4 Style Upgrades To Get Out Of Your Hair Rut

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Low ponies and traditional three-strand braids are classics for a reason. They don't require a ton of DIY skill, they're versatile, and, most importantly, they save precious time when you're rushing to make the 8:05 a.m. bus to work. On the other hand, they seem pretty basic when compared to the sea of intricate runway looks that flood our Instagrams season after season. So what's the middle ground between stale simplicity and crazy complicated? These styles right here.

With the help of hairstylist Natasha Leibel, we gave four classic looks — the ponytail, topknot, half-up 'do, and braid — major upgrades. Thanks to Leibel's easy-to-follow breakdowns, plus a few key Garnier styling-product recommendations, these amped-up looks are the perfect antidotes to hairstyle fatigue. Of course, they're going to require a little more elbow grease than a messy braid, but we promise the payoff is worth the effort. Read on for all the steps you need to refresh your average pony with just a few twists (and plaits!). You might actually ​want​ to wake up 10 minutes earlier to try these tomorrow.

The Pumped-Up Pony
A ponytail is one of those hairstyles you learn as a kid and just keep doing out of muscle memory. It's easy to see why — it's the best solution when you have had it with your hair and/or you're too tired to bother with anything else. Now it's time to break the habit and branch out with a whole new style: It's a study in contrasts, combining a sleek front with a textured, voluminous crown.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
You'll want lots of texture for this look, so apply a curl-enhancing product, like Garnier Fructis Curl Construct Mousse, to coax out your best waves. Let it air dry, and scrunch periodically to build up more definition and texture. Then, use the pointy end of a rattail comb to create a deep side-part.... Grab the two-inch section of hair below the part (closest to your temple), and slick it back into a low, tight pony at the nape of your neck, leaving all the hair at your crown free. Repeat this step with the two inches of hair on the other side of your part, almost like you're forming a sleek, face-framing "headband" with your hair. You can make two mini, hidden ponies at the nape of your neck, or use the same elastic to tie both together. But ensure your elastics are tight and tense — you want the sleek part to be as smooth and taut as possible for maximum contrast with the rest of your texture.

Now that you've got the face-framing sections out of the way, tamp them down with a little gel. Word to the wise: Go easy on the product to avoid a rock-hard '80s finish (all you need is a nickel-sized dollop). Use your fingers to smooth it from the mid-shaft to the base of your mini-ponies, then use the remainder at the roots to control flyaways. This application method ensures even distribution, so you don't wind up with a random glob of gel somewhere, advises Leibel.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Next, lift the free section of hair that's at your crown, and spritz the underside with volumizing spray. You can back-comb the roots for extra height, but we find it easier to spray and zhuzh with our fingers. Finally, sweep the rest of your hair into a low ponytail, and use a fresh elastic to secure it to the two mini-ponies you made earlier. Feel free to fluff up the tail part, pull out pieces around the crown for more contrast, or even wrap a piece of hair around the elastic to hide it. As with all ponytails, this look is open to interpretation!
Photographed by Winnie Au.
The Dutch Topknot
We typically reserve the low-maintenance topknot for casual Fridays, weekends, or the gym, but now we've got a trick to fancy it up: a cool braid that weaves its way up from the back of your neck and twists into a topknot. We'll admit this style does require a bit of practice, but once you've got it down (remember: muscle memory!) we promise the payoff is worth it.

Start by splitting your hair into two sections as if you're making a half-pony — one at your crown and one at the nape of your neck. Clip the top section out of the way, so you can work on the bottom half first, and bend your head forward a little to get a better grip.

Now, the braiding begins. Ever heard of a Dutch braid? It's the French braid's funkier Euro cousin — you just layer each section of hair under, rather than over, as you go. Doing it this way makes the braid face out from your hair, so you get a cool, 3-D silhouette. Once you've reached the ends of the bottom half, secure the braid with a small elastic. If you like, you can make it look a little thicker by lightly pulling and stretching along the width of your braid. Just don't rub your hands over it — this is a style that looks best when it's neat and smooth.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Then, undo the top half of hair that you clipped away, and twist it together with your braid — wrapping the two sections of hair completely around each other. Secure this combo with another elastic, and finish by swirling the whole thing into a topknot at the crown of your head. Slip in a few U-shaped pins where you need them for extra hold.

You'll likely have a few ends poking out here and there, so hit your braid and bun with a blast of strong-hold hairspray, like Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Anti-Humidity Aerosol Hair Spray. This also ensures everything stays in place, so your hard work doesn't crumble by your second cup of coffee.

Can't get the hang of the Dutch braid and feel like there must be an easier way? There is. To hack this hairstyle, flip your head upside down and make it a classic three-strand braid from the nape of your neck to your ends, leaving the hair at your crown loose. Secure the braid with an elastic, weave it together with the top section of hair, and twist it all into a topknot. You might end up with a little bump at the base of your braid where you started to plait, but that's nothing a little bobby pin can't fix.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
The Nouveau French Twist
Of the big four go-to hairstyles, we'd venture to say that the good old half-up, half-down 'do is most underrated. Usually, we turn to this look when we're trying to conceal oily roots or get loose pieces of hair out of the way. But by transforming it into a textured French twist, this look takes on a polished-yet-effortless cool-girl vibe.

To start, sweep the top half of your hair back, brushing it through so there's no part. As you're gripping it, mist a texturizing spray, like Garnier Fructis De-Constructed Texture Tease, from roots to ends. Leibel recommends adding texture and grit to your hair here, so you have better hold, making it easier to mold into a twist.

Next, sweep that top section of hair all the way to the left, and crisscross two large bobby pins to secure it against the back of your head. This also acts as an anchor for the pins you'll use later on to secure the twist.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
To create the twist itself, grip the ends of the top section of hair, and slowly wrap them around the index and middle fingers of your right hand. Think of it like wrapping up a ball of yarn — once you've gotten it started, you'll roll this entire section of hair back toward the center of your head. You can use the thumb of your right hand, along with your free left hand, to grip and guide the hair into a twist.

Once you've fully rolled up the whole section, secure it with several U-shaped pins, anchoring them against the "X" you made earlier. This may take some practice and patience, but that's why you've got the texturizing spray and pins! If any pieces fall out as you twist, or if the twist itself is looking a little lopsided, the pins plus hairspray are your guardrails to shift everything into place.

Finish the look by lightly tugging on the twist (without unraveling it!) to make it appear fuller. The texturizing spray should be enough to hold the look together, but if you want, you can mist all over with hairspray for extra staying power.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
The Fishtail Hybrid
We love a good braid, but some are just too complicated for us to wrap our heads — not to mention fingers! — around. This one may look next-level, but its actual degree of difficulty is only a 1. Together with Leibel, we married a classic three-strand braid with a cool fishtail for an edgier, more substantial style.

To get the look, start by sweeping all of your hair back toward your crown so you don't have a part. Use a bit of mousse to help slick it back, so you have the hold and volume you need to keep everything in place.

Next, take a one-inch section of hair from your crown, along with one from each side of your head near your temples, and start making a standard three-strand braid, but keep it loose. After the second or third crossover, split your remaining hair into two halves to start the fishtail. The top of the braid will start to get loose at this point, because there's no more tension in your hold, but that's okay — you want it to look relaxed and easy.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Now, start fishtailing. Take a small section of hair from the outside of the right half, and cross it over to the inside of the left half. Then, take a small section from the outside of the left half, and drag it over to the inside of the right half. Repeat this crossover movement from side to side until you reach your ends, and secure with an elastic. If you're feeling fancy, wrap a piece of hair around the elastic, or just leave it as is. You can also lightly tug at the width of the braid to thicken it.

So take your pick — which one will you try tomorrow?

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