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Because I Updon’t

By Amalah

Dear Beautifully Coiffed Amalah,
I’ve just been invited to Las Vegas for a swanky event — the Marine Corps Ball! It’s like prom for grown-ups!
My dilemma: the travel thing. I live in the Philadelphia area, so I’ll be flying six hours to get to said ball. Although my dress and shoes are travel friendly, I’m having some problems with the rest of my appearance for the event. Most specifically, what the hell do I do with my hair?
The dress is a halter, so I can get away with and would prefer an updo, but I’m struggling with what kind of updo I should attempt. When I went to proms for not grown-ups, I always had a hairdresser bobby-pinning and hairspraying my hair into submission. But in Vegas? Just me. (And I am pretty much the worst at hair.)
I’ve got medium-length hair that is very fine and mostly straight and refuses to hold a curl and to top it off? I am kind of scared of curling irons. So curls are out.
My question for you — any ideas for an easy updo that can be performed in a cramped hotel room without my usual bevy of hair products and beautiful hair appliances and friends? My Marine, he is wonderful, but the only ups he can do are the kind that involve pushing and pulling.
Looking great from the neck down,

If there is one hair-type skill I have never mastered, it is the updo.
When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You know that scene near the beginning, where Holly is rushing around because she needs to get to Sing Sing? And Paul is looking for her shoes and she’s brushing her teeth and just being So Very Holly? Anyway, there’s this part where she sits down at her mirror and does…something…to her hair. It’s like she left her updo from the night before in overnight and just twists a little stray ponytail into place and suddenly she’s totally gorgeous and pulled together.
Knocked my socks off, that scene right there.
I guess I was still at the age where I didn’t realize movies were like…FAKE and stuff, because I genuinely believed the perfect updo would be that easy. So I tried to mimic her motions and the beehive and the little twisty ponytail thing. Needless to say, this is not exactly how one goes about styling an updo. Especially when one cannot even master a basic French twist because the bobby pins are so damn slippery.
To this day, if my hair is up, chances are it’s just messily shoved into a clip because I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I wear my hair down or half-and-half for most dressy events, but this is totally because of a lack of updo coordination.
Anyway, since this column is also kind of mostly about ME, and MY ENRICHMENT (head scarves! I cannot stop wearing head scarves because of you people!), I asked the some AlphaFoxyMamas for any updo tips or advice, secretly hoping one of them would email instructions for the Holly Golighty Updo Using Nothing But One Rubber Band and Two Bobby Pins and Maybe Some Glue.
I didn’t get that, but here’s what they had to say:
While I have pretty much the opposite hair type that you describe, my little sister falls squarely in your category and I’ve helped her, on more than one occasion, come up with something that she could do on her own. I’m going to share with you the “Betsy’s 5 Minute All-Purpose Glamorous Hair” that we figured out about 6 years ago. I’ve used the method myself more than once or twice but for it to work with my hair I have to hot roll it first. Don’t worry, you don’t.
When it comes to any sort of updo, the most important thing is to NOT start with fresh clean hair. Wash it and blow it out (if that’s a necessity for your hair) the day before your event. You will be fine, your hair will not smell, it will be lovely and much more agreeable.
You are going to need the following: Brush, Hairspray, Bobby pins, Extra handheld mirror…bigger than a powder compact if possible, and 10 minutes.
(10 minutes?! Oh my God, I love you. — Amalah)
If you want some little wispy whatevers framing your face, set those aside first. Lots of people make the mistake of pulling those out last, don’t do that. Another don’t? Don’t pull too much hair down to start out with. Just a piece or two if you want them because over the course of the night and a bottle or two of wine, you hair will fall on its own. Don’t force it.
The next step is to figure out what you want the front to look like. Do you want your hair parted or do you want it to go straight back with no part? I usually part mine. If you are going to part it, do that and move on. If you want it to go straight back, pull the center section of your hair back, as loose or tight as you think looks best on you and pin it at the back of your head. A safe measurement is to draw a line from the tops of your ears around to the back of your head.
Now. You are going to start with one side of your hair and alternate left and then right until you have as much of your hair pinned up as you want. We usually did about half of my sister’s hair and left the other half down.
Take about a half inch section of hair from the side of your hair that you normally part it on and pull it around to the back of your head. Pin the hair where it meets your head (use that same measurement from the tops of your ears) and let the end hang free. Do the same to the other side working front to back and alternating sides. Once you get that far, pause. Use the second mirror and evaluate your progress. More often than not, my sister and I stop here.
But if you aren’t satisfied or it looks too messy (which is my personal preference for updos…) you can clean it up quite easily. Take the end of each piece that is hanging down and tuck it up and pin the very ends. All the hair will kind of loop up on top of itself and look very pretty. Sometimes its cute to pin some of the pieces all the way up and leave some of them hanging down.
This is a VERY easy and useful updo once you’ve got the hang of it but you may want to practice it a time or two before the event. Just to get comfortable and figure out what works for you.
I’m probably not the best person to answer this because I will admit, though super-curly, coarse hair can be a complete hassle, one of its benefits is how easy it is to put it up. Just shove a bunch of bobby pins in there and you can do just about anything.
So, I’m sure your other gals will be a better help, but my two cents: I love the look of a sleek, low-placed chignon, especially on someone with straight, shiny hair. If she doesn’t have the time, or want to put in the effort, for the super sleek, perfectly placed bun, she could do a more careless twist at the nape of her neck, letting a few ends stick out, and use a little product on the ends to make it clear that she MEANT to leave them sticking out.
Oh, sweet baby Jesus. This one is seriously requires all of my hair ninja powers and knowledge. I’ll do the best I can.
First things first, let’s talk space. I’m sure that you can bring a bunch of 2″ Velcro rollers with you, no? From my experience, you can shove those puppies right in next to your PJ’s and make-up bag. Get creative. And make
sure your carry-on toiletries are 3 oz. or less and in a ziploc bag! ( Friendly tip from me to you!
Yes, I’m completely avoiding the up-do issue. I might do without it. I would probably go with some soft curls and maybe a sparkly bauble in my hair.
I would blow dry my hair straight, and then about 1 hour before event, take those rollers and put them in your hair. Small sections! Use hairspray! And then hang out for a bit, maybe catch up on some episodes of Laguna Beach.
Take the curlers out, and wallah! Soft curl, lots of volume. And then shove the bauble in somewhere.
I know this isn’t the answer you wanted. But, sometimes it’s not about what you want! It’s about compromise! I’m sure you’ll look fabulous.
hillary.jpg Kim:
With a halter, the best, simple hairstyle is a very high ponytail with the front hair pieces (the pieces that are bangs, or would-be bangs) pinned back and up in the middle. Think

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Whenever I happen to have long hair, this is my problem: anything more difficult than a ponytail seems like a huge drain on my life, but the pony… she is ssssooooo boring. A few years ago, when my hair was long enough to go into a 3-4 inch ponytail at the base of my neck, I found a ‘do that got compliments a-go-go that took 15 seconds longer than the ponytail and was easily re-creatable. Do you remember that product called “topsy-tail” they were advertising when we were going to the prom? It was essentially an ankh minus the crossbar.… Read more »


I have super-straight, refuses to curl hair like Denise, so I’m looking forward to hearing some new ideas. Unfortunately Suz’s and Culotte’s suggestions wouldn’t work at all for me b/c my hair doesn’t take a curl. (Despite this, I keep attempting to have curls added to my updo when I get it done at a fancy-pants salon, but they always fall out within a few hours, usually before the event even starts, making my hair look just limp and pathetic. Sad.) Here are three (two and a half, really) hairstyles that I often use when I have to do my… Read more »


Oh, and when in #2 I said to tuck the “bottom of the ponytail,” I mean what is the bottom when you are holding your hair straight up, so the part closest to the holder.


I used to do the Suz style all the time for my college formals and it worked really well. It looks especially good if you part your hair really far to one side and then bring it back into the ponytail.
This reminds me to go buy bobby pins for the black and white ball I’m going to on Saturday. Gah… hope one of my dresses fit because the budget cannot take any more!


The clip is called a Ficcare beak clip and, personally, I’m not a fan. But I am a fan of those women who can swoop their hair into it in one graceful movement and have it looking sexy and neat and effortless. Bitches.


why don’t you just make an appointment at the hair salon in your hotel?


Here’s an updo to try that works for every hair texture, and is really easy to do (but the end result looks really hard). You’ll need a lot of those little butterfly clips. I usually use the smallest ones so that I can use more sections in my hair. 1. While it is still wet, put your hair in a tight, medium ponytail (not high, but not low – have it sit at the back of your head). 2. From the outside hairs in your ponytail, take a small section of hair (small enough to fit in your butterfly clips… Read more »


In number four, I meant to say that you want the spirals to stick out a bit, but don’t let them fall. Clip it so that they stay in place.


Okay, last comment, I promise. I just read someone else’s post and realized that what we call “butterfly clips” down here are what ya’ll call claw clips. Didn’t want to confuse ya’ll. Okay, shutting up now. 😉


Is it too much to ask for some pictures of these do’s? I’m reading and trying to picture all of this…but I can’t.
I am desperate for some new up-do ideas and these all sound AWESOME.
(Plus I have always wanted to go to the Marine Ball. My little sister got to go once and I’ve always been jealous!)


Regarding the previous comment on the Ficcare mystery clip: Keep trying!!! It took me a while to get the hang of it, but mostly because the instructions they give you didn’t always work for me, and I just had to experiment to see what worked for my hair. Once you play with it and learn how the updo feels when it is secure on your head, it becomes verrrry easy. Also, it helps to try out the different sizes. I’ve had mine for years (it’s amazingly durable) and helps me look really polished in seconds. I don’t know if the… Read more »