It doesn't hold a curl—half the time it won't even take a curl to begin with, though heaven knows, I've tried. Over 25 years, I've tried. And what I've learned from this lifetime of failures is the great irony of my existence: though my hair won't hold a curl no matter what you do to it, it will cling to ponytail dents, windblown snarls, and other unwanted textures with bulldog tenacity.
Below are 13 curling methods that I have used on my hair. Perhaps if, like me, you have fine, straight, unstylable hair, you will save yourself hours of effort and finally learn what works. Or perhaps [spoiler alert!], you'll just be inspired to break down in tears.
Curling IronIn college and the years immediately following, I had a 1-inch-barrel curling iron. I made a few failed attempts at curling my hair with it, but the most I could ever manage was to flip the ends. Eventually I gave up and Freecycled the iron. A few years later, I bought another one at the thrift store. This time I went for a half-inch barrel, thinking that tighter curls would fall out into some semblance of a wave. And for the most part, it works. With that, I was able to achieve a few strategically placed ringlets for the Ocean Halloween costume, but curling all your hair with a tiny 1/2-inch iron is a serious time commitment, so not practical for everyday life. I bought another 1-inch barrel iron, thinking maybe the previous one just was tired out, but I got them same (nonexistent) results.
Rag curlsAfter technology let me down, I decided to go retro. Rag curls, a mainstay of fashion in the war era, are supposed to be the girl on a budget's dream! Cut a few strips of fabric, wrap your hair around them, tie them up, go to sleep and wake up looking like little orphan Annie. Sadly, this dream never became a reality. My attempts at rag curls were fraught with failure—some strands came out excessively kinky, others barely curled at all, some of the rags fell out during the night, some hair never made it into a rag at all and ended up straight or tangled.
Mesh rollersNext, I invested in a set of vintage wire mesh rollers from the thrift store. They were supposed to be held in place with plastic pins, which I thought would be less complicated than the closure method of the foam rollers. I tried sleeping in those once or twice, but they were way too bulky, hurt my head, and always fell out in the middle of the night.
FlatironI heard once that if you run a flatiron through your hair while twisting it, you can achieve nice waves. I watched numerous video tutorials on the process, but after several tries of my own, all I could accomplish was, again, just curling the ends. It did produce an elegant-looking fringe for my Bridezilla costume, though, I'll give it that.
HeadbandOnward to the Headband Method! For this one, you wear an elastic headband, then wrap locks of damp hair around it repeatedly until all the hair is wrapped up. Wear it until the hair dries, and then, theoretically, have a head of perfectly formed curls in the morning! This actually worked all right for me when my hair was shorter, but the longer it got, the less reliable the headband method became. I would get hair so tangled up I had to cut it off the headband, and it would still be wet in the morning.
Magic LeveragThe most effective way of curling my hair I ever encountered was the Magic Leverag kit, which consists of a bunch of spiral-shaped tubes that you actually put your hair inside. It actually worked on my hair, producing neat and tidy ringlets. Sadly, the curlers are not long enough for my hair these days, so I can't use them. Apparently Magic Leverag is a cheap knockoff of Curlformers, which do come in longer sizes, so I might actually try those someday...
BunsSometimes, I put my hair up in a bun or double buns overnight, hoping that in the morning, I'll have a nice soft wave. Usually I don't. I have hair that's still wet and dries completely straight. If I leave the buns in for a whole day and night, they dry enough to hold the curl. But by then, much of my hair has worked its way out and straightened itself, plus other bits of hair are crimped into odd bends and angles by whatever tools I've used to hold the bun in place.
BraidsA single braid can sometimes produce waves that I'm proud of (smaller braids produce an unsightly zigzag or crimped effect). But the end where the braid has been tied is always stick-straight but dented by the rubber band, and looks ridiculous. So then I need to take a curling iron to the end, which kind of defeats the purpose of a quick-and-easy no-heat hairstyle.
Hot rollersThese were my last-ditch effort. They seemed less labor-intensive than using a curling iron, and since they can be kept in until they cool, my curls would be less likely to fall flat immediately after removing the heat. Since they only need to stay in a short time, they should be less prone to mess and falling out than overnight curling methods. However, they proved to be no more effective and only slightly less time-consuming than the curling iron. The first time I tried them, my hair came down into a gorgeous wave that almost, for a second, gave me hope. And then I dared to try and brush them. Instant curl collapse.
Over the past 3 days, I've tried different ways of using the hot rollers, hoping for a better result. Smaller strands of hair so that they heat faster, smaller rollers so the curl is tighter. Last time I even put in mousse before curling and sprayed the dickens out of my hair before taking the rollers out, and got an even more feeble curl than the first time!