Achieving Low Maintenance Hair

Katie is a public interest lawyer living in Chicago with her husband, a basil plant named Boris, and a staggeringly large collection of cookbooks. She has very strong feelings about public schools, letterpress stationary, and beer. (And hair, obviously.)

Hello, I’m Katie, and I’m guilty of hair neglect.

If Whoorl is a hair savant, I was, for many years, a hair dunce. I rocked the frizz. Mousy color. Cowlicks galore. Unfortunate breakage around the face. I didn’t even use conditioner. In short: fluffy-haired disaster.

Here’s the thing: I don’t expend a lot of effort on my hair. I suppose I could get up a little earlier, spend a little more money on products, get a haircut more often than every 4-6 months. But…I don’t. I like my hair to look not horrible, but if it’s going to take a lot of time/money/effort, it’s just not going to happen.

The good news is this: after 30 years on this planet, I have figured out several tricks to making your hair look not horrible without a lot of time/money/effort. And now, I am here guest editing at Hair Thursday to share the joys of low-maintenance hair with you.

First, I should probably share my philosophy of what it means to be “low-maintenance”. For me, a low maintenance hairstyle has three main characteristics:

(1) it is easily and relatively quickly achieved in the morning;

(2) it does not require frequent, expensive salon visits; and

(3) it does not require a lot of pricey products.

It’s important to note that for me, low maintenance does NOT mean “wash and wear.” If you are one of those people who can look presentable with wash and wear hair, that must be very nice for you. I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve done a lot of wash and wear in my day, people, and it is not pretty (see “fluffy-haired disaster,” above.)

All right, now that we’re acquainted, time for Katie’s Low Maintenance Hair Lesson #1: Get thee a stylist you like and trust, and get thee the proper cut.

(a) Get thee a stylist you like and trust

Why is it so important to find a stylist? After all, you’re low maintenance! You’re not the prissy type who has her beauty professionals on speed dial! Trust me, it took me a long time to learn this one, and it is important. If you’re only going for a cut 3-4 times a year, the person cutting your hair has to rock. When you find the haircut that works, you do NOT want to try to explain it from scratch to whatever random 20 year old happens to be manning the hair chair the next time you go in for a cut. Cultivate a relationship with someone who actually LISTENS to you, and who can remember what she did last time, so she can replicate it.

(Note: In your quest to find the perfect stylist, you do not necessarily want to go to the trendiest or fanciest salon in your ‘hood. Why? Because their ideal clients are people who get highlights, and glossing treatments, and haircuts named after celebrities. None of these things are low maintenance.)

(b) Get thee the proper cut.

I know, I know, easy for me to say. This will depend on your hair type, thickness, preferred length range, and tendency to pouf. But here are some general hints:

  • Longer is easier. Short sassy cuts can be really fun and pretty, but short cut = more frequent trips to the salon for upkeep. If you lack the time or inclination to get to the salon regularly, a cut that is shoulder-length or longer will serve you well. Plus, with longer hair you always have the ponytail option.
  • Choose long layers. Long layers will give you a cut with nice movement and shape, and (key point, this) are very forgiving as they grow out. An all-one-length cut can start to look straggly and uneven after only a few weeks. With some well-snipped long layers you can go months between haircuts. Beware, however, layers that are too short or too thin- if your hair is fine, the longest layer can start to look a little wispy and sad, and if you have any wave in your hair things can get very poufy. Here is a helpful illustration:

low maintenance layers:

Mark Von Holden/WireImage.com

decidedly NOT low maintenance layers:


  • Consider the cowlicks. Know your cowlicks, and do not choose a hairstyle that is going to require you to constantly battle against the way your hair wants to grow.
  • Embrace side bangs. (Even if you have a cowlick in the front of your head.) Look at me, contradicting myself! The one place where I think it’s worth it to break the “don’t fight the cowlick” rule is with side bangs. I have a very large, frightening cowlick in the front of my head (plus a widow’s peak! Bonus!) but I have happily sported side bangs for over 5 years now. Side bangs mask a lot of flaws, particularly breakage/frizziness around the face. Also, if you ever wear a ponytail, side bangs make things look a lot more polished. Generally speaking, the addition of some side bangs makes you look like you have a “hairstyle” as opposed to “a bunch of strands growing out of my head with no obvious plan or organizing principle”.

There! That’s a start.  Tune in for future adventures in Achieving Low Maintenance Hair, including color tips, product recommendations, how to stay low maintenance while traveling, and detailed instructions for low maintenance special occasion hair.

  1. samantha jo campen

    December 15, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I have been searching for you. My hair needs your wisdom.

    I am especially looking forward to low maintenance special occasion hair! :-)

  2. Red Lotus Mama

    December 15, 2008 at 10:24 am

    In June I got my hair cut and highlighted. It looked fabulous … for about 3 months. The cut grew out nicely, but I had some serious roots. Yesterday (6 months later) I got my hair trimmed (the longer hair is much easier to style daily) and colored. This time I opted to return to my natural hair color, but had peek-a-boo highlights put in. Solution to not having obvious roots. I love it! Check it out: http://tinyurl.com/5h37a5

  3. Kristin C.

    December 15, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I too am in love with the side bangs. I’m a nurse and do yoga and workout several times a week. This leaves me with my hair up in a ponytail most of the time. The side bangs give me a much better look than the pulled back sweaty worm head I had before. You can even bobby pin them up in a fancy way once and awhile for a little something different!

  4. Brittany

    December 15, 2008 at 11:44 am

    I totally agree with the “Get thee a stylist you like and trust” rule. I found a guy to cut my hair 5 years ago and have been going to him since. I got my hair cut on Friday, and after washing my hair I thought I hated the cut. Once it dried however, it was awesome! yay to my stylist knowing my hair better than I do.

    (His name is Chuck, and he works at the Arrojo studio in NYC: http://www.arrojostudio.com/)

  5. Keryn

    December 16, 2008 at 10:58 am

    I have a question about side bangs. I have long, wavy-curly hair, and I’ve wanted to try side bangs forever, but I’m not sure if that would work. I am not willing to straighten my hair because I’m lazy. Sometimes I think side bangs would be great, and others I’m afraid I’d look like a total moron and hate myself for having them cut. What do you think?

  6. Teresa

    December 17, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Thanks! I enjoyed the tips.

  7. Amy

    December 19, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve recently been moving “up” to the low maintenance tips here from what I always considered low maintenance but now I’m realizing was abysmal neglect (get hair cut by friends in exchange for beer every 6-9 months, did not own blowdryer or brush, comb once every few weeks, buy cheap shampoo, neglect conditioner–that sort of thing. Somehow it never looked as bad as you’d think, thanks to the volume and curls.)

    Anyway, I now completely believe in the power of a good stylist (I trust mine with my hair more than I trust myself) and quality products. I’m still super low maintenance (still comb once in a blue moon, still don’t own a brush or dryer, still wash at night, sleep on while wet, wake up , run fingers through it and go), but I’m happier with my hair because the cut works with its natural qualities rather than fights them. I have long, thick, curly hair, and I’ve always wanted cuts that would favor straight hair. My stylist has actually refused (nicely, I might add) certain requests because she knows my hair so well. I just got 6 inches cut off last week, and the cut is even more wash and wear than ever. Wash every few days at night, add product, go to sleep, and ready to go in the AM. I don’t know what I’ll do if my stylist moves!

  8. Mel

    January 2, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I’ve got a question about side bangs. I tried them a few years ago and occasionally they’d look great (just lucky days), but I have a cowlick and usually that caused them to go up and over to the other side, basically joining the rest of my hair rather than sweeping across my forehead. I tried blow drying them forward and down to the side, like the stylist did, but it didn’t help. Do you have any tips on how to get side bangs to behave when you have a cowlick?