When Claire Mazur married this summer, she did her own hair. “Everyone seemed really surprised, but nobody else can be trusted with styling my curly hair,” she said.
She didn’t want to get her hair blown out straight, either. So attached to her curls is Mazur, who is an owner of the fashion retail website Of a Kind, that whether or not men she dated preferred her with a blowout became a kind of litmus test for the viability of the relationship. (Her husband, she notes, loves her curly hair.)
Like Mazur, other women are increasingly spurning blowout salons and the promise of a temporary straight-hair fix in favor of a curly look that is both natural and modern. Harper’s Bazaar recently declared that “air drying is the new blowout” in an article in praise of tousled hair, adding that “perfect blowouts with round-brushed ends and swingy bounciness have been falling out of favor with fashion girls for a while now.”
And the signs were there. Highly visible musicians like Lorde, St. Vincent and Rita Ora have made curly manes part of their look. Art-world darlings like the young photographers Olivia Bee and Petra Collins are also skipping the blowout. The look is styled but a little messy, even embracing a certain amount of … yes, frizz. And with a new interest in curly hair has come a demand for salons accomplished in dealing with it.
“People want too much control over their hair, but anything you try to control too much loses its magic,” said Laura Connors, a stylist at Seagull, a salon in New York City that specializes in curly hair. “I’m trying to get my clients to accept not a halo of puff but some frizz. It’s realistic and a sexy look.”
Yet even if curls are now cool, it’s hard to shake lingering stereotypes, like the assumption that curly-haired women are “loopy and zany and can’t be taken seriously,” in the words of Kim France, the founding editor of Lucky and author of the Girls of a Certain Age blog. “There is a total cultural bias against women with curly hair,” said France, who has gone through phases of wearing her hair curly and straight. “And hair stylists are really snobby, very uncreative with curly hair.”
It doesn’t help that celebrities who wear their hair curly (think of Taylor Swift or Sarah Jessica Parker circa “Sex and the City”) have a carefully coifed, high-maintenance look that’s almost impossible to replicate at home. “Clearly someone has taken a curling iron and curled every piece,” said Astrid Chastka, a fashion designer. “It’s like, ‘No, you didn’t do that on your own.’ Let’s see that without a stylist.”
By general agreement, curls have a life of their own. “They are going to move, lay different each day, and humidity needs to be taken into consideration,” said Morgan Willhite, the creative director of Ouidad, another salon that focuses on curly hair, with locations in New York and in Santa Monica, California. “You have to train your eye to look at it.”
And women with curly hair have precise notions of how they want to look. “I want not-too-tidy, organized chaos,” said Jennifer Marshall, a literary publicist who lives in Massachusetts. “You want someone to feel like they can touch your hair. I’m totally against sausage curls.”
Volume is welcome, but “you don’t want to look like an ’80s prom photo,” Chastka said.
Claudine Auguste, who works at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, would like more role models. “I would like to see a Rick Owens runway show with girls with big, curly hair,” she said. “People think, ‘Oh, you must be so wild and bubbly.’ It’s interesting that’s the perception. But I don’t want to lead with that.”
Finding a stylist who caters to curls can be a challenge. “Most beauty schools are very dated, and you’re not taught much about curly hair: blow it out or roller-set it,” said Richmond, Va., stylist Casey Heatherley. Curly hair is “an entire education,” she said. “It’s more about shaping and hedging like a plant than about lines and angles.”
Heatherley was trained at Devachan, with downtown salons and a product line for curly hair. Its founder, Lorraine Massey, has something of a cult following in the curl community. In 2006, in a book called “Curly Girl,” she counseled avoiding traditional shampoos and encouraged styling with one’s fingers.
“I felt like I had entered a secret world of fabulous curly hair,” said Jillian Hertzman, a trend forecaster in Los Angeles, of the first time she visited Devachan.
Among women who have not found a home at a salon, some prefer to go it alone. Caitlin Roper, an editor at Wired, has, with a lot of trial and error, figured out a routine that suits her. Hers includes combing out the knots with conditioner and a plastic pick once a week and then applying Living Proof curl cream. She always lets it air dry, which is complicated if she has an important early meeting.
“One time I woke up at 4 in the morning for a meeting at 7,” she said. She doesn’t trust anyone to style her hair curly, so once a year for a television appearance, she gets a blowout. A boyfriend once named her sleek-hair alter ego “Straightlin.”
If there is little consensus among stylists and curly-haired women on whether to cut curly hair wet or dry, let it air dry or use a diffuser, use mousse or gel, everyone seems to agree that there are more and better products for curls on the market. Sulfate-free shampoos, which are less harsh, are widely available. And product lines like Miss Jessie’s have crossed over from the black community, which has its own flourishing natural-hair movement.
Mazur said that her company gets emails at its customer service department asking her to explain how she does her hair. (For the record, it’s a multistep routine that includes drying it with a T-shirt instead of a towel, liberal use of Bumble and bumble Curl Conscious Defining Creme and going through it with a curling wand to define curls between washings.)
“It’s an amazing way to bond with our customers,” she said, “because there’s such a connection over the pain of figuring it all out.”