How To Do The ’90s Messy Bun On Every Length Of Hair

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.
From the snatched bun to the no-haircut haircut, the internet is spoiling us for choice when it comes to fresh (and totally wearable) hair trends. But with our adoration for nostalgia snowballing, it's fair to say that, right now, no hairstyle is as sought-after as the '90s messy updo.
Equal parts polished and lived in, the now TikTok-famous bun has many celebrity devotees, most famously Pamela Anderson, whose signature piled-up style was the talk of the '90s. Recently you may have spotted the look on the likes of Kim Kardashian (who wore something similar at Kourtney and Travis' wedding, and on Ellen) as well as Bella Hadid, FKA twigs and influencers like Desi Perkins and Alice x T.
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The style wouldn't be complete without face-framing tendrils and lots of volume at the crown, created by sprigs of hair which are twisted and looped into a bun. It's this mussed up texture combined with a handful of strategically plucked out strands that makes it distinctively '90s, explains celebrity hairstylist Sam McKnight. Why? It occupies a cosy space between grunge and glamour.
The '90s bun may look a little more complicated than a failsafe topknot but if TikTok is anything to go by, it's actually pretty easy to recreate at home. Here's all the inspiration you need, whatever your hair texture or length.
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How to do a '90s bun on long hair

@walkwithbrit Reply to @ravensimona Hope this helps! It’s so easy you can so it in under 5 min, maybe add another 5 if you need to curl your hair 😁 #messybun #pamelaandersonhair #messybuntutorial #fyp #90shair #highcranialtop #5minutehair ♬ original sound - Walkwithbrit
TikToker @walkwithbrit has a more technical name for the '90s messy bun: the high cranial top hairstyle. The first step is to curl your hair, which you can do with a pair of tongs like the Mark Hill Pick 'N' Mix Small Curl Barrel, £16.99, or if you're a dab hand with straighteners, try Cloud Nine's Original Iron, £159. This will give your bun its slightly dishevelled finish. "I honestly do everything with my fingers and I don't use a brush," says Brit, picking out two sections of hair at the front to frame the face.
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The next step is to tie everything back into a mid ponytail. Once that's done, Brit pulls the hairband back (as though they're removing it) to create some space between the back of the head and the band. "Put your finger straight through so you're making a space and then you want to take your ponytail, put it underneath and just loop it through," says Brit. "What this does is give a bit more volume." Brit then twists the ponytail and fastens with a claw clip so that the ends are flipped over the top of their head. "The last thing I do is use these bobby pins and pin some messy hairs into place," says Brit.
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How to do a '90s bun on fine hair

A simple ponytail twisted around itself and pinned up is all it takes to achieve the messy bun on finer hair. You might want to invest in a hair waver, though. TikToker @ssooophhia uses the Dyson Airwrap Complete Hair Styler, £449.99, to add shape and movement to the ends before using the same tool to blow out their fringe so that it appears bitty yet voluminous for a real '90s finish.
To keep the fringe from getting greasy, hairstylist Sam McKnight advises spritzing a little dry shampoo onto a soft bristle brush and pulling it through the hair. He also recommends treating soft, fine strands to the Easy Up-Do Texture Spray, £25, spraying no closer than 30cm. "This instantly adds a little bit of grit to the hair, especially if it's very soft," says Sam, making it much easier to whip hair up into a style that lasts.
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How to do a '90s bun on natural hair

TikToker @alishalashayy references Pamela Anderson in their easy, 11-second tutorial. All you'll need is a hair tie in the same (or similar) colour as your hair. Gather your hair up into a pineapple but instead of creating a ponytail, keep twisting your hair around the base and fasten the tie to fashion a bun. Lastly, Alisha enlists Curls Crème Brule Whipped Curls Cream, £11.99, and twirls their fringe with their fingers to add definition.
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How to do a '90s bun on medium-length hair

TikToker @shaaynemarie says the key to achieving this look on medium hair is to spritz in lots of dry shampoo. Try Sam McKnight Lazy Girl Dry Shampoo, £19. A mistake everyone makes? Not shaking the bottle gently first, according to Sam. "This often means you'll end up with white patches in your hair," he says. Using a hairdryer and a round brush, blow out your lengths to smooth away any kinks. Without combing, Shayne scoops their lengths into a messy ponytail but doesn't use a hair tie just yet. Instead, bunch your lengths up into a bun shape and then secure the hair tie around everything.
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Gently pull at the bun to release some of the ends. Shayne picks out a couple of sections of hair at the sides, too, and uses a pair of straighteners to curl them before doing the same on the ends that are dangling outside the bun. "I'm not being strategic with these curls at the top, just doing it randomly," says Shayne. A handful of bobby pins set down the messiest strands.
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How to do a '90s bun on thick hair

@kyranikole2 you guys loved this hair on my live last night so here’s the tutorial!🥲 inspired by @Alice T ✨🖤 #pamelaanderson #90saesthetic #kyranikole ♬ original sound - rennyxaudios
The '90s bun was made for thick hair. Just look at TikToker @kyranikole2. Using the handle on a fine-tooth comb, Kyra creates a sharp middle parting to divide two front sections of hair, which she leaves out. Focusing on the rest of her lengths, she gathers everything up into a high ponytail but on the last loop, she doesn't pull the hair through entirely. This loop creates a bun shape and allows the ends to hang beautifully over the parting. Give your bun a gentle tug to make it appear fuller and curl the ends with a pair of straighteners or tongs. For glossy hair like Kyra's, finish the style with a shine spray like Andrew Fitzsimons Prism Shine Hair Spray Smoothing Mist, £11.
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How to do a '90s bun on curly hair

@coumbaaminata Pamela Anderson inspired hairstyle on my natural curls 🍭 #fyp #naturalhairstyles ♬ Do It - Chloe x Halle
This style looks beautiful on thick, curly hair as it already has natural volume. Take a cue from @coumbaaminata and separate two sections of hair at the front, which will become your face framers. Then collect your hair up into a high ponytail and wrap the lengths around the base, letting the ends drape over the top of your head. Leave some curls out but pin some hair slides into the base of the ponytail to secure others. A little gel, like Eco Style Olive Oil Styling Gel, £3.99, will add definition to your curly tendrils.
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How to do a '90s bun on short hair

@alenaavictoriaa Reply to @_.daniboi._ how I do my messy bun with shorter hair!! #hair #hairstyle #shorthair #messybun #tutorial ♬ Call me - 90sFlav
You can still nail the '90s messy bun on short hair. Just look to TikToker @alenaavictoriaa. "All you need is a hair tie and some bobby pins. Use your fingers or a brush to bring your hair up really high, and it's totally okay if during this process some of the hair falls out because if your hair is short, that's going to happen," they say. Once your hair is as high as you'd like it, fashion it into a bun by twisting the hair and wrapping a hair tie around it, then pull gently to create volume. Picking out some side pieces makes this look a little more worn-in. When it comes to the stray pieces of hair at the back, simply clip them up by fastening two hair slides in an X shape. You could also add a clip-in ponytail like @symphani.soto to give your hair more length and bounce.
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