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The Secrets of the J.Crew Undone Bun

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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.