The Can-Do Updo

by Crystal P. Smith

The word “updo” can conjure up an image of a complicated style that only your hairdresser can create. Most people don’t realize that some of the easiest styles, including buns and ponytails, are, in fact, updos. Thanks to their versatility and sophistication, they usually make the season’s top hair trends list.

The most common -- and versatile -- updo is a bun. A ponytail is easier to create, but trickier to pull off for evening. With a little practice, you can style a bun quickly and manipulate it for all occasions. It also works for most lengths and all textures of hair -- just ask the many celebrities who’ve made the look a red carpet favorite.

“It's statement-making. You can make it very individual...it's very modern looking, no matter how elaborate the dress or makeup,” Nicole Pearl, founder and editor TheBeautyGirl.com explains.

It is statement-making. You can make it very individual…it's very modern looking, no matter how elaborate the dress or makeup,

Nicole Pearl, founder and editor TheBeautyGirl.com

Types of Hair

What's key is making a simple updo a look versus an everyday kind of style, Pearl notes. But you always need to take into account your hair's length and texture.

Long hair can be an issue when creating a bun. If you have thick, long hair, the weight can cause a bun to sag when it's placed at the middle of the head. If this is the case, try a ballerina bun, worn at the crown, or top, of the head, or a low or side bun to offset the heaviness.

If you have medium-length hair, you can be a candidate for a bun situated at the middle of your head or near your neck's nape. A ballerina bun looks best when it's full, so if your hair is on the shorter side, you might not have enough density to pull it off.

Curly hair typically works well for buns. If your hair is tightly curled, consider softening your wave pattern with a few runs of the curling iron before styling, especially if you plan to add height to the front.

Fine hair is actually great for buns, as long as you use styling products. Regardless of length or placement of the bun, when you have silky fine hair, you need to control the flyaways. Use a holding mist or spray while you're styling and after you put your hair up to prevent your bun from looking unintentionally undone by the end of the day.

How-to Basics

A common misconception with updos is that for better hold, your hair shouldn’t be freshly washed, but Bronwen Melvin, senior stylist and director of technical education at Bumble and Bumble, disagrees.

“It’s actually great to prep for an updo by washing your hair. If you do this, you are starting with a clean slate and can build any texture you desire with the right products,” Melvin says.

For a slick bun that can be either edgy or sophisticated run a gel or pomade through damp hair and then brush the edges back with a hard-bristle brush until your hair is perfectly smooth. Secure your hair into a ponytail at your desired height with an elastic, not rubber band, to ensure your hair doesn't snag. Wrap the ends of the pony around the top of the elastic and secure with bobby pins. Try spiral pins, which look like coiled bobby pins, if you have really long or thick hair.

To create a softer, more romantic bun, allow your hair to dry, and then add a light styling aid like a pomade or volumizing spray if your hair is straight. For added texture, Melvin suggests blow-drying your hair, using your hands to separate your strands rather than a brush. Once your hair is dry, create a part, or lightly smooth your hair back with your hands, allowing pieces to fall naturally. Then secure the rest with an elastic band into a relatively loose high, mid or low ponytail. Wrap the ends around the elastic -- just not too tightly -- and secure with bobby pins.

For an extra boost, curl the strands that fall from your bun or place loose curls all over your head before gathering your hair into the ponytail. Curly-haired girls can skip this step, unless your hair is tightly curled, in which case you should apply a straightening product before drying and use a curling iron to create waves before securing the ponytail.

Variations

The top knot -- a variation of the bun -- is perfect for medium length and curly hair. It's similar to the ballerina bun in terms of placement, but differs in that the ends are free. To create, run gel or volumizing spray through damp hair. Allow it to air dry, then flip your head down, gather a ponytail and begin to secure it with an elastic band. On the last tie, leave a small portion of the ends of the hair tucked into the elastic, then turn the knot so that it faces sideways.

If you have medium to long hair, try adding braids to your bun. For a smooth front, pull your hair into a ponytail and then braid or twist the tail before wrapping it into a bun. This style works with any type of bun and creates more interest. You can make a tight braid while your hair is wet or a loose braid with dry hair. Finish with hair spray for hold.

To go a step further, part your dampened hair and run a styling aid through it before blow-drying. Curly haired girls can either work with the curly texture, or straighten their curls before starting. Pull two or three equal sections of dried hair from each side of your head. Braid each section, and then combine the braids into a low ponytail. Wrap the ponytail to create a bun and then secure with bobby pins. Be sure to finish with a flexible hold hair spray to keep wisps of hair from coming loose.

Ways to Jazz-Up Your Bun

Simple accessories can give your bun a signature style. Once your bun is complete, try topping it it off with a headband. This look can work with any type of bun.

You can also bedazzle your bun with a hair pin. Subdued and classy, an ornate pin is a perfect accent. Since it's just meant to be decorative, use bobby pins or spin pins for hold.

Another innovative twist is to tie a bright or neutral colored ribbon around your bun -- or braid it into your hair while you're creating your bun.

Photo Credits

  • Getty Images

About the Author

Crystal P. Smith began writing in 2007, creating a blog that explores notions of mainstream beauty. Her work has been featured on Salon.com's Broadsheet and TheLoop21.com. She has completed a novel and is developing a television series. Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts in film from University of California, Los Angeles and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.