Throughout history, people with straight hair have chosen to wear curls to switch up their look. Renaissance artists glorified curly hair in their depictions of historical figures, and in the centuries that followed, men chose to wear curly wigs to denote social status. According to New York-based hair stylist Lauren Berrones, “in the 18th century, men’s hairstyles were greatly influenced by Greek and Roman art. The Romantic era of poets and painters made the most desirable hairstyles for men [those with] curls, waves, and movement. Once men would have it styled, they would refrain from washing so that it could last longer.”
We needn’t look too far back to see that trendsetters are opting to wear curls or create waves in their hairstyles. Snoop Dogg, often seen with straightened hair tied back or with braids, has styled his hair in waves to create some of his most iconic looks. Harry Styles, who frequently changes things up with different haircuts, has been seen wearing intentionally messy curls and waves that look great. And at the moment, waves and curls are definitely on-trend. “I often curl men’s hair backstage at fashion shows to add a bit more character and texture," says Beronnes. "I also see waves and rounder textures among current boy bands."
Looking to get the look on your own straight hair, or to further define the texture you were born with? Read on for a full guide to using curling tools on your hair, straight from Beronnes and celebrity hairstylist Eliut Rivera.
Meet the Expert
- Lauren Beronnes is a hairstylist based in New York City. She has styled for brands including Tibi, Balenciaga, Laura Mercier, Trina Turk, and Free People.
- Eliut Rivera is a celebrity hairstylist and owner of Eliut Salon in New York City. His elite clients include Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Jamie Lynn Sigler, and Gloria Estefan.
Defining Wavy and Curly Hair
Both of our experts tell us that men blessed with hair that is already curly or wavy can enhance their look using their hands. That said, they also recommend using products to ensure that your handiwork stays in place. “If you have naturally curly hair [you can] just to crunch it with some products to make it look more polished,” Rivera tells us. This is provided that your hair is at least two inches long.
Beronnes explains the technique: “After washing it, scrunch your hair dry with a cotton towel. While the hair is still damp, add mousse and a curl cream to help activate and reinforce a bit of memory and definition into the curls, which will add longevity to the texture. Add the products to your hands first and then to the hair in a 'scrunching' motion. If you’re wondering what I mean by 'scrunching,' it’s when you hold your hair in your hands or towel and squeeze it to shape the curls.”
Beronnes recommends Balmain Hair Couture's Hair Curling Cream ($46) and Lenor Greyl's Mousse ($48) because they are “lightweight and help activate waves and curls without weighing the hair down." She continues: "You’ll squeeze in upward motions toward your scalp like a slinky. As your hair dries, add more mousse to your hands and go in with twisting motions to help reinforce the areas that are not as wavy.” Rivera likes Milbon's Creative Style Molding Wax. “Apply enough to cover hair when it is wet and crunch with fingers until [you achieve your] desired look. Let it dry without touching the hair.”
Creating Curls and Waves on Straight Hair
If you are looking to add a bit of flair to your naturally straight hair, why not give some curls or waves a try? This may sound daunting to men who do not have curly hair, and while it does take a bit more effort, there are tools and products that can put curls and waves within reach. “On straight hair, you have to either perm it curly or use a curling tool,” Rivera says.
Beronnes concedes that using tools such as hot curling irons and rollers are not easy to self-administer, but reminds us that there are an abundance of online instructional videos to check out if you want to forgo a trip to the stylist and are game to explore different looks. “Be very patient. It’s important to learn the technique by practicing on small sections before you try to do it on your whole head," she says. "This will be very helpful because you can get the flow of the technique and then conquer all of the difficult angles afterward. If you plan to use a curling iron, wear a heat protective glove.”
When it comes to curling hair, short hair presents challenges because the strands are often too short to successfully curl, even with rollers and copious use of curling cream or gel. “You can add a curl to super short hair as long as you can clamp onto the smallest iron," Beronnes says. "We hairdressers like to call the smallest iron a ‘pencil iron,’ or in technical terms, a 3/8th-inch iron. I wouldn’t recommend trying this on your own since you will have to use a curling iron extremely close to your scalp. I would enlist a professional.”
Rivera tells Byrdie that he prefers heated tools for styling curly hair or shaping straight hair into waves or curls. “I recommend the Hot Tools brand. They come in different sizes and are easy to use.”
Curlers can be used on almost every hair texture and can have different effects, Baronnes says. For example, “you can use thinner curlers on straight hair and achieve a tighter curl pattern. If you use wider curlers, you will stretch out the curls or create loose waves as a result.”
Curlers should ideally be applied to damp hair, along with a product such as the In Check Curl Defining Cream by Tigi Bed Head for Men or Bevel's Curl Creme for Textured Hair ($12) to help maintain definition. Barrones recommends using Kitsch's Satin Heatless Rollers ($27) “because they’re nice and soft and comfortable to sleep in.” Rivera likes the Baybliss Pro line, which he says is “excellent for curling your hair, especially if the hair is naturally straight.”
According to Beronnes, once curled—with either curlers or curling irons—you can maintain your hairstyle by re-twisting the curl. “Small amounts of Balmain Hair Couture's Dry Shampoo ($41) can be used as needed to remove excess oil, keep your hair bouncy, and of course to smell good,” she says. Rivera also recommends applying a texture spray “so the style can last longer."
Read on to check out some examples of trending curly and wavy haircuts that can transform your look.
The Wet Mop
Social media sensation Josh Richards is seen sporting the "wet mop" look, in which—you guessed it—the top of your hairstyle is grown long and styled into layered, texturized, chaotic chunks of hair. This increasingly popular look is achieved by having the hair cut in a variety of layers on top, while the hair on the sides and bottom is a bit tapered, getting wider as you approach the top.
Use a curling iron or even a flat iron to twist hair layers to create random waves along with wax, like Tigi Bed Head for Men's Texture Molding Paste ($10), to create separation.
Textured Waves With Bangs
Suga of BTS has naturally straight hair but uses a curling iron to create a fun, heavily textured 'do. To achieve this look, ask your barber or hair stylist to use a texturizing scissor to cut random layers in an uneven pattern while leaving the hair long enough for bangs.
For a dry look, as he has here, apply a fiber such as American Crew's Fiber Mold Cream ($18) to show separation. You can also use a dry look hair gel to hold the wavy bunches of hair together.
Big, Bold Curls and Color
Lil Nas X is no stranger to daring looks. In this shot, he is shown with large, well-defined curls, which can be re-created with the use of wide rollers. Rollers come in a wide range of sizes.
If you have naturally curly hair, a product like Shea Moisture's Curl Enhancing Smoothie ($12) can be used to help the large curls stay in form. If you are planning to add color (even if it's not bright blue), consider a color-safe shampoo and conditioner like Purelology's Hydrate Shampoo ($34) to moisturize and maintain the color vibrance of your treated hair.
Parted and Wavy on Top
Here, Elvis star Austin Butler adds flair to a traditional side-part with waves. There are two ways you can re-create this wavy look on straight hair: With a curling wand (using only a small amount of hair, so as to not create fully-rounded curls), or by using a flat iron and twisting the hair in a backward motion to create waves.
In this style, the tapered sides are kept straight and full for contrast. With either tool, you will need to use product to keep the styling in place. For those with naturally curly hair, an activator such as Argan Magic's Curl Defining Cream ($14) might be a good fit. Those with straight hair should go for a stronger holding product, like Le Labo's Styling Concrete ($34).
Michael Cimino's look here is an alternative to a straight, side-parted haircut, featuring wavy hair with the top directed to one side without a well-defined part. The waves are created either with a curling iron or a flat iron twisted backward while the sides are cut shorter and subtly tapered. To create a high volume look like this, try a sea salt spray like Ouai's Wave Spray ($28) in combination with Paul Mitchell's Express Gold Curl Marcel Iron ($77) to make waves.
Messy, Tousled Waves
Harry Styles has been seen with many variations of curly looks, but this one is perhaps our favorite. This hairstyle evokes some intentional chaos, with clusters of hair being blown and scattered in different directions.
If you have curly hair, you would need to use a straightening tool and mousse such as Paul Mitchell's Flexible Style Sculpting Foam ($28) to relax the curls into long waves. If you have naturally straight hair, a curling wand and an occasional roller on wet, gelled hair will do the trick. Consider Bed Head’s Rough Volume 1 ¼” Curling Wand ($45).
Finn Jones of Game of Thrones fame shows a range of length and direction in this edgy curly haircut. The look can be achieved by using a range of different size curlers and curling wands, supported by curling creams and, in some cases, a fiber or pomade to create stronger hold to accentuate certain sections.
Given the variety of curl sizes and directions, a versatile tool such as L'ange's Le Cinq Curling Wand ($150) might be just the right tool to get the look, given the number of attachment options.