How I've Learned To Work With My Unpredictable Wavy Hair

What's been working for me, someone who has actual wavy hair--not that mostly-straight hair magazines call 'wavy.'

My wavy hair is a blessing and a curse.

It's great because it's got never-ending volume and texture. It's coarse; part of that is natural, part of that is from bleach. It holds a style for days, and when I get it blown out, stylists always remark on how perfect my hair is for blowouts. I have “beach hair” all year long.

It's a pain, though, because I never know quite what pattern my waves will decide to take, or whether they'll grow into a massive, puffy cloud around my head when it rains or gets too humid. Some days, I wake up with a leonine mane like Robert Plant, which is awesome; but other days I feel more like Monica when the gang went to Barbados on Friends. This is why I am hopelessly devoted to blowouts; I think I have blown-out hair in 85% of my xoVain photos.

Wavy hair is tough stuff. Some people are blessed with hair that is only slightly wavy, so it always looks gorgeous. (Alexa Chung, you can suck it.) My hair is ACTUALLY wavy. It's not curly, it's not straight. It's just 100% pure wave.

It was pretty straight until puberty, and then, one morning, I woke up with all sorts of twists and turns. Oh, and did I mention I have insanely thick hair? Yeah. I can only wrap a ponytail elastic around it twice before the band breaks.

I've been trying to figure out this beast of hair for over 10 years, and the amount of compliments I get from strangers means I think I've got it just about down.

I generally wash my hair once a week when I'm not stretching a blowout as long as humanly possible. When I'm letting my hair be natural, the waves are best around day four or five.

I wash and condition with a hydrating shampoo and conditioner; I cycle through a few different brands, and I'm always toning the brass out with a purple shampoo and then slapping on a conditioning mask. My hair is so coarse and bleached-out that washing more than once a week (sometimes every 10 days) isn't necessary.

After a good clean and condition, I blot it dry very gently with a thick towel. I tried the whole old T-shirt thing, but it didn't work for me; I think I have too much hair.

The only time I ever brush my hair is when it's wet. I know that's frowned upon in certain circles and I should be using a comb, but combs have never handled my hair well. I use the Wooden Paddle Brush from Aveda because it detangles without pulling. It's lightweight enough to be a good blowout brush, but I never do that considering I have way too much hair and too little interest in ever blowing it out myself.

Once I've brushed out the tangles, I spritz my whole head with my trusty It's a 10 Leave-In. I love this stuff and have been using it consistently for a few years as a light treatment and detangler.

Next, I mix a cocktail of Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer and No. 4 Blow Dry Lotion into my hair, then lightly scrunch it to help the waves form to my liking. I am not using the crunchy scrunch spray we used in junior high, but the motion is still the same.

Be Curly is one of my holy grail products; it helps smooth down some of the puffy frizz. The No. 4 Blow Dry lotion is intended for use pre-blowout, but I like it because it calms my waves down and helps them resist the luscious pull of humidity. Both products, when used in tandem, help weigh down my hair just a little bit.

The sad truth, though, is that my waves suck on day one. They’re always poufy and shapeless. No matter how much I scrunch, twirl and twist, they’re just “meh” on the first day after shampooing. Tiny buns do not create waves for hair like mine. Occasionally, I will sleep in braids to avoid this, but otherwise it’s just the fact of the matter. I sleep with my hair in a low, loose ponytail secured with a scrunchie every night to avoid rattiness.

I do not brush my hair at all after it’s dry. If I do, it puffs out and loses the wave. I try not to heat-style it when I’m wearing it natural, but if a wave needs a little extra love, I wind it around the barrel of my curling wand. With waves, a curling wand is better to help maintain the twisty shape.

As the days go by, my waves develop and change shape. They end up a little tangled and undone, which my mom thinks looks messy, but I think it suits my style. I will never be the girl with perfect, shiny, straight hair. That just ain’t me.

I asked master stylist Charlie Brackney, one half of the brains behind HAUS Salon in Minneapolis, about the best cut for waves.

“To keep wavy hair looking modern, it’s all about layering. Too many layers and you’ll turn into Meg Ryan circa When Harry Met Sally. Not enough layers and you’ll be Sleepless in Seattle,” he says. “You want your hair layered through with longer layers that are light towards the ends, with a few strategically placed bits around your face.”

Wavy hair CAN support bangs; I’ve done it a few times out of boredom.

“Fringe, bangs and layering around the face should be customized to your bone structure," he says. "When in doubt, show your stylist a photo of Alexa Chung.”

Dammit, Alexa!

Do you have hair like mine? How do you maintain yours? Does it drive you nuts when magazines call a hairstyle “wavy” that is really just straight hair with a few little kinks in it?!