How to style your own hair (and not anybody else’s, for goodness sake):
The Thorough Guide to Hairstyling: Part 1: Hairstyling Basics: Products, Terminology, and my Philosophy
The Thorough Guide to Hairstyling: Part 2: Types of Products
The Thorough Guide to Hairstyling: Part 3: Applying Products, Cocktailing, and Layering.
The Thorough Guide to Hairstyling: Part 4 : Product Reviews
The Thorough Guide to Hairstyling: Part 4.5: Product Reviews Continued, Plus Bad Products You Should Avoid
First, a foreword. Skip past this if you’re not interested in my opinions, but I’ve put them here for a reason! As I said at the beginning, I will not be teaching you how to style your hair like a celebrity, or like any models or pictures you see, for that matter. Your hair is yours, it’s not like anybody else’s, and you will only do yourself a disservice and become frustrated if you try to make your hair into something it simply cannot be.
If you do want advice about that, post a thread on this board, and you’ll find people willing to help you, which is all fine and good and that’s how most people start out. But I think that it’s important to take advantage of the natural features of your hair, and work with its quirks and oddities, because that is what will allow you to create a unique look that is truly all your own.
Sure, celebrities have great hair, but if you get that hair you’ll look like you just stuck it on your head, it’s uncreative, and it’ll show that you don’t have confidence in your own ability to find a style that works for you.
So I encourage you, find some products that sound appealing to you, buy them or find samples of them, and play around. Start with a little bit, make sure you distribute it evenly, and just poke and prod, shove it around, try different things, and have fun with your hair. It’s liberating, it’s exhilarating, and you’ll discover exactly what your hair is capable of, and much quicker than if you ask somebody on the internet to figure it out for you.
Now, onto the actual styling.
First things first, you’ll want to wash your hair before styling, especially if you’ve just woken up, because otherwise your hair just won’t cooperate as well and you simply will not get the proper control over your hair or be able to really figure out what the product is capable of. Once your hair is clean, you’ve got a few options on how you want to apply your products. I’ll start from the most simple, beginner-friendly methods, and later go up to something a little bit more advanced for those who want some more room to experiment with.
For those who are new to hair products, I recommend making sure that your hair is dry before applying product, so that you can see a clear before-and-after of exactly what the product is doing to your hair. Do note, however, that a product’s exact effects depend on how wet or dry your hair is when you put them in, so feel free to experiment day-to-day with different levels of moisture once you’re more comfortable.
Besides that, always start slow with product, add a bit more if you’re curious, but don’t be afraid to rinse your hair out and re-dry it if you accidentally add too much. I recommend starting with a pea-sized amount of most products, especially if you have very short hair, and then working your way up until you find your preferred amount.
- For Beginners:
In terms of actually styling your hair, the most important thing when you’re starting out is to work with the natural properties of your hair. Yes, if you want to you can someday use flat-irons, curling irons, three kinds of combs and half a dozen different products to make a giant tower of hair, but now’s really not the time for that. Just spread a pea-sized amount of product evenly on your palms and fingers, and then just run your fingers through your hair as thoroughly as possible, your goal being to make sure the roots and strands each get their fair share of product.
During this stage, I recommend that you do not look at yourself in a mirror, and furthermore that you start by applying the product to the back of your head or your crown, and working toward the front and sides. This is because it’s very common when you’re starting out to only think about how the front of your hair looks, and just obsess and obsess about it, not realizing that the rest of your head is totally neglected. This is also why most people end up using way too much product, they start at the front and just glob it on, and they can’t get it to distribute properly.
Think of it like shampooing: you want to make sure the product is thoroughly distributed, and not just globbed all on the front of your hair. So turn away from your mirror, run your hands and fingers through your hair like crazy to distribute the product, and then turn around and see what you’ve ended up with.
This is usually a pretty good indication of what your hair is naturally going to want to do, and you can tinker with it a bit from here (flattening the sides with your palms, pushing the top back or up, etc.) while being confident that your hair will hold its shape because you’re not forcing it to do what it doesn’t really want to.
- For The Slightly More Advanced:
Two of the most important techniques if you want to get a bit fancier with your hairstyling are layering your products and cocktailing your products. These are fairly similar concepts, in that they involve the combination of multiple products in order to achieve a look you simply can’t manage with one product alone. Where they differ is that layering involves putting on the products in a specific order, whereas cocktailing involves mixing the two products together in your hands and applying this new mixture all at once.
- Cocktailing is really the simpler of the two, since it doesn’t change the way you actually apply product to your hair. It’s also quite fun to play around with, so I suggest just picking a couple of your favorite products and seeing that they do together.
One lesson, though, is that it’s best to pair products that do different things – for example, pair a firmer-holding wax with just a small amount of cream or new-style pomade to add a healthy shine to a more controlled hairstyle. This can also be fun because the texturizing effects of the two products will combine, leading to some really interesting stuff.
As an example, when I cocktail American Crew’s pomade and forming cream, the greasiness of the pomade and the very slight stickiness of the cream come together to make something very volumizing, soft, and pliable, and I have yet to find any single product which gives me quite the same feel.
- Layering is a bit more complex, because you will be styling your hair in stages, and you’ll need to make sure you do the right thing each step of the way or risk messing up the whole style. The advantage, however, is that you can likewise achieve more complex styles, and you will have vastly more control over your hair. At a basic level, it just goes like this: add one product to achieve one effect, then add another on top that you feel complements it (but might not work in a cocktail).
For example, using a lighter product like mousse, Bumble and Bumble Prep/Tonic, that sort of thing, to provide volume or moisture then following it up with a stronger hold product. You wouldn’t be able to cocktail mousse or the B&B products because they’re so different in terms of application method from standard ‘puck’ products.
Same thing with a hairspray, since you couldn’t exactly spray it on your hands and mix it with another product (well, you could, but it wouldn’t get the effect you want in all likelihood). There really isn’t a specific order you have to use products in when layering, however, so there’s a lot of freedom here, though it can take a while to learn what works for you.
Another subset of layering that you’ll see more often in Rockabilly styles and pompadours is the use of a “topcoat”, which essentially means applying a stronger-hold product evenly throughout your hair to give it shape, then applying a second product (usually one with higher shine) to the surface of your hair only, typically by just moving your hands flatly across your head front-to-back.
That’s about all there is to basic styling, if you want to know more about specific styles, try a youtube search, and you can find more detailed advice.