When you have thick hair, going shorter can be intimidating—and risky—as your locks may be prone to building extra body that could change the shape of your cut. But one fool-proof length for thick hair worth trying no matter your texture is just above or just below the shoulders. Whether your thick hair is stick straight, wavy, curly, relaxed, or natural, there's an ultra-flattering shoulder-length haircut that suits you. We tapped stylists to the stars Fallon Toni Chavez and Marcus Francis for their insider tips and tricks to taming thick tresses and expert insight into why mid-length cuts are the most flattering for this hair type.
From blunt cuts to long layers, keep scrolling for the most flattering shoulder-length haircuts for thick hair.
Meet the Expert
- Fallon Toni Chavez is a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles. Her client list includes Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, and Bella Thorne, among others.
- Marcus Francis is a sought-after stylist. His A-list clients include Julianne Moore, Emma Roberts, and Olivia Colman.
Olivia Palermo's wavy locks look effortlessly cool with a rough chop that gives her blunt cut more dimension. Chavez adds, "Shoulder-length cuts for thick hair are good for a few reasons. First of all, eliminating dry damaged ends, getting a fresh new start—it's a great alternative to cutting your hair short for a completely new look."
Long, Sleek Layers
Sleek hair looks impeccably polished in long layers that fall just below the shoulders like the ones Joan Smalls has. For added gloss, finish with Kenra Professional Shine Spray ($18).
Lilli Reinhart's cascading layers frame the face in dramatic descending waves that suit her thick, straight locks. For maximum hold, secure your finished waves with a hairspray like L'Oreal Paris Elnett Satin Extra Strong Hold Hairspray ($12).
Kerry Washington's curls make a glamorous statement as they sit right at the shoulders. You just have to ask your stylist to cut a tad longer so the length is maintained after your curls set. To get Washington's shiny, bouncy curls, we suggest investing in a curl cream. Amika Curl Corps Curl Defining Cream ($25) works especially well for thick tresses.
Okay, technically this cut is a tad shorter than shoulder-length, but we had to include given just how good it looks on JLaw. Francis especially favors this cut due to its versatility: "The length is long enough to keep the texture manageable and has several style options. The shaggy layers give the cut lots of movement and body while allowing the natural texture to look its best," he says.
To replicate a wavy shag, Francis instructs, "Apply [Better Natured Hydrating Milk, $22] when the hair is damp/wet. Make the desired part, and either let air-dry or use a diffuser. Use a flat iron to make a few additional waves around the face and on top of the head or a small curling iron to wrap around the hair once to create more of a bend here and there." Finish off with a few spritzes of Better Natured Beachy Texture Spray ($22).
Light, Curly Layers
Thick hair can take ages to style, so why not go all-natural like Solange? The light layers of her locks gently shape her voluminous curls that sit just above her shoulders. The effect is ethereal.
Sleek and Blunt
There's nothing boring about a blunt cut like Margot Robbie's that shows off the healthy thickness of your locks. Chavez says that when it comes to shoulder-length cuts for thick hair, you can't go wrong with "a super-clean, straight polished look."
Ombré With Long Layers
Long layers that fall just below the shoulders showcase Jourdan Dunn's gorgeous ombré. The gradient color is ideal for those with thick tresses since the lighter shade at hair's ends creates an effect that makes them appear less heavy.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's choppy, face-framing layers give her hair shape when worn wavy or straight. It's a versatile cut that can match any mood or occasion. In other words, this 'do is a winner among her many great hair moments.
Varied, Woven Layers
Nathalie Kelley's varied layers, cut just above the shoulder, are an effortless look for wavy-haired girls that requires little styling. Her caramel highlights show off her delicately woven hair, adding a feminine flair.
Side-Parted, Natural Curls
British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae's natural curly mane is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Keeping her layers at various lengths adds a bit of personality and shows that she doesn't take herself too seriously. It also keeps thick strands from appearing poofy.
Choppy layers in a rough cut just above the shoulders help to bring voluminous body to Selena Gomez's platinum locks. Layers are key here since they soften this cut and keep it from appearing too blocky—a risk when it comes to thick tresses.
Jennifer Hudson's sharp asymmetrical bob comes just past the shoulder at its longest point. To get this pin-straight effect, you'll want to flat-iron your strands. Then, follow-up with a hair serum like Garner Fructis Sleek and Shine Anti-Frizz Serum ($5) to add shine and keep flyaways at bay.
Padma Lakshmi looks sophisticated with this mid-length cut, but the choppy ends add a bit of edge. They also serve to make thick strands appear less heavy and severe.
Curly Shag With Bangs
From long to short, Zendaya has rocked a lot of looks that gave us hair envy, but we're into this shoulder-length shag that beautifully incorporates bangs. "Curly or wavy bangs are having a moment because it has shown many women you can have bangs even if your hair isn’t straight. They are sexy and effortless with this shaggy cut, giving lots of movement and texture. This style is no-fuss and makes a statement," says Francis.
Tousled and Blunt
A blunt cut can also look just as good on hair with a slight wave like Kendall Jenner's. Chavez tells us the best part about shoulder-length hair when she says, "You can get a fresh new look without cutting all your hair off. This length is also great with long layers or even bangs, and it can still be pulled back and up for other looks or exercise."
Sleek and Retro
Tessa Thompson's well-oiled waves are vintage glam. This style also serves a practical purpose by maintaining and shaping her thick tresses. To get her silky glass strands, we recommend using a product that will add a little weight and shine like Oribe Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil ($38).
Riverdale star Camila Mendes has stunning natural waves. This shorter, choppier, shoulder-grazing style suits her heart-shaped face and adds loads of texture to her strands. Layers like this can take the bulk out of thick hair as well.
Wavy Shag With Fringe
We first set eyes on Linda Cardellini as the loveable Lindsay Weir in the cult hit Freaks and Geeks, but now she is all grown up and she never looked better. Her modern shag is on point. She strikes a balance with her thick, heavy bang that pairs perfectly with her soft, romantic waves.
Big, Voluminous Waves
Janelle Monáe serves as one of our go-to sources for beauty inspiration, especially when it comes to hair. While we've seen her rock many styles, we can't take our eyes off of this shoulder-length 'do. Full of body, it's finished with a side-swept wave that gives off a slightly retro vibe.
Hair gems are a great way to mix things up when you have mid-length hair that may be harder to style in up 'dos. Kerry Washington's full curls are slicked down and pulled back in one small section near the part to create a canvas for bright stick-on jewels.
Vanessa Hudgens rocks a '70s-style straight bob with a sharp center part. A single-length cut without layers can work well for hair that is thick but not bulky, because layers are not required to create the illusion of more volume.
To hydrate course curls like Esperanza Spalding's, Francis recommends first applying Better Natured Hydrating Milk and Strengthening Leave-In Cream ($22) to wet hair and then again to dry hair after diffusing, lightly scrunching on ends to create definition.
Jenna Dewan's seductive Old Hollywood waves are the opposite of relaxed and casual. The hair follows the curve of her face, highlighting her cheekbones, and tips back in at the ends for a polished, red carpet-worthy look.
Yara Shahidi's beautiful ringlets are so well-defined you can practically see every single one. We especially love her eyebrow-grazing curly fringe and the healthy, high-shine finish of her hair.
With her relaxed waves and fresh tan, Kristin Cavallari is the poster woman for laid-back, beach chic. To get a similar look, use a texturizing spray like the Eva NYC City Grit Matte Texture Spray ($12) with argan oil and fatty acids for touchable body that doesn't feel crunchy.
Priyanka Chopra is serving up major volume. An invisible part really lifts the hair at the crown, adding loads of height and the appearance of a never-ending mane. To maintain soft volume, use a styling foam like the ultra-nourishing Joico JoiWhip Firm-Hold Design Foam ($18).
Thandie Newton's gorgeous brushed out ringlets show that thick, shoulder-length hair can have the appearance of loads of length.
A topknot with face-framing pieces, as seen on Dua Lipa, gets a trendy boost from dramatically contrasted black and butter blonde strands. Playing with color is another fun way to change up your style without going super short.
Hailey Baldwin pulls a twist on the classic half-up, half-down with a sky-high pony and thick blonde waves. The finished product has a quintessentially '90s California appearance that totally works with her complexion and natural makeup.
Rose Byrne's slicked-down side part erupts into an explosion of curls. The contrast between those two textures gives off a vintage vibe. Comb a strong hold gel through the areas you'd like to keep locked in place to recreate the look yourself. We love Kenra Styling Gel 17 ($16).
'60s Mod Waves
Scarlett Johansson's bob gets its mod '60s look from the bumped-up crown. Her hair is parted down the center in the front and then brushed straight back and teased slightly upward. To keep this style in place, use a flexible hairspray like Bumble and bumble Spray de Mode Flexible Hold Hairspray ($32).
Barrel Curled Ends
For another take on classic red carpet glam we have Megan Thee Stallion's glossy black barrel curls, which are fuller on the bottom than on top. We love how she's paired this style with simple stud earrings, a smoky eye, and lined lips for full glamour.
Carey Mulligan's curtain bangs for the 2019 Spirit Awards were styled by Jenny Cho. The bangs are parted down the middle to frame the brow area and then trickle down to her shoulders in choppy layers for a sort of polished shag style that would be equally at home in the office as on the red carpet.
This gelled on top, ultra curly on bottom style is popular, and always looks great. We love Logan Brownings twist, which features subtle finger waves along the front edges of her hair to play up the old school glamour. Check out our guide to finger waves if you want to try it at home.
Artfully Disheveled Fringe
Taylor Swift's side-swept '80s bangs give way to an artfully disheveled bob that just grazes the shoulders. Tons of choppy layers help add dimension, while the imperfect bangs help create a bed-head illusion.
Granted, this style of dramatically flipped-up ponytail could work on hair that's longer than the shoulders as well. We love Normani's super bouncy take. To recreate the look, run a flat iron through your hair and twist it up at the ends, keeping the heat on for a few extra seconds.
Constance Wu's choppy bangs and waves have an edgy, rockstar vibe when paired with glossy nude lips and smoky eyeshadow.
Lucy Hale's sleek, straight bob is the perfect match for a statement-making, gold-baubled headband. For a smooth, glossy finish, top your style off with Kiehl's Silk Groom Serum ($18).
Textured Low Bun
Scoop your shoulder-length bob into a low bun a la Diane Kruger. We love how she's kept the wave to her hair instead of slicking it down for a bit more texture. This up 'do is polished and sophisticated without coming off as stuffy.
If your hair is on the shorter end of shoulder-length, you can add a braided detail along the scalp on one side like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Kiernan Shipka. It's a sweet, flirty look that complements basic waves.
Natural Ombré Bob
Chrissy Teigen's flowing bob features a subtle ombré that moves from dark brown at the roots to toasted caramel at the ends. Along with a slight wave, the coloring creates movement and depth on a shorter style.
Margot Robbie's tighter wave pattern creates a mermaid-esque look that almost appears wet without being greasy or loaded-down with gel. Her butter blonde with shadowed root especially suits this beachy look. Keep this color fresh by washing once a week with dpHUE Cool Blonde ($26)
Loose, Curly Shag
Eiza Gonzalez rocks a playful, sexy shag with loose curl pattern and longish bangs. To enhance curls and manage frizz, apply Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream ($34) to damp hair and diffuse to dry.
Rashida Jones' long layers work beautifully with her piece-y, straight-across bangs. To style straight bangs while keeping the rest of your strands wavy, blow-dry them using a rounded brush like the EX2 Small Round Brush ($35).
Amandla Stenberg's braided bob is so chic and fresh. We love how it tucks up under her chin for a modern silhouette. Proof that you absolutely do not need super long hair for a totally braided look.
Twisted Up 'Do
Medium-length hair is certainly harder to toss into an up 'do, but when it's done right, the results can be stunning. We love Saoirse Ronan's take, which features a spiral twist at the side and elaborate structured bangs over the opposite eye. Secure with bobby pins and hairspray.
Flirty, Feminine Bob
Another way to style a shoulder-length bob is with symmetrical barrettes near the temples, a la Millie Bobby Brown. We love how this sweet, feminine look pairs with flipped ends and edgy ear jewelry.
Strategic layers take the bulk out of curls and help them fall in a flattering way without removing volume. Influencer Janibell Rosanne's shiny, lush ringlets are trimmed with strawberry blonde for a cool two-tone effect. Use a hydrating mask like Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Hair Mask ($36) to keep curls moisturized.
Zoey Deutch's lob features a soft wave pattern that gently frames her cheekbones. The lack of visible layers creates a very polished appearance, contrasting with the beachy vibe waves often connote, that suits her naturally thick hair.
Mullets are back, baby! The modern take is sexy, not dated, like this curly mullet by stylist Carri Antoniadis with bangs, lots of texture, and messy layers.
Halle Bailey, one-half of the duo Chloe x Halle, shows us how to fake medium-length hair by tucking up her locs into a beautiful, twisted style. This is like the cousin of the hair tuck in which you create the illusion of a lob by slipping the ends of your hair into your coat or sweater.
To refresh your style, spritz on Locsanity Rosewater & Peppermint Daily Moisturizing Spray ($13).
Choppy, razored layers create movement and depth on otherwise straight, thick hair. We love Margaret Zhang's punk fringe that hangs over her eyes. To recreate her high-wattage shine, try the Amika Glass Action Hydrating Hair Oil ($28).
This is such a clever way to style medium length hair for an event while leaving it down. To copy Florence Pugh's lifted crown, brush through some gel while parting the hair to one side. Finish off with a generous coat of hairspray.
Thick hair is the perfect canvas for a butterfly clips, which are officially back in style. These half-up wavy pigtails are a cheeky '00s throwback with bright, colorful clips.
Winnie Harlow's elegant lob has a slight dip-dyed effect thanks to chestnut ends that complement her nearly black roots and mid-lengths.
Big, voluminous curls like Iman's are a classic for thick, medium-length hair. Gilded caramel highlights add dimension to her brunette locks and light to the face.
Tik Tok star Charli D'Amelio's Instagram-friendly bob gets an alternative makeover thanks to hot pink streaks. The color is on the underside of her hair only, which makes for a fun surprise.
Viola Davis has the most perfect head full of ringlets. Look at all that definition! She's also a true testament to the power of curly bangs. While they can be tricky to style, they are so worth it in the end.
Kristen Bell's retro waves are the antithesis of relaxed beach waves, and that's exactly why we love them.
We love an asymmetrical cut; they make it easy to go shorter without taking off all or even most of your length. Jessica Chastain's vibrant auburn bob hits at about the chin on one side, while cascading over the shoulder on the other.
Mel B of the Spice Girls rocks double braids that move diagonally from front of her head, tracing down the back of her scalp.
Pinned Back Curls
Sandra Oh's pinned back curls have almost an updated '80s vibe. If your hair is not naturally curly, you can use a larger barrel curling iron to get that big, full look, and lock in place with a generous dose of your hairspray of choice.
Angela Bassett's ultra curly natural hair has been arranged into a rounded silhouette with a center part. Sometimes, when it comes to hair, bigger really is better. Paired with dangling statement earrings, this style is Disco-era chic made modern.
Admirers of the more nonchalant beauty look will find a lot to love here. Lea Seydoux's shiny, relaxed layers are low maintenance if you already have thick hair with a slight natural wave, or straight hair that retains waves nicely.
Jennifer Lopez may look as though she just hopped out of the shower or took a dip in the pool, but it's actually the result of some serious styling chops. Wet look hairstyles have been trending for awhile, and it's a fun way to switch things up for an event. For the 2020 VMAs, stylist Chris Appleton used Color Wow Dream Coat for Curly Hair ($24) and Color Wow Pop + Lock Frizz Control and Glossing Serum ($20) on Lopez.