Dana Scruggs

The Case for Big — Huge — Hair

Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It’s like you brought a photo to the salon — we’re giving you exactly what you want.
Aug 15, 2018 @ 11:00 am

For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken up too much space. Largeness, both in physicality and personality, is part of my identity. It’s not always easy to occupy more space in the world than women are supposed to — in fact, I spent my teens and early twenties trying to shrink myself down. I slouched to appear shorter. I dieted to become thinner. I talked at lower volumes to appear more demure. I did all the things that women do to make our presence more palatable to a world that can’t handle us in our more space-occupying forms. But I never felt the need to tame my hair.

I have thick, wavy hair — the kind that seems to grow horizontally rather than vertically. It’s both full of styling possibilities and virtually impossible to manage. Last year, I cut about eight inches off on a whim, and somehow, it remains abundant. One of my favorite ways to wear it is to curl and tease it until it’s less of a human hairstyle and more of a beastly mane that I can toss from side to side at will, encouraging as much volume as possible and expanding the circumference of my head by at least six inches.

Credit: Dana Scruggs

I’ve never tried to shrink down or deflate my hair for the sake of other people’s approval, which may have something to do with the fact that, regardless of trends, big hair is timeless — and not as difficult to obtain as you might think. To prove it, we asked a stylist to create four sizable, impactful hairstyles that you could approach at home. From teased-out updos, to glorious mermaid waves, to a generous head of perfect curls, the photos you see in this story are meant to give you some big-hair inspiration, no matter the hair type and texture you're starting with. This is a beauty story and then some: Along with hair ideas, we want you to walk away feeling encouraged to look as large as you feel like living. We promise people will remember when you do.

After all, what is big hair if not memorable?

Could our brains conjure up the image of the Georgian era without the three-foot-tall powdered wigs serving you Duchess of Beaufort realness? What would the ‘60s have looked like without the Supremes’ beehives or Catherine Deneuve and Bridgitte Bardot’s artfully messy bundles of hair piled just so? Portraits of Angela Davis wouldn’t be quite as striking without her signature afro, and it’s possible that Jackie Onassis wouldn’t have reached quite as iconic a status if she hadn’t gone all-out with that bouffant. Farrah Fawcett’s feathered cascade dominated the mid-'70s and beyond, to which Debbie Harry’s bleached, blown-out mop was a defiant punk response. It was hard to spot a woman without big ‘80s hair, arguably the decade that perfected the genre — that is, if you don’t believe it was already perfected by Dolly Parton.

Massive blowouts stuck around in the ‘90s, too — Cindy Crawford and Sarah Jessica Parker are both proof of that, not to mention Pretty Woman and the entire female cast of Saved By The Bell. Sure, big hair fell somewhat out of favor from 2000-2010, but honestly, in terms of overall aesthetic, the whole decade took an L.

Credit: Dana Scruggs

And now, in 2018, amid all of the glassy middle parts, tidy bobs, and slicked-back runway looks, we still make plenty of space for a big, voluminous hairstyle to enter the room and demand at least one solid head turn. Of course, straight, sleek, and otherwise tamed styles don’t necessarily mean the wearer doesn’t want attention, but there’s something about big hair that demands it. It’s the follicular embodiment of power and dynamism and ferocity. It's one way that women can expand themselves to occupy any space they want to, and demand to be seen and noticed while they’re doing it. (For example: Did anyone not notice the epically huge hair Valentino sent down the runway at Paris Fashion Week?)

The best part of embracing big hair as a lifestyle is that it’s not actually that difficult to achieve, whether you're trying to go to the extreme or not. Big, heavy curls; volumized waves; or a teased-out updo: The options are truly endless. Try out big hair for the first time, and see how quickly you demand the world treat you like Beyoncé on tour and point a dozen fans at you wherever you go. Below, check out some advice from professional hair stylist Rutger van der Heide on how to achieve the biggest hair — and, ultimately, biggest you — possible.

Credit: Dana Scruggs

For women with fine hair…

“If you’d like to create volume in fine hair, try using dry shampoo as a styling product. When applied to the roots, it gives the hair some grit and curls will hold better and longer. After applying dry shampoo, blast the hair again with a hairdryer to get rid of any residue,” Rutger van der Heide says.

If you’re going for a less curly, more messy look, another option is back brushing your hair or teasing the roots for added lift. Teasing the hair, adding a ton of texturizer, and pinning it into a messy updo (kind of like the one above) can help solve the problem of fine hair falling flat. If you’re having trouble getting your fine hair to go big, ask your favorite stylist — in addition to giving you the perfect trim, your stylist is a wealth of information on how to get the look you want at home.

For those looking for a new technique…

“After drying the hair thoroughly, you can smooth it out using a brush and blow dryer before using a curling iron to create bouncy curls. For smaller curls use an iron with a .5-inch barrel. It’s somewhat time consuming to curl your own hair with a curling iron, so [as another option] you can use curlers — leave them in and let the hair dry over a night’s sleep,” says van der Heide.

For the curly looks in this story, we used a small barrel-curling iron to get the most twist and volume out of every single one. It takes some time, but if you want hair that goes pow, it just might be worth it.

For women of color who want to get the most out of their natural volume…

Both the models in this story are women of color with thick, curly hair. Even though these hair types are easier to pump up than, say, fine or non-textured hair, protecting it before styling is crucial.

Natural hair responds best when you use product that protects from the heat tools you’re using. I usually stay away from thickening sprays and hair sprays, because it will dry out and potentially damage the hair when applied in combination with heat from an iron. Instead, use products that nourish and protect the hair."

For anyone who wants to supplement with extensions…

We used extensions for many of these looks to get as much impact out of our big hairstyles as possible. Extensions and wigs are a great way to max out your big-hair capabilities, so pick up a weft or 10 from your beauty supply store and go to town. That said, they have some limitations.

“If you are looking to create big hair with a natural look and feel, be prepared to spend some money. Real hair isn’t cheap ... but wigs and extensions from real hair allow you to work with [the hair] as if it was your own. You can use styling tools like curling and straightening irons without problems.”

No matter which approach you take to getting your biggest hair yet, the results will always make an impact. Don’t be afraid to let your hair enter the room before you do — after all, it’s a great way to let people know that when you’re around, big things are bound to happen.

Hair, Rutger Van der Heide; Makeup, Jaleesa Jaikaran; art direction and production, Senior Multimedia Editor Emily Shornick; styling, Fashion Features Director Laurel Pantin.