Let’s realtalk about doing your own wedding hair. If you’re the kind of person who hears words like “contouring” and “balayage” and think, “The beauty world is too complex for me. I’ll just go over here and re-read my copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for a while,” then girl I feel you. For the longest time, I felt like there were two kinds of people in the world: those who just get how to do hair and makeup. And people like me, whose hair had its own (very unflattering) nickname in middle school.
So when I got married, I felt like my only option was to pay a professional to do my hair and makeup (and by that, I mean I was expressly told by everyone around me that I had to). Except, I kept having this recurring nightmare that whoever I hired would end up doing to me what the stylist from Girls did to Marnie on her wedding day. I was afraid I wasn’t going to look anything like myself, and that I’d be powerless to do anything about it.
Luckily, my hair and makeup turned out fine. But I’m not sure why it never occurred to me that I could simply teach myself how to do my own hair and makeup over the course of our absurdly long engagement (or you know, have a friend do it). So over the past few years, I’ve set out to teach myself the basics. And it turns out? People who are good at hair and makeup are good because they’ve spent some time figuring out what works. So whether you’re looking for a simple style to try out at your rehearsal dinner, or are hoping to practice your own DIY updo, here are some of the foundational basics I’ve learned that make your DIY wedding hair a whole lot easier.
DOing Your own Wedding Hair: Before you Start TO DIY
Get yourself in the right headspace: If you’re truly a beauty newb, then know that figuring out what works is going to take a bit of time and a lot of bad hairdos before you figure out the right technique. You don’t want to be practicing your blowout for the first time on the night of your company’s yearly gala dinner. Instead, set aside some time when things are slow at your house, and you can deal with mistakes patiently.
Get Thee to YouTube: So before the Internet, there were these things called books. And that’s where I first cut my teeth learning about hair and makeup. But luckily for you and me, we have the Internet on our phones and YouTube is a bottomless pit of hair tutorials. And the easiest way to learn how to do your own hair is to find someone who looks like they might have the same hair texture as you do, then watch their hand movements and copy as they go along. (Pro-tip: I also pay super close attention to my hairdresser when she’s styling my hair after a cut. How does she hold the brush? What does she do with the hair dryer? Then I try and copy that when I get home.)
Walk Before You Run: One time I tried to do an upside down French braid bun on my BFF drunk in the back of a cab on the way to another friend’s wedding. Don’t be like me. If your normal hair routine is wash and go, then start with learning how to blow-dry it. Then maybe pick up basic braid technique. Then move on to figuring out how to do a fancy updo. Do not skip straight to trying to DIY wedding hair! And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it doesn’t hurt to go old school and pick up a book that lays it all out for you in progression. APW’s friend Rubi Jones has a great hair book for beginners that walks through some of the basic products, tools, and techniques you need to do your own hair, and then includes lots of DIY friendly tutorials as well.
DIY Wedding Hair: tools of the trade
I have a confession to make: my hair is basically four inches long, and yet I own not one, not two, but three hairbrushes. Why? Because they all do different things. Now, I’m not saying you need to go buy three hairbrushes (I had a Sephora gift card I needed to burn), but rather, that different tools do different things. And it’s a lot easier to achieve the look you want if you start with the right tools. Here are some of the basics:
Product: If you’re going to apply any heat to your hair, put something protective on your mane first. When my hair was bleached to death, I used four or five products to add moisture back into it before adding any heat (leave-in conditioner, mousse, a curl cream, and a hair serum when I styled my hair. Now I only use three out of four of those things 😂). If your hair is relatively healthy, you can probably just use one of these products (like a hair serum). And don’t forget about finishing product! I swear by a good texture spray (it gives my hair volume, and isn’t sticky like hairspray. A must for super fine cotton candy hair like mine). And then when I want my hair to really stay put (like, say, for a wedding), this is the best hairspray I’ve ever used. Always make sure that product is fully worked into your hair before using hot tools like a curling iron or flat iron—you don’t want to hear any sizzles!
Tools: The kind of tool(s) you need to do your own wedding hair will vary depending on what look you’re going for. Here are some of the essentials in my cabinet:
- A hairdryer with a concentrator nozzle attachment: Concentrators help direct airflow, which makes blow-drying faster and easier. You can also apply the concentrator nozzle directly on to your hair (like when it’s wrapped around a round brush during a blow out) without causing damage to your hair. It helps get things smoother and gives you more control.
- Curling wand(s): The bigger the curling iron, the looser the curls. A 25mm curling wand is a standard size. If you want tighter ringlets, opt for something smaller like a 19mm. If you want bigger waves, get a bigger barreled wand like a 32mm.
- Straightening iron: I am feeling super sleek DIY wedding hair right now. (I mean, right?) If the last time you ironed your hair was middle school, please understand that flat irons have gotten a lot better. Buzzwords to look for in a straightening iron include “ceramic” and “ionic” or “ions,” which is science for “this works better than your Conair from 1996.” Typically a 1″ iron is the most versatile. You can get to your roots easily, and also use it to create soft waves or curls.
- Round brush: Okay, I know I said I have three hairbrushes, but I only really use my round brush. Round brushes help to add volume, and I find them easier to control when I’m drying my hair. Just like curling irons, the smaller the diameter, the tighter the bend. Bigger brushes are great for smoothing, while smaller brushes help give you volume at the roots.
- Clips: You’ll need something to hold pieces of your hair when you’re styling it, and clips will do the trick. You can usually find them at the drugstore, but I’m into these silicone ones for my fine hair. If you have thicker hair, alligator style clips like these will hold it all out of the way. If you’re working on a style with freshly smoothed hair, or are trying to keep those perfectly swooped bangs out of your face while doing your makeup, no crease clips are a lifesaver. They have a flat plastic piece on one side, which prevents the metal part of the clip from creating a dent or crease where you place it. (Hot tip: Don’t have crease clips? Just fold up a square of toilet paper and place it under a duckbill clip to get the same effect.)
THE BASIC DIY WEDDING HAIR PREP ROUTINE
If you’ve gotten your hair done professionally once or twice, you may notice that the stylists followed a similar routine: blow-dry the hair, then curl it, then updo. And while I know that makes some of my curly haired girls shudder (I feel you), there’s a reason they do it that way. Loose curls are a good foundation for most of the wedding hairstyles you’re probably pinning right now. (It also looks great on its own if you’re just looking to amp up your style for your shower or bachelorette party or rehearsal dinner.) And it’s pretty damn versatile no matter the length of your hair. I even use this technique on my four-inch-long pixie undercut. So if you’re looking for a good starting point to practice doing your own DIY wedding hair, this is it.
blow OUT: If you’re starting with wet hair, the first thing you’ll want to do (after putting in whatever product you use), is to get it 80 percent dry. You don’t have to worry about getting anything perfect during this stage, just get the moisture out. Focus on the roots and midsection of your hair during this part. Then once your hair is mostly dry, work in small sections with a round brush, wrapping your hair around the brush as you go. Or just watch this video to see it in action:
Loose Waves: The big difference between a regular curling iron (aka the tools of my childhood) and a curling wand (the future!) is that instead of clamping your hair down and twisting the curling iron, you wrap your hair around a curling wand. I like curling wands better because the resulting style feels more natural than with my old school curling iron. To get loose waves, use a larger barreled wand (25mm to 32mm wide) and work in small sections, wrapping about an inch of hair around your wand as you go. Here’s a good tutorial for loose, romantic waves if you’ve never used a curling wand:
And a great one for short DIY wedding hair:
Big bouncy curls: For tighter, truer curls (as opposed to waves), you’ll follow a similar process to the above, but with a smaller wand (the tutorial below uses 25mm for the bottom layers of hair and 19mm wand for the top layers). This tutorial also takes you from wet hair to finished look, so if you’re feeling like you’re missing some of the in between, it might be a good place to start.
The single tool hack: Straighteners work similar to curling wands, except instead of curling section by section, you’ll press your hair between the straightening iron plates and voila! You have 60s hair. But if you want the option to both straighten and curl your hair with just one tool, there’s a straightening iron hack for that. This video shows how you can curl your hair using a straightening iron:
Pro DIY Wedding Hair Tips for novices
Always work in sections: The biggest mistake I’ve made when doing my own hair is trying to get a lot of it to do the same thing at once. Aka I like to shove a ton of strands into my straightening iron, and then I get mad at it when they don’t all look the same. So whether you’re blow-drying, straightening, or curling your hair, work in small sections for maximum impact (usually one or two inches of hair is a good ballpark, depending on your thickness). If you’re curling, smaller sections will result in more defined curls, and bigger sections will be wavier. Start by sectioning the front of your hair out and pulling the rest back. Blow-dry this part first before it can dry in a weird way, or get all curly kinky if you’re like me. Then you can head to the back and start at the bottom, and work your way up to your crown. (Check out the blow out video above for the perfect demo!)
Don’t be afraid of hairspray: I have fine hair that likes to curl, but doesn’t always want to hold it. So when I really want my style to stick, I’ll wrap a section around my curling iron, hold it for a second, release the curl, and spray. (Let it cool as it is, even if it seems more Goldilocks than glam. You can shake it out or brush through after it’s cooled and set.) If it’s a good hairspray, it won’t flake, and your style will be more likely to hold. This tip is also helpful if you have super straight hair that doesn’t like to hold a style.
heat + Pin curls = ultimate hold: If you are still having trouble getting your hair to hold curl, try pinning your hair until it cools. After you’ve wrapped a section around your curling iron, hold it until the outer hair feels hot to the touch. Release the curl, spray, and roll that curl back up into a pin curl. Use clips or bobby pins to secure the curl and continue with the rest of your hair. Let your hair cool completely, then as you remove the pins, spray again and let the hairspray dry before you finish your style. Check out this tutorial for instructions using a flat iron.
Brush out your style to soften it: I used to hate getting my hair curled because the result always looked super fake (think Toddlers and Tiaras). But it turns out there’s a quick fix for that. For softer, more natural curls, simply run your fingers through your finished style and boom! Natural. Brushing out your style will add volume as well. Then use a little bit of serum or paste (depending on how soft or textured you’re going for) to define some of the curls.
Alternate directions for more romantic or bohemian curls and waves: If you want uniform curls, wrap each section of hair around your curling wand in the same direction. But for a more bohemian or romantic look, alternate which direction you wrap your hair (away from your face or toward your face, for example).
BOBBY PIN HACKS: Have soft or fine hair that pins just love to fall out of? Start by spraying your pins with some hairspray before you use them so they have a little grip in your hair. And as tempting as it is to open those puppies up wide as you slide them into your hair, resist the urge and just slide them in closed. By opening them you’re forcing more hair in than it’s meant to hold so naturally the pin will want to slide its way back out.