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UpDos For Proms, Weddings Or Just Everyday

Updated on September 20, 2014

Updos for fancy, formal, fun or functional!

The term "updo" is sort of modern verbal shorthand for "doing a hairdo that's up." For some, updos are quick and easy. For others they are battles waged with hairpins and spray. Really there's no reason they have to be battles, unless you really like fighting with your hair.

Just what is an "updo?" For some people, this means all the hair is pulled up into a hairstyle, baring the ears and the neck. For others, it might mean only part of the hair is styled up, sometimes just a simple ponytail. You'll find variations at either end of the spectrum and all points in between here.

Doing an Updo

Hair confessions from the Author

I couldn't be bothered to deal with my hair in high school, it was the early 80s and I wanted to look like the skinhead girls I saw standing outside CBGBs when I went into NYC with my friends. I buzzed all my hair down to a crew cut.

In college, I majored in costume and makeup, which is really like getting a degree in Advanced Dress-Up And Other People's Laundry. I unofficially minored in dyeing my hair in the co-ed bathrooms. Anyway, I learned to do all sorts of hairdos, on other people's heads. It's a much different trick to do an updo when you can walk around and see or work on it from any angle. I also got a lot of experience on other types of hair, all not like mine.

So, now we come forward in time, and I've grown out my hair to nearly the longest it's ever been. Knowing how easy an updo could be, I immediately was confronted with my thin and curly hair texture (one I'd never dealt with in school), plus I couldn't see what the heck was going on back there. It took some doing, but slowly the updo is becoming my friend.

With longer hair, it's obvious that your hair can either be left hanging down, or it can be "put up" somehow. This can seem like a mysterious process, one of those magical arrangements that only a hairdresser can pull off, or maybe that woman at the gym that you already don't like for how pert and perky she is.

In this picture, I have hair down to just below my shoulders, really I do. However, most of that longer hair has been wound up into a simple little bun at the back of my head. It's not hard, I can do it by feel and my mother likes how you can see my face when I do it for pictures.

Doing an updo can be useful when traveling, gardening, working out, sleeping, dancing, looking fancy, for enduring hot and humid weather, or just if you feel like it that day.

And when you "do" your hair up, it can be an updo, an up-do or an up do, whichever you!

Books and Magazines - What the Professionals Have to Offer about Updos

Having instructions to follow, especially with pictures, can make doing your own updo a lot easier. Pictures can give you tons of great ideas for making those more formal and fancy hairdos for events like weddings, proms or holiday parties.

Here are books and periodicals that offer really good advice on creating updos. I picked these specific ones to try to give you the best information that really focuses on updo hairstyles. Each of these will be able to provide you with step-by-step guides for a variety of hair styles.

Take The UpDo Poll! - what type of updo are you looking for?

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Updo Issues - Solving Hair Style Problems

some common problems women have with updos

There are a variety of hair factors that can make the idea of wearing an updo seem like an impossibility. Each one is really a technicality towards wearing an updo that simply has to be solved or worked around.

I had a textile teacher in grad school who used to say if you made a drip or mistake on a piece, always remember to think, "can you turn it into a design element?" So, can you take hair misbehavior that ordinarily challenges you, and make it a feature of an updo? Sometimes a cowlick or funny curl can suddenly be an asset to build shape or volume.

Issue: Hair is so thick or heavy it falls down out of updos.

Options: Hair is styled best when it's NOT freshly washed, as this gives the hair more grip. You can also apply a touch of hair gel to create the same effect. Updos on very long and heavy hair may also require more underpinning to support the hairstyle. Some of the braided or twisted updo styles can give thick hair more to do, thus keeping it in place better.

Issue: Hair is so thin or limp it falls down out of updos.

Options: This is another situation where styling with slightly dirty hair or using styling product can help. Mousse is better on thin hair than gel. Also, hair elastics and fastenings must often be scaled down for thinner hair. Uusing smaller or slimmer elastics can help with hold. You can try adding a clip-on hairpiece or ponytail to add more volume. Braided updos can emphasize thin hair as they reveal more scalp so you may want to avoid those.

Issue: Current hair style is layered, making it hard to gather into an updo.

Options: Updos no longer have to be sleek buns or French twists. They can have longer bits of hair dripping out of them, or they can even be an explosion of ends at the back of your head. Instead of having an updo that catches all the hair into one gather, using a sectional hairstyle can work to catch the various layers. Also think about where the point of gathering for your updo is. A simple ponytail can be varied by moving it highter or lower, or making it off-center.

Issue: Hair doesn't quite seem long enough for a good updo.

Options: Hair pieces and clip-on ponytails are great add-ons that let shorter and medium length hair do great updos, sometimes in seconds. And if your hair is super short and you really wish you could do an updo, you might want to try a wig styled into an updo.

Tools of the Trade - useful hair products - a variety of organic hair spray, mousse and more

I'm making the switchover to as many natural bath and body care products as I can, especially after all the debate surrounding parabens (a type of preservative in cosmetics) and breast cancer in women. I also don't use any hair products that come in a can with propellants as those are damaging to the ozone layer.

If there's one mistake that people make with hair spray, it's misting the hair from too close a distance. Don't hold the bottle right next to your hair, hold it about 12" away. That way the hair doesn't get over-coated, which gives it a plastic feel and look.

For gels and styling creams, apply sparingly and increase if needed. Note if the product goes on to wet hair or dry and if it needs setting with a hair dryer.

A Tip About Haircuts

If you're going to get your hair cut or trimmed ahead of your big Updo Day, make sure to schedule it for two to three weeks beforehand so that your hair has time to recover from the cut and grow back just the tiniest bit!

Hair Foundations - Support and volumize your formal hair style

Hair foundation, sometimes nicknamed "donuts" or "rats," are one of the great secrets hidden underneath many an outstanding updo. These soft shapes add size and shaping assistance to lots of hairstyles.

Rae, photographed by Mark I Chester
Rae, photographed by Mark I Chester

Rachel's Five Minute Updo

I've been doing this version of an updo ever since my hair grew down to my shoulders. I used to have a lot more layers in the sides of my hair and once those grew out, it worked much better.

This was an updo done on a sunny July day in San Francisco. I was going to be outside. This meant I'd probably be sweating at some point and that there would be wind.

I have curly hair, so leaving an element of messiness to an updo is paramount to me. If you have super-straight, sleek hair, you may wish to do a version of this where all the hair is slicked tight to your head, but that just doesn't work in my case. For any woman who has bits of hair that escape and stick out, consider playing that part up instead of fighting it.

I washed my hair the night before so it had a bit of its own oils on it by the time I was putting it up. I used my fingers to fluff it out and then gathered it into a ponytail at the back, just below the crown of my head. I use a tiny black hair elastic for securing this part. They grip well on my thin hair and are pretty much invisible.

When I had layers that dripped, I'd use a few bobby pins on each side to catch up the bits that were hanging down over my neck. Those parts always made my neck itch and just seemed to get sweaty, so I'd pin them up against my head. With those layers grown out, they now get fastened up in the main ponytail.

Like a lot of women, I sort of feel strange with my hair off my ears, even though I like the look. So I always pull down two tendrils on each side, just in front of my ears. Almost like having long curly sideburns. I'll spritz those with a a bit of water from a mister and then scrunch them to get the curly refreshed. And that's pretty much it for my updo.

I did add one thing for that windy day. I took a really large hair elastic, sized to be a headband. I put it around my head, like how Grecian women would wear ribbons, for some extra hold on my hair. The part that went around the hair just above the back of my neck kept any shorter bits from dropping out and the part that was around the front part of my head gave some lift to my curls in front. It's too thin to really see in this picture, but there's a hint of it over my ear.

Fun and Funky Hair Falls - Add some length and color to your 'do!

"Falls" are lengths of hair or other materials that tie or clip onto a bun or ponytail to make it seem like you've really got long hair. They can be made from real hair, synthetic or yarn. They are really fun for when you go out dancing or for costume events. There are goth girls and belly dancers who make their own and those falls are amazing one-of-a-kind hair art pieces.

THE UPDO LIST - the mega link list - Nothing but links to Updo websites

Here is a vast array of updo suggestions, pictures, instructions and advice.

It's best to practice anything you want to get right, and a new hair style is no exception.

If I've got a really special occasion, I'll take a night a few days before the event, when I'm at home, and I'll just practice doing my hair up for the event. This gives me an idea of how my hair is going to work, or what parts of the process take me longer. It's also nice to totally mess up, wet your hair and redo it, all the while not being in a rush as it's still just practice night. Most often I get just what I'm looking for in two or three tries, and it usually doesn't take more than a few hours. In the end, it's totally worth the time investment.

If you plan on wearing a veil for your wedding, an updo hairstyle is often the base to which the veil is pinned. Be sure to test your veil attachments and know how the veil works with your hair before your actual wedding day.

When I was doing costuming in college, we used to go over complex clothing accessories with the actors and coach them on how to use or move with them. I really recommend to brides-to-be that they get in a bit of veil practice, and wear it at home for a few hours one afternoon. For longer veils, you want to get in walking practice, especially if your veil trails behind you significantly. Going through doorways and changing direction need a bit of attention to the material behind you. If you're going to have an outdoor wedding, turn on a standing fan and see what your veil does in a light breeze. If you have a shoulder-length veil, this can be crucial. Having a bit of practice moving with it and knowing how it moves can make it easier to keep out of your eyes and mouth on your special day and for photographs.

D.I.Y. UpDo Videos! - See how to do an updo by yourself!

Here are some videos of women doing their own updos. The trick to this is practice. It's probably going to take more than one try to get it right, but nothing shown here is too complex.

Remember, adding rhinestone bobby pins or fancy barettes help make a simple updo look more fancy. And you don't want to do these on freshly-washed hair unless you have some product to add for a bit of "grip."

A super easy updo for YOU: For me, the hotter the weather, the higher the updo. I like to do a ponytail variation I called "the Pebbles." Named for the daughter on the Flintstones, it's when you put a ponytail gathered on the top center of your head, just like she always wore.

With short hair, it spikes up great. Longer hair, it can just fall over the elastic to form a loose bun or if it's really long, cascade down the back, ala Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft.

Good luck and have a great updo!

Renaissance Fair Fantasy Hair

Simple braids make for a complex look

I was at a Renaissance Faire in August 2006 and saw that they had a booth where you could get your hair braided. At a Faire many years ago, my younger sister did it and loved it, but at the time, I had that "no hair" do of my high school years. I wasn't going to pass this one up at all.

They had a book with pictures of braid variations and styles, but in the end, I selected "pay for play" where you let the braider just do something unique for your hair. This fancy looking updo is the result of five basic french braids. My hair was wet down with the help of a sprayer and braided wet to make the braids very sleek. Two were done from the front of my head going back to the crown, with the long ends just tapered off into conventional braids. Then the girl had me lean forward and she did three more French braids up the back of my head, ending in three more braided tails. The five thin braids were then wound up to make a figure-eight shape, fixed with hairpins, sprayed with hairspray to fix it in place really well and little purple flowers were added.

Overall, it took five elastics and eight bobby pins to create and about an hour and a half to braid, and it only cost me $25 in the end! I gave my hair braider a very nice tip.

I then kept this hairdo for the next four days, until I flew home from my trip and could show my folks and roommates. The trick is the satin pillowcase. As my hair braider reminded me, this was something our grandmothers did, with their sculpted and sprayed hairdos. By sleeping on a satin pillowcase (or a pillow wrapped with a satin-backed bed throw) the hair is able to slide smoothly and the hairdo doesn't pull down or get flyaways overnight. You can also wrap a satin scarf around your head to get a similar protective effect.

When I showered, I kept my braids dry and then misted them lightly once I was out of the shower and smoothed any flyaway bits back into place.

It was fun for running around, but watch out for getting sunburned on parts of your scalp that have never seen the light of day before. I did ok in that regard but a few spots did get a bit pink over the few days of having braided hair.


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