How to Work the Curl

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New mom (and former Bumble and bumble bigwig) Bea McMonagle loves her corkscrew locks, but isn’t modern beauty about options? Spurred on by our look at curly bangs, the Miami native comes clean about embracing the wave, going stick-straight, and back again.

One of my childhood best friends was named Karen Lipschitz*...and I envied her. You might think anyone named “Karen Lipschitz” should be pitied and not envied, at least during those cruel elementary school years, but it was her Kirsty Hume hair I coveted. Thanks to an unfortunate haircut at my dad’s local barber shop [2], Karen and I were the Luke and Laura (remember, from General Hospital?) of the third grade. Guess who was Luke?

My mass of thick, super-tight curls (I’m Cuban-American) can be very “editorial.” In fact, there’s a popular backstage technique used to approximate my natural texture: the model’s hair is twisted into one-inch braids, sprayed with a medium-hold hairspray, and flat-ironed. It’s then released and brushed or back-combed to create a pretty intense cloud of cotton-candy frizz. (You can achieve this with a half-inch curling iron pin set, as well.) Check out Bottega Veneta’s fall ‘13 show for a visual, if you don’t believe me. The whole thing takes forever, and it’s “a lot of look,” as they say. And lots of models LOVE it; iPhone selfies for all!

Over the years, I’ve been overwhelmingly pleased with my ‘fro, although it took work. Some of my high school pics aren’t cute [1]. And I still scoff at girls who possess Julia Roberts tresses and pretend to feel a kinship with me, exclaiming, “I have curly hair, too!” No. You. Don’t. My hair coils from root to end, while Julia’s hairline is smooth with soft mermaid waves. Mine is a particular hair type—for those familiar with the curl-speak popularized by Oprah’s hairdresser, Andre Walker, I’ve got a 3B with some serious 3C areas; Julia’s is really 2B. Anyway, I’ve done a lifetime of research to arrive at a sensible routine for my unruly hair.

I’ve traveled to Bed-Stuy, venturing into a semisecret brownstone to have my hair crafted into a choppy, curly mop (with bangs). I’ve grown it long and religiously followed the no-‘poo routine, resulting in a nicely moisturized, albeit kind of dull, curl. But I found my holy grail of hairstyles at Bumble and bumble (where I was the longtime director of global communications) eight years ago. It’s often hard to give long spirals like mine any sort of edge, but I found two stylists at the downtown New York salon who’ve done me proud: Michelle Fiona (the chick behind Zooey Deschanel’s perfect bangs) and—when Michelle left four years ago to open her San Francisco salon, Barrow StreetSabrina Michals. Turns out it’s a mix of cutting and razoring the hair. It’s rad. I love it.

Of course, there are also tons of lines and specific products that are all about embracing the kink. I use Bumble and bumble’s Curl Conscious range, particularly their Defining Creme, which is technically designed for finer curls; I just like the hold it delivers. I am also a fan of Miss Jessie's, developed by two sisters of Japanese and African American backgrounds. Their Curly Pudding is genius—a thick purple cream that imparts the control of a gel without any of the dreaded crunch. Terax Crema is an amazing conditioner, not exclusively created for curls, that hydrates beautifully without leaving any residue and smells like a baby.

Credit the massive influence of Daria’s Céline ads, but I’ve recently moved away from my crazy curls to a relatively smooth, wavy “lob” (long bob) [9, 10]. To arrive at said smoothness, I have a process…a long one. I use Bumble’s Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil on my damp hair, part it to the side, and then scrape my damp hair into a low pony tail. I spray the hairline with a medium hold hairspray (like Bb. Spray de Mode). I sleep on it, and in the morning, I twist a few face-framing sections around a 1.25-inch curling iron. Then, I don’t wash it for a week; it gets cooler every day. I’ll touch up occasionally with hair powder. (Confession: I’ve definitely gone two weeks w/o washing my hair, don’t hate.).

Yes, modern beauty is all about options. And sometimes, no matter how much you love your curls, you just want super straight hair. I highly recommend los Dominicanos for that task.

The Dominican Blow Out (DBO) is not for everyone, especially not for wusses [3-8]. They give you a deep-conditioning treatment, often avocado-based, roll your wet hair onto large two-inch plastic rollers and leave you under the dryer. FOREVER. Then, they pull the crap out of your hair with a round brush and a high-powered blower, all while listening to Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero.” I find the experience oddly pleasing, the way I find Tracy Anderson’s arm series pleasing—the pain means it’s working. The roller set really seals the hair cuticle, gives it movement, and imparts shine. Plus, it’s less damaging than the dry heat of a flat iron.

Another fabulous thing about the DBO? The particular attention to your hairline. Regardless of the style, I always use hairspray on my hairline for a smoother, polished look. Most Dominican salons offer special little plastic ear-coverings to ensure they smooth every little hair around the ear, which I find particularly satisfying.

The end result is amazing: silkiness that lasts until you just have to wash it. For those interested in a more permanent ‘solution,’ these salons also offer keratin treatments, for which they apply the same detail-oriented tough tension. My sparer style and even sparer free time as a new mom compelled me to seek such a treatment at Marcella’s, my favorite Dominican spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I am a big fan of the result, though my enjoyment is tempered by the ongoing debate over its safety (due to the presence of formaldehyde). I’ve done my research... You’ve got to pick your battles.

Despite my straighter ‘do, I don’t feel I’ve succumbed to the male gaze…maybe the Phoebe Philo gaze, but can you blame me? The gaze I care most about—aside from Phoebe’s—is my husband’s, and he prefers curls. He thinks my Ruby Woo looks like clown makeup and I rarely rock a bold lip around him, but I’m completely immune to his preferences when it comes to my hair.

Bea's DBO spots:

Marcella’s Dominican Beauty Salon
249 South 1st Street
Williamsburg, NY 11211
Monday-Saturday 9am-7pm
Sunday 9am-5pm

Annabelle’s
159 Essex Street
New York, NY 10022
Mon-Fri 10am-7pm
Sat 9am-7pm
Sun 11am-3pm

—Bea McMonagle

*Name (slightly) changed

Bea McMonagle is a freelance beauty and fashion consultant living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram here.  McMonagle and salons photographed by Jane Houle; other images courtesy of McMonagle.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Coco

    Um. She looks 20 years younger in the newer photos. Styling is everything. Also I love the cameo by Rachel Bilson.

    • fairytalesandcoffee

      Likely don't know who she is and just thought, "oh pretty girl with pretty hair."

  • nicolecontrol

    I love this! I also have curly hair and am devoted to the keratin treatment. For my lifestyle - constant work & travel - it's been an awesome addition. I used to see Michelle Fiona (aka Michelle Snyder) back in the day when she was at Bumble and she is a genius and a wonderful person, too. I am thrilled to hear she's opening up her own salon. Thanks for this one, ITG.

  • http://glitterandgapske.blogspot.com/ Alyssa Gapske

    Just like Emily has been doing, she's making me want to chop my hair off. I must wait until fall!

  • sashi

    Thanks for the REAL curly hair post! The Julia Roberts comment is so accurate.
    Of course products are really personal and an expensive endeavor of trial and error, but I really recommend trying Tigi's Curlesque Curls Rock amplifier for styling, put in while hair's really wet. Most of all though curlys, Don't touch your hair while drying it! This is the number one thing to learn. Wait until it's 90% dry, it makes all the difference.

    Adding a lighter color in as highlights can keep curls from looking like a big mass also. Seeing different shades shows off the individual spirals. As for switching it up between curly and straight, I don't. For me, you reach a time when you find what works best for you and look like yourself!

    • BECKY LESTER

      yes! no touchy when wet! i put my products in with my hands and just let. it. be. amen! i like curls rock too. i recently switched to Bb styling cream. it's slightly less sticky and i can re-apply it to second day hair after re-wetting it a bit. i'm really liking the results. just thought i'd share.

  • http://twitter.com/blakeknees Jennifer Blakney

    I know SO many curly-haired ladies that lament over their deliciously wild hair. But, as someone whose hair needs to be tortured in order to even achieve a whisper of a wave, I've been envious of curly masses for as long as I can remember. Case in point: 3 perms from the ages of 14-17. I dig the boisterous body that can only come from the tightest corkscrew curls like woah.

    And Bea, girl, I HATE washing my hair as well and would kill to be able to go two weeks before needing to wash it again. My hair may be silky, but what was that on the first day is greasy by day three.

  • Erin Gladney

    Praise be the actual curly hair post! I actually think I went to Marcella's years and years ago when I lived in Williamsburg, but I'm running back for the keratin treatment. Your hair looks gorgeous! I'm a 4b and for other 4b ladies out there, Kinky Curly Curling Custard is also fabulous. I have been wanting to cut my hair for a while too and your long bob might be the final push.

  • fairytalesandcoffee

    LOVE HER corkscrew curls! I've always wanted super big curly hair but I ended up with tons of super flat at the scalp, frizzy at the bottom, straight-wavy fine hairs. Always fantasized about giving myself a perm to get curls but I don't trust those treatments to not severely damage my hair to a frizz bomb.

    As a Dominican, I am pleased to hear about a Dominican salon on ITG but also kind of mind blown. Of course for Dominicans, a Dominican salon is really just a salon, and the roller set-blow dry is not a special technique but just the way you do things. I haven't been to one in years, but I think it's time to venture back maybe for a deep conditioning. While the average Dominican salon is great for deep conditioning, blow drying and roller setting (and ridiculously cheap compared to other salons that want to charge you $50-75 bucks for a simple blowdry that they may struggle with and leave you poofy) many are not great for hair cuts or hair dyes. If anyone knows of a Dominican salon that actually has people who can cut hair type 1-2 hair (almost straight-wavyish hair - had to look up that hair typing system and now all those numbers and letters make sense) leave a rec below. :) Huge plus if they have some stylists proficient in English.

    • fairytalesandcoffee

      forgot to mention prefer manhattan Dominican salons with English proficient stylists who can cut hair.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beatriz.cardenas.33 Beatriz Cardenas

        Try Nelly at Annabelle's, the salon mentioned in this piece. Nelly speak great English and is very popular for all her services, not just keratin. Although, I feel for cuts to feel modern (especially shorter styles) you need a bit of razoring. I'd go to a salon where stylists have been trained in the razoring technique. I went to Bumble for the lob shown in these after pics.

    • http://twitter.com/BandTSmag Amber Nefertari

      Ditto on the dye part......my sister went to get a haircut one time and came back looking like Celia Cruz in the 80s and my other sister got her hair colored once and it was a coca cola red not very attractive. LOL

  • Anu

    Love this piece! I totally appreciate the diverse topics as of late! Curly girls rock!

  • MissWhoeverYouAre

    AMEN to the Dominican Blow Out!! I've tried going to "bigger" salons that receive praise on top of praise in magazines and blogs but no one can handle my natural (re: kinky curly) hair. Even when it's relaxed. It normally takes two or more stylists fussing about it. The DBO leaves my hair shiny, healthy, and lively. I've been going to the same Brooklyn salon for nine years now and I'm terrified to leave. #teamDBO

    So happy to see ITG on it (more for us kinky curly girls! or relaxed!)

  • http://twitter.com/jltjltjlt j.l. tebeest

    Yay! Curly girls unite! Loved this piece

  • Sheila Sanchez

    In 21 years I have not embraced the natural beauty that is my hair. And I just need to say: This. is. Fabulous! As a dominicana with hair -- just a bit -- MORE curly than yours I could not agree more with this post!

    I have my hair blown out 90% of the year... but with summer approaching, so is the 10% :( so I go out in search of curly hair posts to motivate me to just rock my natural God given do! Your post has been the most relatable thus far so thanks soo much for that, I will have to give that curly pudding a try.

    I will be workinn it this summer !! *finger snap* thanks chica !

  • http://twitter.com/BandTSmag Amber Nefertari

    Dominican Salons are a staple in NYC especially in the urban community. I know many curlies who like their technique (my sister was religious customers) but my hair is longer and way kinkier so I stick to my own straightening technique :)

    DR salons are so inexpensive...there are a few by my house that charge as low as $15.

  • wschuu

    She is a knockout, love her hair both ways. I'm stick straight and would kill for those gorgeous ringlets! (I know I know don't tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about.)

    I'm so sorry to be "that" commenter, but it is Kirsty Hume, not Kristy.

    Love you ITG, we read you at my salon errday :)

    • ITGNick

      Thanks for catching that! Glad to hear you guys are daily readers!

  • heidi

    Love to read about other curlies! Like many I'm a product junkie. I would like to recommend a new styling and hydrating tool for curlies called the Q-Redew. It is great for those no wash days. Check it out.

  • http://www.commonromance.com/ Couteau

    Mmmmm. You guys should keep in mind that straightening hair can be as dramatic as a nose job, albeit temporary. As with plastic surgery, even if you can't exactly place it, something looks odd. It's tinkering with God's work.

    She looks beautiful both ways, but the curls truly enhance her face.

    • Guest

      Not all plastic surgery is bad and, in any case, it's up to the person getting it to decide. As for God, if you believe, that's cool, but I prefer to leave religion out of the beauty salon and off of the blogs I visit, thanks.

    • Kathryn Lawrence

      lol @ this comment

  • filler

    Did a double take on that business card. So random!

  • Shannah

    Holy cow what a beautiful woman!! Love love love the blowout on her, looks incredible. Takes 20 years off of her, as said above.

  • Guest

    "...los Dominicanos."

    Oh Lord, yes. Those ladies gave me my first migraine and the straightest, shiniest, sleekest hair of my life. (I'm somewhere between a 3a and a 3b.) Those sisters do not play!

    Normally, I leave my hair curly, but whenever I want it really straight, I'm off to see a Dominican woman who lives an hour away from me. I wouldn't let anyone else touch my hair for this purpose. I make sure to bring plenty of Aleve or, if I'm really lucky, a designated driver and a bottle of vodka.

  • unvanquished

    Your hair in the last picture is what I tried to do with mine the last time I got it cut but my hair is too thin :( I definitely like it better than how long it was before though!

  • julie

    I have wavy (2b 2c) hair and I grew up in Miami and had many Jew-ban friends (no one believes me when I tell them what a Jew-ban is, ha ha) I totally know the DBO, although mine was not as intense. I am 110% with you that curly /wavy haired women should embrace their curls. I feel like I have a unique look with my wavy hair worn naturally,. Just product & air dry while I see all these poor ethnic women torturing themselves at my Beverly Hills gym to get silky straight hair ... l have spent so much money on product but in the end John Frieda's light weight Frizzease serum works the best on me. It is soft and shiny without looking wet and it constrols the frizz. Tried a few more expensive ones recently and totally dissapointed. http://www.not-going-out-like-that.com

  • Sarah

    I have "Brave" hair. Red and corkscrew, Curly power!

  • kneelbeforetigers

    YES to the Dominicana salons and BIG YES to the secret Bed-Stuy brownstone! The super-awesome woman who owns it totally cut(s) some fabulous heads, including Miss Kerry Washington and Doutzen Kroes!

  • mfzmou

    BuyHere

    I totally agree woth this
    post. I pretty much have exactly the same hair routine. If I have time though,
    once my hair’s completely dry, I like to use my curling iron to fix any curls
    that didn’t form right or are just going crazy that day. The trick is to make
    sure they blend in decently well an look natural. Otherwise it just looks silly
    to have these irregular natural curls, and some nice polished symmetrical
    curls.

  • redpanda

    Can you list a telephone number for Marcella's? I can't seem to find the number listed online... and would love to make an appointment for a keratin treatment! I have very curly and frizzy hair--although maybe not as kinky--do you think it would still be a good idea to go there? They sound great! My hairline is always a big issue as well...

    • http://www.facebook.com/beatriz.cardenas.33 Beatriz Cardenas

      Marcella's number is 13472414086. Honestly, they hate answering the phone because they are lean and mean and are usually busy. You can walk in and be taken care of on a week day any time. If you have to go on the weekend, keep calling:)

  • BECKY LESTER

    ha i love a ruby woo lip! it's my red fo sho. this post was informative and funny. i have naturally wavy/fine hair and it takes a wing and a prayer to get the right product/cut/color combo to make it wearable. Glad to know you've embraced your natural hair and have found what works best for you.

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Bumble and bumble
Bumble and bumble Curl Conscious Smoothing Shampoo
Bumble and bumble
Bumble and bumble Curl Conscious Smoothing Conditioner
Bumble and bumble
Bumble and bumble Curl Conscious Defining Creme
Miss Jessie's
Miss Jessie's Curly Pudding
terax
Terax Crema Ultra Moisturizing Daily Conditioner
Bumble and bumble
Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil
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