I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Medium-length hair is the most versatile length since it falls smack dab in the middle of long and short. It's long enough to tie back into a ponytail or bun yet short enough to style without spending too much time or effort (speaking of styling, check out our favorite braided hairstyles for medium-length hair).
As someone who's had thin and fine hair her entire life, the only length that really works for me (no matter how often I shake my fists to the sky) is medium-length. If my hair grows too long, it starts to look scraggly and stringy. If I cut it too short, it looks sad and limp. Medium-length gives movement and life to my hair while also keeping any little amount of natural volume that I have intact. But there are only so many cuts you can dream up on your own, which is why I all but hoard celeb photos for salon inspiration.
Below, discover some of my favorite shoulder-length hairstyles and cuts for fine hair along with expert styling advice from hair industry pros Melanie Bolton and Gretchen Friese.
Meet the Expert
- Melanie Bolton is a hairstylist and director of education at Flow.
- Gretchen Friese is a BosleyMD stylist and certified trichologist. She has over 20 years of beauty industry experience and is based in Denver.
Blunt With Light Layers
While it's good to avoid over-texturizing hair with lots of layers in order to maintain and amplify fullness, that doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't have any layers. "A shoulder-length cut with light layers will still have a blunt perimeter but will have volume and movement," says Friese. "BosleyMD Style+ Blow Dry & Styling Gel ($19) and a round brush are also great for this style."
Nicole Richie's medium-length hair looks sleek and polished, thanks to big barrel waves and lots of shine—we like Sachajuan Shine Serum ($33) for replicating the latter. Richie is proof that you don't need to fake huge volume for an elegant, red carpet–worthy result. And lucky for us, this look is also "very simple to achieve," says Bolton.
"On damp hair, apply a volumizing product such as Flow Boundless Body Plumping Lotion ($22) to the root to add lift. Next, blow-dry hair smooth with a large paddle brush, directing sections upward and drying the root from underneath to amp up volume. Finally, use a large-barrel curling iron to create loose ringlets and finish the look with an all-over spritz of dry texture spray like Flow Root Reboot Texture & Root Refresher ($22) to keep curls from releasing throughout the day." See? Easy peasy.
Long Layers With Soft Waves
While those with fine strands should avoid a layer-heavy cut, there is another type of layered-look that can work for you, and it is one that we highly encourage. Ciara shows us how incorporating long layers with a slight wave gives the appearance of extra volume, density, and not to mention, romance. Feathery tapered ends also help breathe movement and bounce into her mane.
Softly Curled Ends
The secret to Elle Fanning's bouncy hair seems to be the softly curled ends, which keep any indication of limpness out of the picture. Use a 1.5-inch curling iron, like T3 Voluminous Curls 1.5" Clip Barrel ($95), to get that soft, seamless wave. We also suggest washing strands with charcoal shampoo—our under-the-radar secret for clean, bouncy hair.
Interior or Invisible Layers
While normal layers can have the effect of making hair look thinner—a definite no-no for those of us with already-thin strands—interior or invisible layers work to create texture and fullness. And according to Friese, they're also a great option for the person who wants to keep their hair on the longer side. "Because short hair supports long hair, adding shorter pieces under the overlaying longer pieces will create a lot of volume. I recommend blow-drying with the BosleyMD Style+ Blow Dry & Styling Gel ($19) and a round brush to achieve volume," she says.
Lily Collins emits youthful, beachy vibes with her hair's lived-in texture. Her beach waves are ideal for those with limp strands since they work to lift and undulate hair, creating the illusion of extra body. That red lipstick and those bold brows don't hurt either.
Wavy and Slightly Tapered
If you've got fine locks and a shoulder-length haircut, take a page out of Zendaya's book. Here, her hair is softly tapered off at the ends and curled throughout. The waves add texture and movement, which can help fine hair appear fuller and healthier. The slightly tousled texture lends an undone feel, making it the ultimate cool-girl look.
Shag With Curtain Bangs
Is there anyone more qualified to wear this '70s shag haircut than Georgia May Jagger? We don't think so. Her waterfall layers add extra body to this medium-length hairstyle, especially when they're curled back.
"For fine hair, this look is about encouraging volume and gentle texture at every step," comments Bolton. "On damp hair, apply a volumizing product like Flow Boundless Body Plumping Lotion ($22) to the root to add lift and a medium-hold texture cream (Flow Touchable Texture Design Cream, $22) through the lengths for definition. Create a center part and dry hair upside-down to 75 percent, flipping the hair upright to dry completely. Finally, using a flat iron, twist layers from mid-shaft down to create a slight flip at the fringe and gentle waves throughout."
The key to styling this look is to keep it unstructured and textured, notes Bolton. Use your fingers to tousle at the root throughout wear rather than brushing or combing, which will cause fine hair to lose texture and flatten.
January Jones shows us how to add bangs to a shoulder-length hairstyle. According to Bolton, "[It] is the perfect alternative for fine hair, as it has enough length to keep from becoming stringy and enough texture to keep from falling flat." The bangs are long and wispy, which blend into the rest of her wavy hair perfectly. Although bangs can sometimes make fine hair look even finer, you can avoid the stringy look by styling them with a texture spray like Moroccanoil Dry Texture Spray ($28).
"This fringe has a stand-alone style, which allows versatility in how you choose to wear your lengths," says Bolton. "To style, apply a volumizing product to damp hair at the roots. Blow-dry the fringe directionally, focusing airflow from the roots downward, and using your fingers to tousle. Finish by styling lengths into the desired look and applying dry texture spray to the fringe to provide lasting separation and control."
Straight and Tucked-In
Jessica Alba's collar-bone grazing hair looks healthy and full styled straight and tucked in. "There is nothing more elegant than a great medium-length cut to maximize volume, texture, and style," says Bolton. Flipping ends inward is a simple, yet effective, trick in making hair appear to have more body. Complete the look with a statement headband.
Slight Wave With Razored Ends
Cara Delevingne one of our go-to sources of hair inspo because she never disappoints. And while many of her best hair moments could be described as bold and daring, this cut is simple and understated, yet just as well makes a statement. Blunt-razored ends flatter by making strands look thick and dense, which is something those with fine-hair can usually only dream of. The alternating back-and-forth wave lends dimension and movement.
Light, Tousled Layers
Emmanuelle Chriqui's shoulder-length haircut looks stylish without trying too hard. "A medium-length cut can help to give fine hair the illusion of length and dimension while reducing styling time and providing longer-lasting volume," says Bolton. "The trick to keeping medium-length fine hair looking its best is to keep the style simplistic and supported by the right lightweight products."
We suggest setting this style with R+Co Vicious Strong Hold Flexible Hairspray ($32) after curling hair outward for a more tousled look.
Long, Face-Framing Layers
Ever since she sported "The Rachel" back in the '90s, Jennifer Aniston has remained big on face-framing layers. Although there don't seem to be any layers in the back, the front is sheared little by little, creating a curtain effect. It's flattering at every angle.
If you have fine hair and you avoid traditional bangs for fear they'll make your hair look sparse, Emma Watson's baby bangs might be the answer. Taking a highly textured, razored approach, the short feathered strands are eye-catching and not stringy in the slightest.
"It is important to apply a touch of medium-hold texture cream on damp hair at the fringe for control and to directionally blow-dry this section from roots downwards, using fingers to separate," says. "Once the fringe is dry, you can move onto styling lengths. Finish with a spritz of dry hairspray (Flow Impeccable Finish Fast Dry Hairspray, $22) all over, to lock in your look." Just know this fringe requires regular maintenance by the pros, so if you're not committed, we suggest passing on this style.
Lived-In With Deep Side Part
Parting your hair deep on one side can give the appearance of more volume—especially if you tease your hair at the root before combing the top down. "Especially when the hair on one side of the head is more sparse than the other, a side part is a great option," says Friese. "When the hair on the thicker side is parted to the thinner side, it will fill that side in a bit to create balance and thicker-looking hair. The BosleyMD Volumize Styling Hairspray is great for keeping that one side parted."
(Note: This product is currently unavailable. For something similar, we would recommend Ouai Volume Spray, $26.)
Long, Volumized Layers
Yes, Doutzen Kroes's hair looks majorly volumized here, but as fine-haired girls know, sometimes a little volumizing spray or hair-heightening dry shampoo works wonders on second-day strands. We love OGX Bodifying + Fiber Full Body Renew Dry Shampoo ($6), which literally boosts hair up before our very eyes. Nonetheless, her long layers build upon each other, making the mid-lengths of her hair look majorly dense.
Those with fine hair need not avoid bangs for fear that they will make strands appear stringy. In fact, the right kind of bang can make hair appear thicker than it actually is and look super trendy while at it.
"If the hair is thick enough in the front, a deep, thick fringe is a nice way to bring the focus forward to a thicker section of the hair," says Friese. "Being cut above the eyes will help those beautiful peepers stand out. I recommend using the BosleyMD Volumizing and Thickening Styling Mousse ($18) on wet bangs and blow-drying with a flat brush from side to side and then down to create that full blunt look."
Pinned Retro Lob
Selena Gomez pins her long-layered shoulder-length 'do to the side for a retro feel (the polka-dots and green shadow also lend a hand). "Any cut with a blunt perimeter will create the illusion of thicker hair than a cut with more texturized or feathered ends.," says Friese.
An all-one-length is a great option for thin hair, but it's also versatile. "It can be worn straight and sleek as well as wavy and tousled, which is very popular right now," she adds.
Margot Robbie's blunt lob goes from polished to rock 'n' roll depending on the red carpet she's walking. Even still, it never looks thin or scraggly, and we're thinking that has to do with her blunt cut, which makes ends appear thicker. Scissored ends showcase texture and the versatility of this style, which can be worn modern and edgy.
"A great way to give the illusion of dimension is to create a gentle shadow root effect," notes Bolton. She recommends working with your colorist to that end. Recreating this look is simple. All it takes is working a little volumizing product through damp hair, according to Bolton. After air-drying, apply a texture spray on dry hair, scrunching throughout, and finish with a spritz of hair spray.
Side-Parted Wavy Lob
Kerry Washington's lob looks thick and healthy, thanks to lots of shine and tiny alternating waves. The side part brings volume to her roots while the blunt ends bring density down to the bottom. Basically, it's perfection.