Big, Curly Hair: How To Manage God-Given Volume


Kate Branch has a great head of hair—we’re talking signature volume and texture. Which is why, when she told us that she’d spent most of her lifetime in an epic battle against it, we pressed her on what changed her mind. Her response involved Sally Singer, Solange, and blowdrying only the top fourth of her hair, so we thought her journey (and expert tips) deserved to be shared with anyone learning to live with (and love) their unapologetically present hair. Here’s Kate’s story:

I grew up in the north suburbs outside of Chicago, surrounded by friends who were all beautiful, and funny, and smart, and had great, straight—or at least tamable—hair. With my mom's Colombian and Lebanese roots, I was the only one with a head of seriously unmanageable hair. One hairdresser used to take cigarette breaks in the middle of blowouts. 15 years later, that wrist turn and shake of her numb arm still makes me cringe with embarrassment. It was too much shame to bear as a teenager, so I would make up some excuse and leave right before the blowout only to run home and blow-dry and straighten my hair myself. In my house, the smell of burnt hair was constant, and the likelihood of a fuse outage was high. It would take me three hours to finish a job—not counting breaks. And once complete, I would need another body shower just to wash away the sweat. I always thought if I didn't make it in magazines, I could moonlight as one of those "before" models in the Frizz-Ease campaigns.

In the spring of 2010, after years of good-natured teasing from my college friends about the amount of space my hair took up in group photos, I landed my first magazine job as the Assistant Editor at Interview. There, I began to feel more comfortable with my hair—it was a job that fed itself on the unordinary. After just under a year, I went to T: The New York Times Style Magazine to be a part of Sally Singer's regime. Singer is smart, cool and Californian-bred, she was a huge proponent of Hollywood's natural and unique beauties. As she would explain, we took less of a luxury-of-things approach, and much more of a luxury-of-ideas way of life. My first assignment was to find a group of women who could rock an afro in evening wear as good as any nicely groomed, straight-headed girl. We ended up booking Solange Knowles, Corinne Bailey Rae, Les Nubians, Esperanza Spalding, and Juno Temple for the shoot, and the hairstylist created huge 'dos that stood strong atop designers like Giambattista Valli, Rochas, and Valentino. The project bolstered my appreciation for my god-given volume.

It was at T that I was fortunate enough to meet my hair stylist, Mike Viggue. He cut his teeth at Sally Hershberger's salon and now occasionally assistants the legendary Anthony Turner on set and during fashion weeks. The first time I went to him, I asked for the good stuff: a keratin treatment. Six months later, I needed another fix, but he wouldn't give it to me. "Your texture is too interesting to ruin," he said. Interesting? For the next few years he cut and styled my interesting hair with his very capable hands, and a touch of Shu Uemura Yokan Craft hair wax, until I was ready for the ultimate test: a bob. I have been told by countless hairdressers that I would never be able to have bangs or short hair like my peers. Physics just wouldn't allow for it, they'd say. But Mike did it for me, sans bangs, and taught me a few tricks to keep it from, well, not being wider than long.

"Do away with washing your hair every night and try to go for two weeks," he said, pointing to his assistant who went strong for three or four at a time. I still wet it and condition my ends every couple of days with Kerastase Nutritive Oleo-Curl Intense Masque as a conditioner, but I am proud to say that after many months of debate, I now shampoo my hair with either Kerastase Bain de Force or Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil every 10 days or so. As for blowdrying, unfortunately with this length I can't always go au naturale. But instead of three hours, it takes me seven minutes to prep. After I put in a palm's worth of Kerastase Oleo-Relax Slim, which relaxes my curls with out hardening them, or John Masters Organics Citrus & Neroli Detangler, which is also good for gloss, I part my hair in three sections on each side, grab the roots with my hands, and blow dry only the top fourth of my hair. The rest of the way, I roughly comb my hands through and sort of scrunch, or twist or turn my hair under the low heat until I get to the ends. I leave the majority of my hair damp, though, besides the roots. I then spray Oribe Foundation Mist to refresh, and pinch my ends with my boyfriend's Cool Grease or Davines Melu Serum with cherry oil, which keeps them intact and helps pull my hair down instead of out.

On rainy and humid days or when, say, a heatwave hits, I remember what the renowned hair stylist Shay Ashual told me once while on set: "water is your best friend." Ashual, who has scrunched and twisted and turned hair for the likes of Lady Gaga, Joan Smalls and Lea Seydoux, is not one to lean on products for help. He is all for showers, at least for conditioning every day or so, and told me that if I want to get rid of those empty "pockets" in between my hairs, I should braid it the night before - extremely loose - with a piece of fabric acting as one strand of hair. This manages, but not over manages the "chill" texture I want. I still tend to throw my hair over either side of my head throughout the day, which adds to the volume, but keeps me feeling less styled and more free. And even a little proud to have a huge, curly, head of hair.

—Kate Branch

Kate Branch is a writer and entertainment editor based in Brooklyn, New York.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • thunderlegz

    My Janis Joplin Captain Hook hair wanted to say how lovely lovely Ms. Kate and her writing are...Imma read it again and again and work this mane in a new way (thank god).

  • Rachel

    Beautiful! Your hair is gorgeous + this was a totally educational post. I have super voluminous hair but equally super greasy roots, so I get that dreaded giant hair triangle look. I need to get a pad and start taking notes! Thanks, Kate!

  • Danielle

    This is awesome! It's so nice to read about other girls with curly hair and how they manage it. I have had a love/hate relationship with my hair since I can remember. I am mixed and I had no one who could teach me how to style my hair growing up. My mom and older sister had straight hair. I have spiral curls that are not too tight but nowhere near the wavy hair I dream for (think SJP in sex and the city early years). Every so often I get fed up with my curls and decide to go straight for a few years. After breakage from the flat iron, no matter how many heat styling aids I use, I end up having to force myself to love my curls again to avoid balding from the damage. I then start to get accustom to my curls and then go right back into the pattern of straightening since it is less maintenance (seriously!). There have been people who’ve never seen my curls and when they finally revert back they ask me how I got them haha. BTW I hate the term “going natural”… People always comment about how beautiful they are and how they wish they had my hair, and I think I wish I didn’t. Today I was just thinking how much of a pain it is to “tame” my hair every morning. It is such a task to have to wash my hair (which extends my shower, due to the technique that I have developed). Then to add TONS of product to avoid frizz all while trying not to disturb my curl pattern. Then to have to partially blow dry my hair due to time restraints and then go out the house with wet hair in the winter, which eventually freezes and gets that crunchy look of the 90s. Then I have to scrunch once it is dry (only when fully dry to avoid frizz) so I don’t look like a crunchy haired person (I used to like the crunchy look when I was a kid lol). I have thought seriously about a Brazilian keratin treatment but I know how much havoc that can cause. I might have to try some of the products mentioned, I am always up for trying something new (I am a product junkie).

  • Bolly

    Man....not washing my hair for that long would just be a HUGE hurdle to jump over. : |

  • Emily


  • katie

    "...braid it the night before - extremely loose - with a piece of fabric acting as one strand of hair"-- am I the only person having a hard time visualizing this?

  • MiaD26

    This is the best!!

  • jamaltang

    excellent tips, kate! your hair is BEAUTIFUL and i'm glad i now know how you do it (I thought it was magic!).

  • Julia

    I must be weird, but I have normal, straight-ish tame hair and have always wanted super unruly untamable volume. Any tips?

    • Kate

      Hey Julia, thanks for reading. And you're not weird at all. We all want what we don't have (though be careful what you wish for!). I'm a true believer that less is more. I shampoo less, I brush my hair less.... In fact, if you can use your hands in lieu of a comb this will help create a messier look. Scrunch the bottoms, and maybe even massage your roots and lift the tops a bit. Dirtier hair allows for a much better texture to play with, too. And if that doesn't work, take a trip to L.A. or Las Vegas -- your hair will surely react and act out there.

  • Christina

    Great article! I also have similar hair but with an oily flaky scalp and dry ends. I've had a few chemical straightening treatments with disappointing results and Ironing never works when I do it myself - just looks weirdly bumpy even after hours of work. Over the years I've learnt to manage the frizz and the dreaded 'triangle' by washing it every 7 to 10 days, using a paddle brush just beforehand to work the natural oils downward, a wide-tooth comb to distribute the conditioner evenly from the middle to the ends, applying some Kiel's Silk Groom with the comb after towel-drying and then twisting it up into a bun for 1 to 2 days. I'm not loyal to any particular shampoo or conditioner brand but at the moment I'm using Schwarzkorf BC Bonacure shampoo and Moroccanoil Moisture Repair conditioner. Then splashing regularly with water to maintain/tame until washing again!

  • BeautyBar

    my fave products are DevaCurl. The no poo shampoo is like not traditioanlly washing your hair, but gives you shiny, lustrous, clean-feeling hair -- with always amazing curls. Can't recommend it enough. Once I tried it I was hooked, and I had tried so many things over the years.

  • Amy Jo Whiting

    I loved this post because it totally reminded me of my hair life! I used to straighten my hair into a dead limp ponytail every day and hated it more than anything. Then I realized my hair had turned curly, like my mom's, since I started my period, and started scrunching it. I went total curly girl and chopped my hair a bit (there goes the dead ex-straightened hair) and got addicted to Bumble and Bumble curl conscious creme, devacurl shampoo/conditioner, and biolage gelee. It's a wild mess and it feels so much better. Glad ITG knows how to love curls :) (Happy Weekend, everyone!)

  • Sally

    Great tips! Thanks Kate for this informative and humorous article!

  • Nina

    Two much volume? Such a luxury problem. I'd kill to have her huge curly hair rather my own flat and lifeless. Ladies with natural texture and volume, YOU ARE SO LUCKY.

  • ALI W


  • Jade Smith

    You are so gorgeous!

  • GreekGirlGotCurl

    Please, please, pretty please with whipped cream, chocolate jimmies, and five cherries on top do a more in-depth article on her hair! She is so incredibly gorgeous and from the pictures, it looks like she has an identical hair texture to mine. As a girl of Greek heritage and a month old bob, I could really use the help on how to manage my frizzy/curly hair without crunchy gels and mousses. I'm also really curious about the whole braiding with fabric thing...Thanks!

  • CGJones

    I also love it (read: hate it) when people say I'm lucky to have this kind of hair - anyone else?
    But looking at her photo her hair she's so beautiful, her hair is gorgeous and I am so familiar with it. It makes me think I should feel lucky. Also, that I should wear lipstick.

  • Tams

    This is the only thing that I use to style my curly hair. It cuts the volume down in a good way. :)

  • anastasiaC

    love this post - I can SO relate...I also have a lot of volume but have curls and frizz too! Ive been washing my hair often lately and with cheap shampoo too - not good -I need to stop! two weeks is a long time though?! I also get blow outs at my hairdresser often and that helps keep me sane...

  • thunderlegz

    I feel like all the hair products that truly work for curly hair are all a billion dollars each and only work in consortium.

  • Christina

    i'd love to change my thin hair with big curls!

    Pretty Hairstyles 2014

  • Kristy Powell

    I only "shampoo" every 5-6 weeks. I use the Deva Curl line and it changed my life! Love my curls. :)

  • Andy Paez

    i dont think it took her three hours to straighten her hair or whatever she did to it, because my hair is curly and frizzy, super dry and long with so much volume and it tooks me one hour or so.


Shu Uemura
Shu Uemura Yokan Craft
Kerastase Nutritive
Kerastase Nutritive Oleo-Curl Intense Nutri-Softening Curl Definition Masque
Kerastase Resistance
Kerastase Resistance Bain De Force Shampoo
Shu Uemura
Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil Shampoo
Nutritive Oleo-relax Slim Intense Smoothing Cream
john masters organics
john masters organics Citrus & Neroli Detangler
Oribe Foundation Mist
Cool Grease
Cool Grease Ultra-Hard Z Pomade
Davines Melu Serum, Mellow Split Ends Repairing Sealing Serum