Privilege Blog

A Sturdy Gal Faces The Occasionally Scary Reality Of Updos

Various hair ornaments from my collection

You will be happy to know I am not wearing Scrunchies to work. Their elastic selves call to me, but I turn my head, resolute.

You might be surprised to hear, however, that Scrunchies may be the best solution to the pressing question, “What should I do with my hair?” More specifically, “What should I do with my longish, graying, straight, slippery hair?”

Sturdy Gals usually crop their hair short, in its salt and pepper incarnation. Artsy Cousins either wear it long, with feather ornaments hither and thither, or cut in precise and interesting geometries. Grande Dames often remain blonde forever, shoulder-length tresses “done” over many blow-dried, hair-producted hours. But I just hate that hot head feeling.

These days I have set my sights on a silvered Grande Dame updo.

State of the graying hair nation. The transition becomes more visible.

Do not, I politely suggest,  research this topic on the Internet unless you have a strong stomach for cultural sub-segments and commercials masquerading as information. Results turn up in two primary categories:

  1. Instructions on “buns,” dominated by the Long Hair Community. Otherwise known as people who post videos entitled, Playing With My Long Hair, and speak in haircronyms. APL means armpit length. I think we can leave it at that. Oh wait, you do need to know there’s something called Terminal Length. OK. I promise I’m done. It is not for me to disdain a cultural sub-group, belonging to a fairly odd one myself.
  2. Celebrity hairstylist videos for messy updos. Not your garden variety mess, of course, but very special arrangements that rely on an inordinate amount of product, invented, of course, by said hairstylist.

This research, once I was able to draw myself away from the oddly titillating details, did provide some higher level strategic guidance.

  1. You need at least bra-length hair to create a secure, well-foundationed bun. In fact, I sighed in relief to know that my bun failure was not due to my admitted poor small motor coordination, nor my admitted lack of patience, but rather the length of my follicles.
  2. Messy updos work best with layered hair, as layers encourage fronds and artistic tendrils to twine. Fetchingly.

I’m no Taylor Swift, queen of fetching. However, since intentionally messy updos are better than “buns” that fall down by mistake, I’m currently exploring Strategy #2. Which brings me to Scrunchies. The easiest, most comfortable updo I know is:

  1. Gather your hair in one hand
  2. Hold a Scrunchie in another
  3. Pull your hair all the way through the Scrunchie with one hand, twist the Scrunchie, pull your hair halfway through in the other direction, leaving a loop to hang artistically from the back of your head
  4. Twist the Scrunchie one more time around the loop, if necessary

The lovely gold square is part of a hair fork

This method is especially valuable because my hair use case is as follows:

  1. Create LPC Work Hair 1.0 at home
  2. Walk or drive to work
  3. Meet with people. Think. Write. Think.
  4. Intermittently smooth hair repeatedly on head, or run fingers through hair in a disheveling manner. This habit seems to be genetic. Dad always emerged from his study, locks straight up, in what we can only call, “Professor hair.”

All of the above activity requires frequent hair resets. Bobby pins are not my friend. Enter the easy Scrunchie. Or not. Sigh. Professional dignity prevails. So I plan to keep poking chopsticks through braids, and forks through twists until I achieve updo mastery. I will tell you that Spin Pins work well the first time, but the minute the spiral widens, straight to the hair ornament graveyard.

In the interim I would like to send my ponytail to princess school, as befits a Grande Dame in training. An updo-in-waiting, if you will. Sturdy Gals always do their homework, and this week’s course of study will involve the tricky subject of Volume At The Crown. We shall see. Secret hints welcomed.

67 Responses

  1. For volume at the crown you may need a teasing comb. Tease a very small section of hair just behind the area where you want volume & then arrange & smooth hair over it. My mother is a master at this & can achieve creations that defy the very limits of physics.

  2. Instead of a scrunchy (although I still like them) how about a nice barrette? Pull your hair into a low ponytail and fasten with a wide barrette. Pull two small clusters of hair from in front of your ears, and chop with a manicure scissors to chin length, to soften the look.
    Our “Audra” dress is on sale for 1/2 price :(

  3. Wanted to add (sorry Valentine) that I did cut my hair to chin length or a bit longer a few months ago. Not easier at all. Had to blow dry daily. No way to pull it back. Very high maintenance.

  4. I (55 and returning to work) have spent a lifetime playing with hair-apparel: short/long and many, many favorite barrettes. But I finally caved and cut my hair fairly short. The freedom is amazing, and modern hair goo REALLY holds your bangs back. I highly recommend it!
    Also amazed by the hair (and scarf-tying) videos on youtube — and cheered by the passion the creators exhibit :)

  5. Ditch the scrunchie and instead use a thin elastic. Then wrap one small section of hair around the elastic to hide it (one bobby pin required for this, sorry). Its a pony that looks structured because you don’t see the harware, and can be completed multiple times throughout the day in a zip.

    DON’T CUT YOUR HAIR. Please.

    1. “DON’T CUT YOUR HAIR. Please.”

      No, don’t!

      Are you up for a French braid? Like so:

      Most gals keep braiding the hair all the way down their back til there’s no more hair left to braid, then band it. But I think you’d look great if you stopped braiding where the hairline ends at the neck, band it, then let the rest flop around in a ponytail. So cool, so sturdy.

      3 minute tutorial:

  6. Thank you for giving me a reason to be grateful that I A) work for/with my husband, 2) work in an office full of men and iii) am one of 7 employees. The pull-the-hair-back-and-make-a-ponytail-or-sloppy-bun-with-a-scrunchy works really well for me.

  7. Surprise I know…but I don’t have much to say about hair girding kit. Except as I look over at my bedside swing-arm lamp, I see some kinda tortoise clip thing there. Hmmm.

    But what I really want to say is that since learning about your new-ish professional endeavor; I’ve thought more than once about how lucky the organization is to have you and…how fortunate your mentees are.

    Now I’ma gonna do a post on hair clips. Watch.

  8. Please don’t cut your hair. At our age it doesn’t grow back fast. Plus there is something so intriguing about a silvering woman with long hair. Somehow she seems so assured. I also have fine straight hair and the only things that stay in my hair are scrunchies and the narrow elastic bands. A barrette is a joke in my hair. I barely make it away from the mirror before it is sliding down my back. I love your Style! And the hair research has me giggling :) Have a great week.

  9. How about the half-up-do? Only twist and turn the top part of your hair – keeps it out of your face and doesn’t require layers or scrunchies.

    Short hair does not work for everyone. It probably doesn’t work for me, but my secret hint is that I don’t care.

  10. Your strategy sounds practical and easy to maintain throughout your busy day. I wouldn’t worry about finding a better solution.

    “Professor hair” cracked me up!

  11. One need not have APL or longer tresses to create a sleek, sophisticated bun, as I’ve recently discovered.

    Might I recommend (instead of a scrunchie or hair elastic, or cutting your hair), this ingenious device? With bobby pins, and your hair’s length that we’ve seen in your latest posts, I think your bun would hold quite well for an entire day.

    You can make it yourself, either from a lone sock (or pre-made, purchased, from a beauty supply store.

    Best of luck.

  12. This is just so much fun, Lisa. I have superfine baby-like hair so I can relate to what you’re saying.
    I love the looped pony tail (if the ends stay up) & sadly I do agree that we cannot just let it hang down as we once did. You are a model of sophistication, but you are so creative you can pull off anything. I wear sunglasses atop my head all the time…& headbands…because when I’m working I simply cannot stand hair in my face. Love your photographs, especially the gold-tipped hair fork. xx’s

  13. You do not need such long hair to complete the “sock bun” (there are videos on youtube). Basically, a sock (minus toe) is rolled into a doughnut (covered with hair matching knee high – optional), slipped over a basic ponytail, which is spread over the sock to create the bun, and another ponytail holder holds the hair down. The “halo” of leftover hair surrounding the bun can be smoothed down to the base of the bun with bobby pins or small claw clips.

  14. This Sturdy, Artsy Cousin has long, graying, straight, slippery hair (APL). I work in an office and rarely wear my hair loose because it gets in my face when I’m reading or writing and is hugely bothersome. But I prefer long hair because short is just too work intensive – short, grey hairs are harder to smooth out properly (I had to give up bangs because of this), and you have to wash it almost everyday to keep the fresh bounce alive (fine hair flattens so quickly). Long hair has a huge variety of possibilities. Some of my choices for the office: 1. Single braid starting from the mid-back of the head and ending with a “scrunchie” recycled from a pair of ruined tights, 2. A bun-cluster at the lower mid-back of the head consisting of three celtic whorls, 3. A pony tail fetchingly dressed with a hankie-size silk scarf (a la 50’s bobby-soxer), 4. French braids starting from (heavier greying) temples and ending in two braided buns in the back of head (excellent for really important meetings where you’re looking to make an impression of efficiency and style), and 5. (when I do wear my hair down for a business party or such) The Rita Hayworth Waves: Side part – short side pulled back with an artsy clip – heavy side in 40’s waves (sample: ). By the way, this style is a great way to really show off your grey. If you want to learn how to accomplish it, You Tube has many how to videos, such as this one: (

    Have fun!! (by the way, I absolutely LOVE the gold hair fork!!!!)

    1. Also, If you need some inspiration to keep your hair long and grey, check out Cindy Joseph in Google images. She’s my favorite hair-icon.

  15. I went to You Tube for inspirational messy up do’s…some are easier than others!

    What works for you will suit you. Trying to be something you’re not comfortable with will appear so…I say go with what works.

    Scrunchies are available in fur and velvet :)

  16. I’m 67, almost completely gray, and my hair has gotten curly in the last several years. What a nice surprise. It’s as long as the big knot on my spine at my collar line — almost enough for one of those updo’s with the escaping tendrils. I use the big clippy thing that looks like interlocking fingers. I can smooth my hair back, give it a half twist (ends sticking up), and clamp on the clip. It stays for hours. This suits my absent-minded-grad-student persona (even though I’m out of grad school now) and gives me some hair relief for hours.

    I’m enjoying your hair adventures!

  17. I used to have to put my very fine, shoulder-length hair in a bun when I was competing in horse shows. There was a lot of backcombing, hairspray, bobby pins and hairnets involved. Let’s just leave it at that.

  18. I most politely disagree: you definitely need not have bra-length hair to make a good updo. On the contrary – the more hair you have, the more difficult it is to stuff it so that it stays neatly on your head! Bobby pins didn’t use to be my friends either, until I learned to use them right: if you dont’ trust them, use them pairwise in crosses. They won’t budge, I swear.

    I have just under shoulder-length, layered hair at the moment. It’s straight and slippery, but I claim that if I can make it work with my hair, everyone can. With this hair I often make a french braid, tie an elastic at the end, and tuck the ends underneath, securing with bobby pins. Think “horseback riding hairdos”.

    When I had shoulder-length hair or longer, I preferred French twists with everything from pins to clasps to chopsticks. If that’s too tough, a chignon is the easiest thing to achieve, and by tying it on the nape of your neck you avoid the teenager- or teacher-look.

  19. I do an extremely messy and casual updo with a claw clip. It’s for those afternoons when I’m working away on spreadsheets or documents in my office and my hair is driving me nuts.

    Gather hair at back as if making a ponytail, twist and twist while pulling up from nape of neck, grab the twist with the claw and secure to hair at scalp.

    Not neat and pretty, but easy.

    1. I do that, but with out the hair elastic. Since I have course hair, sometimes I just tie it in a knot. It’s too short for all of my hair to be in a knot, so currently I just do the top part in in a knot.

    2. Best thing about knots and chopsticks: one can redo them all day long to keep one’s hair tidy.

  20. I was going to suggest French braids, as I need my hair ABSOLUTELY SECURE for the entire day so that my scarf doesn’t slip off. Don’t start all the way at the top, your arms will get tired (mine do). Start midway, go down the rest of your head, secure wherever you like. Smooth hair serum, oil, hair spray, gel, mousse or whatever concoction you prefer to tame the flyaways. French braid bonus: sooo comfortable to nap in =).

  21. Well, Lisa, would bulldog clips be acceptable? I wear them ever since I discovered 5 years ago how wonderful they are, and find them to be, if I say so myself, Very Fetching, creating a zippy bun with stylish tendrils.

  22. rb, the messy updo you describe is my “signature”-style for work… At first it looks quite serious, but going on it develops into a real mess. I will redo it about ten times a working day, but it needs not more than 10 sec, so what?

    LPC following and enjoying your side for some time, little timid for comments because not used to write english…

  23. The secret to a great ponytail (which can also be turned into a bun) that lasts all day and has some nice volume on top:
    1) Use your index fingers to section off the “top” of your hair; go from your brows/temples back and then point up once your fingers are just past your ears. 2) Temporarily clip that sectioned part so it’s out of the way of the “back” of your hair.
    3) Brush the back of your hair up and into a ponytail with one elastic.
    4) Release the sectioned portion and smooth that back toward the secured elastic.
    5) Use another elastic to combine the loose sectioned hair to the already-secured ponytail. You can smooth down the top hair for a sleek look or leave it a little loose. After securing the 2nd elastic, if you pull the WHOLE ponytail a little tighter, it will kind of bump up that front looser section very naturally.

    There are all sorts of videos on you tube showing this process, but they usually show you teasing that top section or adding product between steps 4 and 5 (which just takes it over the top, imho).

  24. Here is a bunch of great hair tutorials from another blog (A Cup of Jo), some require longer hair, but some really cute ideas to get away from the usual:

    I have always been in the throw-my-hair-in-a-ponytail camp, but just recently asked my stylist to give me longish side-swept bangs. This has changed the entire look of even the most staid ponytails into cute, and at least for me, professional styles. Rather than cut your hair short, maybe something like that or some shaping would give you more options while staying within your comfort zone.

  25. I have APL (hee) hair with some long layers and long sideswept bangs. I wear my hair in a messy-ish but sturdy updo about 50% of the time. I am happy to show you how (by Skype?) or try to explain in text here.

    1. Maryn, you describe exactly the instructions I was given for the hair fork. How tight does your hair then press to your head? I am hoping for not-skin-tight. Thank you so much.

    2. I am not sure this will thread below your q., Lisa – but the answer is, it doesn’t have to be scalp-tight… but it depends on how fine, straight and/or clean your hair is. The finer, the tighter, more or less, because there are fewer other elements to contribute to the grip.

      You can see my hair here, clean but blown out with products. It is fine but fairly abundant, and has some grip because it is colored:

  26. I have long fine wavy hair which doesn’t always behave itself. For work I do the following. Pull the hair back with my hands as though I were going to make a low ponytail, then twist it clockwise all the way to the end. Holding the end I then pull this up the back of my head, fold it about in half, tuck the loose end under the base of the ponytail and then clip a plain hair coloured barette through the base hair, the twist and the undertwist about 2 inches from the top fold in the twist. This looks smart, but is easily redone when I nip to the bathroom.

  27. Since writing about hair is something I’ve had to do as a beauty editor for the past 5 years, I had to laugh when I read this. I also wore my hair in the scrunchy bun because it’s a perfectly acceptable way to get the messy bun look without spending $200 to get it styled. But something you said at the end of your post–about pontail princess school gave me an idea. What about a high back ponytail (well high-ish not on top of your head) wrapped with a piece of your silver locks–secure it with bobby pins, and that’s the only time a bobby pin will ever be your friend. I think it would be pretty and sleek!

    xo Mary Jo

  28. I will be laughing about Haircronyms for the rest of the day! Don’t you love when you discover a new subculture?

    I wish I had some good advice for you, but it sounds like your readers are a well informed bunch.

  29. Returning to add: To construct my updos, I do almost exactly what Ruthie describes, except I don’t use a barette, but instead a 2-tine hair fork or a hair-tick. (NB: If your hair is fine or layered, 2-tine works better unless your hairstick is wavy. I had a perfect hairstick, bought at the Artisans’ Coop in Cambridge MA, which I lost traveling and still mourn.)

    Holding the doubled twist of hair against your head with your left hand (if you are right-handed), and holding the implement in your right hand, insert the stick/fork through the top of the hair loop, *pointing toward the top of your head.*

    When it grazes your scalp, gently reverse the direction, guiding from the end held in your right hand, until it is pointing down toward your nape, and then push it down through your hair. For successful hold, you should feel the point gently scrape your scalp as it traverses vertically down the back of your skull.

    Since the hair will be held by the interlace of the shaft of the stick/fork, the hair on the surface of the twist at the top of your head, and your hair roots behind the body of the twist, it should hold enough that the disposition of the bottom ends of the fork/stick is not important – i.e., they can be allowed to emerge from the bottom of the hair mass.

    Was that clear?

  30. Wow! This post really brought out the comments! I have no advice to offer. My hair is fine and straight, and I never let it get below chin length. And, to differ with Miranda above, my hair grows quite fast (and I’m older than you). So you never know. Good luck.

  31. I have to agree with Kathy–low ponytail with a tortoise shell, silver, or black grosgrain barrette. I can’t imagine this look wouldn’t work for you as you have such nice bones.

  32. A naturally elegant older friend of mine has beautiful silver-white hair which she wears in a classic bob halfway between chin and shoulder length. She keeps it pinned, almost always, in a low ponytail using a black velvet bow. Not sure if the bow is affixed to elastic or on a large barrette, but it’s a wonderful look on her, and I suspect it might work for you. Not sure about the ability to run figures through one’s hair while thinking though, and I could see that as a very. important. activity. that must be factored into the styling. Good luck. Keep us posted.

  33. I have described my hair as ‘etnic’ when the rescue team asked for my description (I was the lost woman on the mountain in the cold…that was a better description). It just came to me…very curly, pretty fly for a white girl.
    I wear my hair in those bands they sell at Wal Greens, 3 or 5 in a package, thick or thin or metallic, striped. I hang them on my rear view mirror and make a high ponytail when my hair drives as I pull into work. 59 years young, red hair…who has time for anything else?

  34. Buy a pair of sheer grey pantyhose and them cut them into fairly wide rings and let the pieces roll unto themselves. These can become your new scrunchies which will blend into your hair smoothly and unobtrusively.
    Your hair is looking great – don’t cut it!

  35. Low ponytail held by broad tortoiseshell barette?
    French braid?
    Topknot with one long lock falling from side part in front?

    Or cheat! A ponytail hairpiece creates a lush, sweeping ponytail; it attaches on a spandex ring around your own hair. You brush your own hair into a ponytail, wrap it on, cover with barette, clip or scarf and Bob’s your uncle. See

    Anything but the scrunchie.

  36. I have long hair, but still need to look professional in my work. SO I rely on a couple of go-to’s that never fail me – pull hair off of the face with a claw-type clip, and wrap the ends around the clip, tucking the end of your hair under the clip. You get neat, last all day bun that works regardless of length I think, and easy to fix if it slips. And a large clip from Sephora that I use to pull my hair back.

  37. Darling LPC, I think this is finally something I can help with! For volume at the crown (I, too, have long, fine hair that goes flat and irritable), do this teasing

    Except comb over the top with a boar-bristle brush so it’s smooth instead of chunky. If you do it on clean hair, it’s much more Sturdy Gal. Then grab it all with one hand, twist counter-clockwise, wrap around itself, and secure with no more than four bobby pins. You can do it up high, at ear level, or at the nape of your neck (lower on your head corresponds to what will hold with shorter hair). You can also tease, brush, and low ponytail.

    You have to finish a bun with hairspray if you have fine hair. That’s the secret. I know it’s so 1985, but there you go. Also, try Bumble & bumble Hair Powder in white. Get the salon to show you how to do it. It makes buns hold still all day, touched or no. xoxoxo

  38. LPC like you have no fringe (I am older than thou)have to be careful as hair pulled straight back can look severe needs a few tendrils to soften the face.

    As Kathy mentioned barrettes are useful,also velvet bows look chic….shades of velvet sloaney headbands which I still adore…must think I am back in the 70/80s!!

    My hair is chin length and wear it up with no trouble.
    Lots of great tips here for you…some would take too much fiddling with for me…have no doubt that you will find your way through the hair maze. Ida

  39. Oh, Miss LPC. I highly recommend my favorite summer do which is called “The Southern Tease.” Here is a video – It’s super quick and easy.

    I employed this do all summer long using a Maximas clip from Ficcare –

    Also, it can be quite versatile regarding where (or if) you part your hair. Another choice would be to add a little product on top for volume if you’re feeling sassy. Or, go completely flat and gently pulled back for more of a romantic Jane Austen look. I think that Scarlet O’hara is somewhere in between.

    Finally, I must concur with your friends here who are whispering emphatically that we adore your longish greying hair and wish that you will keep your hair long if you truly enjoy having longer tresses. If you love the length on weekends and in (ahem) private, you may well regret bobbing it for easier workdays.

  40. This is great! What a nice audience/reader group you have of knowledgeable ladies.

    I have roughly shoulder length, grey/brown hair that is very straight. I like to do the pony thing too. My implement of choice is just about anything from France Luxe.

  41. I agree with Mary Jo. Make a ponytail with a plain ponytail band. Wrap with a lock of your own hair to cover the band and secure with a single hair pin. Even I could do that! In fact, for the last two photoshoots the QoC model has worn a pony tail in this manner. I think Jackie O did, too!

  42. I love the high-ish ponytail (when lowest hair is long enough to stay in) but never could get that wrapping a piece of hair around; it always popped out.
    Right now my hair is not quite to shoulders, slippery, quite gray with blondish streaks put in.
    SO my secrets:
    1. Six months of practice, learned to french braid my own hair. Love the polished-country-girl look and the way it give shape to back of head, AND the slight facelift that pulling hair back gives you.
    2. At-nape ponytail with scrunchie, looped back and forth four times to make woven-bun-looking thing. I like to think it looks like it’s woven with ribbon but now all of you know it’s a black scrunchie, always black.

  43. Can you do a French roll and secure it with that 3-prong pick? My hair is almost straight, thick, and slippery, and while it falls out of a lot of styles, the French roll is one I can do. It stays more secure if the hair is a little bit damp when you style it. I have a five-prong tortoiseshell plastic pick that I use, and a couple of bobby pins or those flat metal clips to secure any hair on the sides that might try to escape. Bonus, when I take my hair down after a day in the French roll, it’s all wavy / curly and the curls don’t fall out within 10 minutes!

  44. Northern California mystery author Laurie King has a lovely ladylike professorial gray updo. It looks so easy and distinguished. I have hair with absolutely no body unless the day is humid. I’m doing a shortish professional bob now but the Laurie King do does appeal (though graying/silvering nicely does help).

  45. I’m with Sylvie on the Ficcare Maximas clip. When my 27-year old daughter, who lives among runway models and perfectly coifed giants in Copenhagen, spotted it on my counter, she said, “Oh Mom, that is the world’s best clip.” No kidding, it REALLY IS.

    I bought a large one in matte silver at Nordie’s about three years ago, and I’ve used it daily for the past few months since I’ve been growing out my gray. The three quarter’s L’Oreal Pref Dark Ash Blond and one quarter bright white/dark brunette transition line is a little less noticeable with my big clip. It holds all day, is easy to restyle, and looks great.

    My length is a little past my shoulders, and I’m gradually trimming it up to get rid of the old color. I’m doing a messy twist in the back, and it usually comes off as casually elegant. Another thing that I like about pulling it back is that the different colors of strands look pretty good, like I intentionally wanted my hair to resemble Jacob’s coat of many colors.

    To avoid the overly tight, pulled-back granny look, make sure that a little of the mess shows from the front, and some of the hair is free around the top of the twist. I usually position the clip a little higher than midline in back of my head.

  46. The other secret is don’t wash hair so often;
    it stays in up-things better if not squeaky clean.

  47. Please…what ever you do, just don’t purchase a Bump It!
    I’m sure with all these great suggestions, you’ll find the perfect fit for your hair. Personally, I think the French Twist just suits you, not too harsh, not too soft…and fairly easy, with practice, so that it will hold all day.
    Look into Moroccan Oil for smoothing your hair…it’s amazing!
    Best of luck…
    xo J~

  48. I am really enjoying this. I admire your bravery–putting yourself out there as you have. I am 62 and I can so relate to the hair dilemma! I researched “going gray” on the web last spring! I guess I’m about 60% gray and I really really wanted to be the type of woman who would go all gray so naturally; however, my coloring just looks awful with gray hair. So I am doing blond in with the gray (I suppose I have about six colors there now–some original brown, some gray, some whitish-gray, and various shades of blonde!). Anyway–when I look in the mirror at at pictures it somehow just seems to be more flattering. Eventually I guess I’ll have to do a whole-head blonde, which I really don’t want to do.

  49. You don’t have to go whole-head blonde.
    Just keep adding colors!
    The ends do get lighter and lighter and
    eventually I have to cut ends back and/or
    my good colorist puts some color back in.

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