Tips and tricks for gorgeous, long-lasting natural hair for weddings
For as long as I can remember, water has been my nemesis. Don’t get me wrong, drinking water=good, but (unexpected) water in hair=bad, very bad! For trips to the pool or the beach, I often opted for the indestructible power of braids or I resorted to old-school granny swim caps, just to keep my hair in the same state that I arrived with.
I had it all figured out. If I knew my schedule for the week, I would plan my hairstyles accordingly. I had workout hair, waterpark hair, and sit still-and-be cute hair. But as any girl with natural hair in Houston has figured out, a sudden unexpected torrential downpour or a high humidity day could give you up to 3-4 different hairstyles all within 24 hours. Keep your hairpins, rubber bands, headbands, and baseball caps on standby!
But even at some of the most inopportune times, I proudly refer to my hair as a chameleon. I love the fact that I am able to quickly turn my flat-ironed hair into a wavy, textured ‘do. I can slick my hair back into a tight ponytail or bun, wear a textured fishtail braid, or go full volume and channel my inner Diana Ross - just like that. I must admit that I am always amused by the looks on my acquaintance’s faces when they don’t immediately recognize me after a style change. It is such a delight to be able to play dress up everyday and almost look like a completely different person just by changing my hair.
While the beauty of having natural hair can be fun for everyday wear, its aversion to water and humidity could be a nightmare on your wedding day. A typical wedding day for most of my brides can last for more than 12 hours. Wedding day hair styling must outlast multiple make-up applications, pre-event photo sessions, the ceremony, post-ceremony photos, the reception, and dancing til the break of dawn.
There will be tons of photo ops on your wedding day. While some photos will be taken by your hired professionals, many shots will be taken by a slew of amateur photographers. These amateurs, eager wedding guests equipped with Smartphones, are ready to capture you at some of your most awkward moments throughout the night. Today’s brides are literally a gust of wind or a bead of sweat away from having an unflattering image of themselves immediately plastered all over social media, cemented in time FOREVER!
Okay, I’m being overly dramatic, but who doesn’t want great hair for their wedding day? Your wedding day should be an experience where you either (1) feel the most like your best self or (2) escape into the fantasy of your inner “Sasha Fierce” complete with wind fans and crowds of adoring onlookers. Natural hair brides should not be an exception to my philosophy and are no less deserving of long-wearing, gorgeous styles for their wedding day. Unless you really want to, brides with natural hair do not have to beat their hair into submission, removing any traces of texture if that’s not what they want to do. Instead, our goal is to reveal some of the tricks of the trade for creating photo shoot worthy bridal looks that embrace all of your kinks, curls, waves, and coils.
Natural Hair 101
More formal sources often define natural hair as hair that contains no chemicals or that has not had any products applied that do not organically exist in nature. This definition would include hair coloring, hairsprays and finishing products, relaxers, and more. However, for the purpose of this post, natural hair is defined as hair whose texture has not been altered by a chemical hair relaxer.
Traditionally, there are 3 original major ethno-hair groups or profiles: Asian, Caucasian, and African hair. Of the three ethno-hair groups, people of African descent will typically have hair that is characterized as being “extremely curly” and having the following characteristics:
Tightly curled with a spiral-like growth pattern
Growing almost completely parallel to the scalp (instead of perpendicular or diagonally as in Asian and Caucasian hair respectively)
Higher growth density than Asian hair, lower growth density than Caucasian hair
A slower regrowth rate
Hair follicles that produce more oil, but do not stretch along the length of the hair fiber
Dry, non-flexible hair fibers along the length of the strands
Extremely sensitive to humidity, resulting in dry, frizzy hair
More susceptible to breakage when combing or brushing in both wet and dry states
the high Heat and Chemical Movements
Due to these common characteristics, African Americans in the early 1900’s developed systems of using heat along with special pomades and oils to temporarily and non-chemically straighten the hair to combat issues of frizz, breakage, and dryness. Flat iron, meet your predecessor- the hot comb! And while some sources document the first use of a chemical relaxer to straighten hair in the early 1900s, most will indicate that the “chemical boom” happened sometime in the 1960’s.
the rETURN TO nATURAL hAIR
While many of us may have enjoyed the flexibility of chemical relaxers for years or even decades, reports of increasing health concerns began deterring many of us from using traditional chemical relaxers to straighten our hair. However, old habits are hard to break and transitioning from the long-running beauty standard of bone-straight, chemically relaxed hair to naturally-textured styles took a while for many to fully embrace. It wasn’t until the mid to late 2000’s when natural hairstyles began to be “normalized” in mainstream American culture and media that multitudes of women started embracing their hair in its natural form. This “normalization” lead scrambling beauty execs to create shelf space for this new haircare revolution. Within the estimated $2.5 billion US black hair care industry, a 30% drop in chemical relaxer sales was observed between 2011-2016. The bottom line: the shift from relaxed hair to natural hair led to (1) an increased variety of natural haircare products, (2) a heightened sense of urgency to include natural hair styles in visual media, and (3) the explosion of the how-to natural hair care video.
In many ways however, the natural hair care boom may have inadvertently left many of us a little more dazed and confused than ever before. With the increased attention to our hairstyles, some of us may feel like we were given more products than we could ever use, more tutorials than we could ever watch, and even more information than we could ever process and apply on a personal level.
Unfortunately, with this wealth of information, it has been my experience that there are very few resources on how to best style natural hair specifically for weddings. So we decided to ask an expert about the best options for creating beautiful natural hair styles that are long-wearing and high on style.
Ask an expert
Sean Dapper has been in the beauty biz for over a decade. Her experience includes working at the internationally renowned Tony & Guy Salon and Houston’s Blow Dry Bar. Sean is now the owner of the Sean Dapper Studio which specializes in weaves, wigs, blowouts, and wedding & special event hair. Sean’s greatest passions are bridal services and custom wig making.
Sean considers it a great honor to be chosen to be a part of someone’s love story and enjoys every magical moment of working with brides. Her international bridal clientele includes a diverse group of women with various hair types and textures, including women from Canada, Nigeria, the UK, and Amsterdam. Her work has also been featured in Munaluchi Bride Magazine.
Personally, Sean has natural locs and frequently wears wigs to change up her hairstyle up to 3-4 times a week- just to keep things interesting! Sean loves working with natural hair and confesses that her best work is done on hair that has not had texture chemically removed. She believes that there is an indescribable shine, body, and movement to natural hair that is often stripped away once hair has been chemically relaxed.
I thought that Sean would be the perfect person to ask about the ins and outs of natural hair. More specifically, the nature of natural hair and how to outwardly manipulate it to stay in place for 12 hours or more for a wedding day.
Below you will find Q&A sections where Sean has been kind enough to answer some of our toughest natural hair questions.
naTURAL hAIR pHILOSOPHIES
Q: What are some common terms that are used when describing natural hair?
A: Texture, porosity, elongation, shrinkage, and humectants are terms commonly used in reference to natural hair.
- Although some still use the hair texture classification system that was created in the 1990s (i.e. the 2B, 3A, 4C, etc.), I prefer to group hair textures as simply being either (1) curly-wavy or (2) extra-curly.
- Porosity refers to the hair’s ability to soak up water and product. Indicators of high porosity include split ends and a hair strand’s ability to float in water. High porosity hair sinks, while low porosity hair strands float.
- Elongation (or hair stretching) refers to the products and/or practices that change the curl pattern of naturally curly hair into a larger curl pattern. Elongation combats shrinkage or hair’s ability to look shorter, more dense/compact, and have a more tightened curl pattern. Shrinkage is typically dependent upon hair type and porosity, with curly hair being able to shrink up to 90% of its original length.
- Humectants are additives in skin and hair care products that are designed to keep moisture locked in. This is good in some cases. However, a combination of a very high humidity/high temperature environment, curly hair, and the use of products with humectants could spell disaster. Using products heavily packed with humectants may cause sticky, puffy, frizzy hair in climates similar to Houston. The best way to locate these hidden ingredients are to review the ingredient labels of your hair care products.
Q: What hair care ingredients are most beneficial to natural hair?
A: Moisturizing products are critical to natural hair. More specifically, natural hair responds best to moisturizing products that are more creamy in texture instead of oily or watery. Keep in mind that water-based leave-in conditioners may often cause shrinkage.
Q: What hair care ingredients are the most harmful to natural hair?
A: Any products containing alcohols.
NAtural vs chemically-straightened hair
Q: What types of clients are a better match for natural hair versus chemically-relaxed hair?
A: I find that clients who have the time, patience and/or money required to maintain natural hair are the best clients. With natural hair, I have clients who see me about 1-2 times a month to style their hair. These clients spend about 30 minutes a day on maintenance in between appointments.
Natural hair wearers who decide against seeing a stylist regularly, will spend about 2 hours (per style) duplicating my same services. The style and upkeep time is typically less for chemically-relaxed hair.
Q: What types of wedding hairstyles are a better match for chemically-relaxed hair over natural hair?
A: Brides wanting to rock short, sleek styles or finger waves will have better success with a chemical relaxer.
Wedding Day Staying Power
Q: What types of natural hairstyles should a bride avoid on her wedding day if they want long-lasting hair for a 12-hour+ day?
A: Any hairstyle in which the natural hair (without hair extensions, braids, coils, locs, etc.) is worn down and exposed to the elements should be avoided, unless they are going for a “messy” look. Unfortunately, most natural hair will not remain in the same state as originally styled if the hair is worn down. This includes styles created by temporary straightening processes such as a silk press.
Q: What’s packed in your must-have product “toolbox” when on-location for weddings with natural hair clients?
A: I have a list of about a dozen items that I just can’t live without! These products range from smoothing tools to edge control products to holding sprays and sheens that help prolong staying power.
Braids, Locs, Weaves and Wigs
Q: What types of pre-event maintenance and prep do you recommend for brides with braids, locs, and twists before day-of hairstyling services?
A: My services include styling only, no maintenance. So brides arriving with braids, locs, or twists should have their hair recently tightened or newly braided, loc-ed, or twisted by the stylist of their choice within one week of their wedding date. Additionally, brides with braids, locs, or twists should arrive with their hair product-free and with freshly washed edges before I begin my portion of the styling process.
Q: How do you implement the use of hair extensions into styling natural hair for weddings? What are the benefits of mixing extensions into natural hair designs?
A: For weddings, I always suggest mixing in hair extensions with natural hair no matter what the texture, density, or length of a bride’s natural hair. With the vast variety of different hair textures available for purchase, finding a matching texture to the bride’s own natural hair texture is very easy. Depending on the hairstyle, I alternate between using clip-ins, sew-ins, or braiding hair.
Hair extensions have the capability of holding styles longer than natural hair, especially when exposed to heat, humidity, and precipitation. Using extensions creates an enhanced, longer-lasting version of the bride’s own natural hair.
Q: How far in advance should brides have sew-ins done before their wedding day?
A: I recommend that brides have fresh sew-in extensions done by the hairstylist of their choice less than a week before their wedding date.
Q: Do you ever recommend the use of wigs for wedding day hair? What is the best way to take care of your natural hair underneath wigs?
A: I would definitely suggest the use of wigs for brides with damaged hair and/or a “compromised” hairline; however, I suggest that brides opting for wigs avoid excessive glue use. Wigs are also a great option for natural hair clients who do not want their hair heavily “manipulated” in order for it to last for their entire wedding day.
Wigs can be removed nightly with the client routinely (1) applying oil to their own scalp and (2) sleeping with a satin pillow or cap. If desired, the bride may choose to wear the wig for a longer period of time when the wig is sewn on. For sew-on wigs, they should only be worn for 4-6 weeks max.
I love creating custom clip-ins and wig creations and would love to chat with you if you are thinking about wearing a wig or clip-ons for any portion of your wedding festivities. Please visit my shop on Style Seat!
Q: What options are available for Afro-textured extensions?
A: There are a number of options available for Afro-textured hair extensions and I always suggest that brides consult with their hairstylist first before purchasing the hair. This guarantees that the best texture and type are selected for the style that the bride is trying to achieve.
In terms of buying Afro-textured extensions, I do not suggest buying wefted hair from local beauty supply stores; however, bulk or loose Afro-textured hair is perfectly fine to buy at local retail stores. The best resources for wefted Afro-textured hair are online stores; look for online stores that offer virgin textured hair.
Q: How far in advance to you recommend a bride have her natural hair colored before the wedding?
A: I would say 4-6 weeks in advance to allow the bride to get comfortable with a color change and still have time to adjust the color if needed.
Q: What other types of treatments do you recommend that a bride have done to her natural hair before her wedding day?
A: I am a strong believer in healthy hair. Because the hair will have to face a good deal of “manipulation” to last throughout the entire wedding day, I would definitely recommend a hydration/steam treatment. Hydrating the hair prior to styling will reduce the risk of hair breakage during styling.
Q: Do you recommend that a bride do a trial-run of her wedding day hairstyle before her wedding?
A: Absolutely! I always recommend booking a trial bridal session. While most brides will have a general idea of what they want, typically a bit of tweaking is always required to get the hairstyle just right. Unfortunately, day-of wedding schedules are often very limited on time and are not conducive to major hairstyling changes or any other “surprises” that may pop up.
I believe that pre-event appointments are essential in helping with time management on the actual wedding day. I also notice that a bride who books these types of appointments is much more confident and relaxed- not only about her look, but about the entire styling process as a whole.
Q: How should all natural hair brides arrive to receive services on the day of their wedding?
A: Because I provide on-location bridal services, I prefer my brides to arrive (at their location of choice) with their hair freshly shampooed with absolutely no product in their hair. Their hair can either still be damp and stretched into multiple braids or blow dried out depending on the hairstyle that we are trying to achieve.
Q: How much time should natural hair brides allow for their day-of wedding services?
A: I like to reserve 2 hours of styling time for my brides. It usually doesn’t take this long, but I love adding a bit of cushion onto the schedule just in case.
Q: What venue amenities do you commonly need/request to style natural hair on the day of the wedding?
A: Being in a space with a low back chair, small table, plenty of electrical outlets, and good lighting is essential. And while it’s not always available, being in a space with vanity mirror is ideal.
Additionally, as a service provider I like to make my styling space as comfortable as possible for my clients. I often make custom music playlists for my brides that create the perfect vibe for wedding hair fun!
We hope that any anxiety that you may have had about wearing your natural hair texture for your wedding day has subsided. Brides with natural hair can have the same carefree experience as any other bride. However, just like any other component of your wedding day, some planning is required and that is perfectly fine.
When I asked our natural hair expert for final words of advice to give to natural hair brides, the answer was centered around the client’s ability to embrace their own individuality and uniqueness:
Don’t be afraid to embrace the kinks, curls, coils, and locs that you were born with or even the hair color and extensions that you weren’t. I believe that the beauty of natural hair lies in its ability to be transformative. In summary, just be you- whoever that may be that day! And when looking for wedding hair care professionals, look for like-minded stylists who see the beauty in every version of you as well.
Thanks for the great tips Sean! Schedule your bridal trial with Sean today at Sean Dapper Studios to learn more. Or if you’re in need of a creative space to put together your very own bridal look, visit Sean at the Solace Salon Suites and be inspired.
Did you know that creating detailed, custom schedules and organizing you and your bridal party’s hair and make-up appointments is included in all Aisle Runners [planning] Experiences? Let us know how we can help you plan beautifully.