, putting in two or three of the clips. And to make a messy bun, I just twist and pin with a single pin (leaving a rather nice palm-tree-looking tuft at the top).

(But hair sticks are an utter joy and I'm only adding the above for completeness. I'm so glad you found the right solution!)
posted by Shunra at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2022

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