How To: Side-Swept Ribbon-Curled Wedding Updo

If I’ve learned anything from putting together APW Hair & Makeup posts for the past year, it’s these two things:

  1. Anything is possible if you know how to wield a curling or straightening iron properly. (Which, it turns out, I didn’t before starting these. But then again, it also turns out you can use curling and straightening irons in about a hundred ways I never realized were possible.)
  2. We’re currently riding a fashion trend that says less fussy equals more modern, and we are all the luckier for it. (That said, you’ll pry my can of Aqua Net from my cold, dead hands. Just try.)

So today’s tutorial combines both of those lessons into a look that’s, well, kind of my favorite. Mostly because I get the feeling that if I just played around a bit, I might actually be able to pull it off myself. And things that make me feel like I could legitimately do them are always my favorite kinds of things. So let’s start at the beginning:

Prepping Your Hair: As I get older, I’m finally accepting the fact that professional-quality hair products are actually, in fact, better for my hair. (File under: truths I wish I could unlearn.) The reality is that inexpensive product goes in my hair and makes it smell nice and then stops doing much of anything, whereas professional-quality product goes in my hair and makes it operate more smoothly than Sade. And when you’re adding a ton of heat to your styling routine, as you are with this look, product becomes particularly important in both protecting your hair and allowing your hair to hold the style better. For Meg’s look, our stylist Yesenia recommends prepping damp hair with Kérastase heat protection and shine serum, cautioning that a little goes a long way. (I use the Nectar Thermique every day myself and less than a dime-sized amount is more than enough for my not-quite-chin-length hair.) With your hair fully product-ified, blow dry using a round brush and a hair dryer. You don’t need a perfect blow-out for this look, but you do want your hair to be dry before you use any heat styling tools on it. Once your hair is dry, separate your hair so that you’re working with about one inch sections. If you have bangs, pin them up for the duration of the tutorial until its time to finish the look.

Creating Ribbon Curls: Remember how I mentioned above that there are more ways to use curling and straightening irons than I can count? Well, it turns out that you can create really easy curls using, of all things, a straightening iron. (I know, I know. The irony is not lost on me.) As you may have guessed from the name, the process for creating this kind of curl is not unlike curling a ribbon on a present. Starting at the roots, you’ll want to clamp a section of hair between the plates of your straightener. Then with the hair between the plates, rotate your straighter 180 degrees, and glide it down the length of your hair like you would if you were straightening it like normal. When you release your hair, you will be amazed to find that your hair is in a nice tight curl. (Tip: if you learn better from moving visuals, check out this YouTube clip for a good example of what Yesenia did.) Once you’ve finished your curl, wrap it around your finger help it stay. Continue curling your hair in this fashion until you’re finished with your whole head.

Finishing The Look: You can finish this look one of a few ways. But before we get to that part, if you have bangs, now is when you’ll want to use a hair dryer and a round brush to smooth them out (the hair dryer will give them more body than the straightener). You can also take this opportunity to loosen up your curls if they’re feeling a bit tight by running your fingers through them. (Meg’s hair is pretty thick, so we didn’t do that here, but if your hair is fine, chances are your hair will have a more pronounced curl than Meg’s, so loosening them up will keep the look more romantic and less prom-antic.) When you’re done with that, you can move onto:

Option A: If you want to wear your hair down, just pull some of your hair to one side around the back, and it pin up with a few bobby pins. Use curls from the “down” side of your hair to cover the bobby pins so that they don’t show. Finish with hairspray.

Option B: If you prefer the updo version of this look, the process is almost the same as Option A, but instead of just pinning the curls off to the side, you’ll be pinning them up as well. There is no real method to the madness when you’re creating an undone updo like this, so the key is to twist and pin each curl against your head until it starts to look intentional. Don’t be afraid to take things down and repin them as you go. The secret key to making it look polished looking is just to be sure you’re covering up any bobby pins as you go (as much as possible), so use your hair to cover them up as you’re pinning so that they are well hidden.

Et voila! Finish the look with a peony pinned up by a few bobby pins and then proceed to make model face at all your friends because you look so good and you did it all by yourself.


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  • JEM

    Just have to say that Meg is So Pretty here. #werkisright

    • No kidding – I gasped when I saw the adorableness that is Meg in these photos. :)

  • kc

    So… I don’t notice a “shellac with hairspray” or a “soak your hair with gel” step – does this mean that this is one of those fancy styles, except where you won’t have to shower for hours just to get the bobby pins out? ‘Cause that would be FANTASTIC.

    (says she who, after her sister’s wedding, had hair that was literally solid and required soaking to deconstruct. It took a looong time to get the dozens and dozens of bobby pins out!)(the makeup “artists” also made me look like a sleep-deprived raccoon from the 80’s, but I don’t think they deal with my skin tone normally, so there’s that excuse for them?)

    • Yes, the curls have more to do with giving your hair some structure, and the pins something to hold onto, so you don’t have to shellac everything into place. Some hairspray will be helpful pre-pinning, as dirty hair is easier to work with, but the nice thing is, if a few pieces fall out?– just makes it more romantic and “un-done.”

      Depending on your hair texture, this might also be a nice one where you sleep in it, then take the pins out the next day (maybe lightly spray once more and clip half-back?) for that lovely beachy, oh-I-just-woke-up-this-way hair.

      • kc

        That’s very exciting! Thanks!

        (in my opinion, it’s sad when wedding hairstyles take more effort to take out than a teenage Elmer’s Glue mohawk. Just personal taste, though.)(okay, plus a preference for being able to wipe the makeup off and then just fall into bed after a loooong day of weddings.)

    • meg

      I definitely don’t remember my hair being shellac-ed that day. Not at all.

  • Emily

    omg I’ve been trying so hard lately to figure out how my hairdresser does this! Thanks for breaking it down, I was contorting my wrist in all sorts of unnecessary ways.

    • Turning it the full 180 will give you the nice ribbon curls. If you turn it at a smaller angle, you can make a range of softer waves/curls. Again, this depends on your hair and how it holds a curl, but you can experiment without the contortions :-) (This is also the technique that will allow you to straighten your hair, then flip the ends out or under)

      • meg

        Sarah! How do you know so much about hair??

        • 1. I’ve had a hair fixation since the first grade. So when I’m not twirling it, I’m attempting braids and all other such things, especially while reading (main grade school pastime). Literally, I twirl SO MUCH, and if I’m wearing a ponytail, I continually re-do it.

          2. I did ballroom dance for a few semesters in college, so had even more impetus to learn fancy updos.

          3. It’s fun to experiment, like playing dress-up!

          4. I’m a know-it-all and love to give answers. (and be praised for it! Success kid all grown up!)

  • Allie

    I am excited to try this idea for creating a curl, but do you have any sense about whether this causes damage to your hair (more than regular heat styling anyway)?
    I am not sure how the physics of it works… is this something that should be saved for a few special dress-up days, or is it something that can be done more often?