The Secrets of the J.Crew Undone Bun


I’ve been poring over J.Crew catalogs like they were the September issue of Vogue for as long as I can remember. Unlike the magazine subscriptions that my mother deemed too expensive, too grown up, or too frivolous for my pre-teen/young adult self, J.Crew’s catalogs were free. They also came nearly as often as a monthly rag and were just as 'editorial.' It was through J.Crew that I became acquainted with:

1. The faces of Joan Smalls, Hilary Rhoda, Lauren Hutton, The Real World: Paris' Mallory Snyder, Arizona Muse, and Erin Wasson

2. The theory that one can layer any permutation of colors, textures, and t-shirts

3. Great hair

Confession: I have spent more than a decade trying to replicate J.Crew’s perfectly undone bun—you know the one. The anti-updo that looks like the girl left the beach, tossed her hair up, threw on a swipe of lipstick and a cocktail dress, and called it a day, all the while being trailed by a wind machine. But no matter how I went about it—bobby pins, hairspray, clean hair, dirty hair, blowouts, or air drying—I just couldn’t quite master it by myself. It either looked too flat, too clean, or way, way, way too messy (erring on really dirty). But just as I was about to resign the whole thing to that unattainable ease only models can pull off, I realized that I could just ask J. Crew… so I did.

Last week, I called up J.Crew’s style director, Gayle Spannaus, who's been helping to define the company as a stylist for twenty years. “I like the 'nape knot' and the top knot, which is what we call them," she told me, "because they are sexy without being overtly bombshell. They’re feminine, not fussy. And they embody that undone done thing that J.Crew is known for. It’s hair that can juxtapose something polished, but we aren’t afraid to put it with a pair of denim cut-offs and a fatigue jacket, either.” Ugh, Gayle, exactly. And, she encouraged, “Anyone, and any hair texture, can do it.”

Really? So… how? She explained: “You want texture—so if you’re hair isn’t naturally beachy, start with it damp, add a bit of salt spray to your roots—we’re using Lavett & Chin’s Original Sea Salt Texturizing Mist—and run your fingers through your hair. The salt spray is going to hold your hair together while it’s up. You can even add tousled separation to a blowout with salt spray, but the less brush and comb use, the better.

"For a top knot or a bun in the middle of your head, flip your head over to put it into a ponytail. You never want that droopy, matronly hair at the nape of the neck. To achieve a sexy 'tomboy bun,' keep the hair under your ponytail tight. So while you’ve got your head flipped, push your hair up, up, up. If you need to, spray a little sea salt onto your hand, and then push your hair into the elastic. Once secured, twist your hair around the ponytail and secure it with bobby pins.

“The same thing will apply to the nape knot," she said. "Finger comb your salt-sprayed hair back into a loose pony. Then pull the ponytail halfway through the elastic.

“Either way, a good trick for taking weight out of a really thick bun is to hold your hair like Pebbles from The Flintstones, splitting the ponytail in two, and then wrap one half of the ponytail clockwise around itself, and the other half counterclockwise. This way big, huge, massive hair won’t all go in one direction."

OK, but how to avoid a tight, serious, business bun? “To give it a J.Crew spin, pull a couple of pieces of hair loose from your bun and from the front of your hair with your fingers. That’s where the femininity comes from. Secure the few random dome pieces with bobby pins—that will keep it from falling flat. You know how Coco Chanel said to always take one thing off before you leave the house? I’m always about pulling out one more little piece of hair. [Laughs].

“And, If you want to get really tricked out, though it’s not really J.Crew’s style, I think it would be fun to put two braids into the ponytail and wrap them, in opposite directions, into a bun.”  Gayle, you're crazy.

So, after all these years, it’s been that simple. “I would never want to represent a hairstyle you or I couldn’t do on our own." Hear, hear. Expect to see me at the Gloffice, summer weddings, and on dance floors across America with said style. It's about time.

—Mackenzie Wagoner

Photos courtesy of J.Crew.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • thesixthbeatle

    Love this laid back style. There is nothing more chic or prettier.

  • Janine

    Great post! I can never get my hair in a knot. It's baby fine but I have a lot of it so it just gets bushy-messy. Thank you! I'd also love to see more on the makeup for the catalogs.

    Those catalogs are a mystery. No one really talks about makeup/models/hair/locations in those catalogs...until here today. I read somewhere that one of their favorite red shades is NARS 'Red Square' but that's it.

    I actually save some of their catalogs because of specific layouts (some of the older catalogs including some older ones with Benhati Prinsloo are just gorgeous, one photographed in Boston, and one that was photographed at the Kaufman house in Palm Springs. Thank you! <3 ITG

  • Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

    I'm always moaning to my friends about my hair as it's fine, but there is a lot of it, however, it is great for the updo, especially a nape knot.

  • julia

    Can we do a post on the makeup at JCrew? Very few "mainstream" retailers use such bold lipstick and it looks terrific.

    • Veronica

      This, would be fantastic!

  • Pink Elephant

    I love hairstyles like that! Have had the same problem achieving something that looks a bit messy but not quite like there are birds nesting in there. Will definitely try Gayle's tips on myself this weekend.

  • srnhrrs

    I think the hair works well as it's styled in the catalogs, but would look unbecomingly disheveled in the context of everyday life, especially at a job.

    • Kate

      It's time to change jobs;) jk!

  • jessica

    great article but who is the HAIRDRESSER? its great the style director gave the styles names, but who is the talent?

  • Randi

    I've been doing it wrong all these years. Salt spray. I need a salt spray.

    • Janine

      Organix (Argan line) has a new salt spray that's supposed to be pretty good.

  • eumcacodevidro

    jenna is still there!

  • Jen at Jen Darling

    My hair has been acting up with this summers heat + it's longer than I've had it in 8 years... This is going to be great to try and take all that new found frizz! Thanks!

  • Jessica Lee Hart

    i love this look! my hair in the summer already looks like a messy bun so...Im kinda happy its a style now :)

  • katiedonnellyphotography

    THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! JCrew is just effortlessly fab.. I can't wait to try! I just hope this works with my insanely long summer hair.. ps.. ITG rocks!

  • Cat

    This is excellent. Now I just need to learn the secret behind Olivia Palermo's hair, and I'll be set.

    • julia martin

      haha YES Cat!

    • jmarie

      meee too. she has such beautiful hair and I would love to know which products she uses. I use alterna caviar and haven't found anything better than that so if we could find out her regime we'd be set! she did say once she just uses a really good conditioner but no name is not helpful!

  • Katherine

    I absolutely LOVE J.Crew buns, but can't seem to master them either. I'll have to try again and see how it goes this time.


  • tera

    i USED to love JCrew in high school, when ironically I could afford their clothes because jeans (which were correctly made with 100% cotton!) were $38. Now that I have actual income, their things are out of my budget. How can this be? Their prices are out of control, Settle down Jcrew.
    I'm feeling really snarky, because honestly, just put your hair in a bun and dance to Blurred Lines at a beer garden this summer- viola, perfectly undone.

  • Alissa from ChicPeek

    What a great post! I'm really liking the undone bun for summer. Whenever I roll out of bed, my hair seems to be perfectly undone and pretty, I'll use some dry shampoo and be set! Thanks for the tips.

  • Babs

    Two words: Spin Pins. I believe I discovered them via a post on this blog a while back, and they are available at Duane Reade or CVS. They secure the bun without the elastic that screams 'I just came from the gym.' Perfect for fine hair, too.

    • julia martin

      I couldn't get those to work for me!

  • Rachel

    This is so pretty!


  • Wyllowpatty

    I realize I am about two years late here. But as a fellow J.Crew Catalog lover, Brava! I always wondered about the hair as well. And for years I have loved the J.Crew style. So much more wearable than anything you would ever see in Vogue or Bazaar. And since I don't usually spend $5000 on a day dress - or any dress...J.Crew has wonderful alternatives. The J. Crew models are gorgeous with very minimal makeup. And it is just a lovely look. I always save the catalogs. Thank You!


Lavett&Chin Original sea/salt texturizing mist