The Correct Way to Use Bobby Pins

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Bobby pins are easily one of the most ubiquitous beauty products known to the human race. It seems that truly everyone has a stash of the essential hair-securing trinkets at the ready — unless you're me backstage at the local playhouse five minutes before curtain, and then I can't find a single one. But it honestly wouldn't matter if I was able to produce them when I need them because, like so many people, I'm not actually entirely sure how the hell to correctly use bobby pins.

Yes, there have been at least a few desultory bobby pins in my bathroom drawer for the last four decades of my life, but short of when I was a '90s teen, who used a couple to flank her middle part in a decidedly nonfunctional way, I’ve relied on the knowledge and skills of others to place bobby pins in my hair in any meaningful way. And if we're being honest, those helpful people were largely flying by the seat of their collective pants, too.

So I reached out to hairstylists to get their guidance on the most effective and stylish ways to use bobby pins. And it turns out that while there are right ways to incorporate them into your hairstyle, there's also plenty of room for creativity.

I can't be the only person who, for a long time, referred to literally any small bent wire intended to be placed in the hair as a bobby pin. But there really is a distinct difference between bobby pins and other hairpins, starting with the shape: "Hairpins are open at the end and are typically used for different purposes when styling," says Gina Rivera, a hairstylist and founder Phenix Salon Suites in Encinitas, California. "Traditionally, they are seen with styles that are teased, and there is a lot of volume and texture in the hair."

Meanwhile, bobby pins are crafted for more control. "Bobby pins have ridges and closed tips and are used to keep the hair in place, laying close to the scalp," says Holly Dear, hairstylist and founder of Dear Clark salon in Dallas. 

And lucky for novices, stylist Andrew Fitzsimmons says bobby pins are a bit more cooperative than other types of pins. "Bobby pins are pretty seamless and easy to use, while other pins like U- or V-shaped pins take a bit of wrangling in order to secure the hair," says Fitzsimmons, who works with Khloé Kardashian and Martha Stewart. That said, "non-bobby hairpins allow you to create and secure styles that aren't as tight, so they do offer that versatility."

Remember how Dear said bobby pins, like Ruffles, have ridges? They're only on one side — the other is flat — and they're the source of a rather contentious (read: not really that big of a deal but I love drama) debate: Which side of the bobby pin faces the scalp and which faces up? 

"I spent most of my life with ridges up, but recently discovered that they should be facing down for maximum security," stylist Annagjid "Kee" Taylor tells Allure.

Rivera agrees: "You always want to make sure that the ridges are placed down facing the scalp," she insists, adding that bobby pins should be placed close to the scalp. 

However, Fitzsimmons would beg to differ. "The correct way to place a bobby pin is ridges up," he tells Allure. "The point of the ridges is to be able to glide over and secure the bulk of your hair, while still keeping it as flush as possible."

Ultimately, as unshakable as some opinions may be, you can get away with going in either direction as long as you keep the respective benefits in mind. "Ridges up helps keep the hair going in the same direction without crossing," Dear says. "If the grip is down or placed toward the scalp, you will get a stronger grip."

Depending on the style you're trying to achieve and the type of hair with which you're trying to achieve it, there are a number of tips and tricks to keep in mind for the most secure result. "One bobby pin can definitely work alone, but most of the time they’ll need a buddy for that support and ultimate staying action," Taylor tells Allure. Dear agrees, explaining that when a super-strong grip is needed — as with updos — it's best to criss-cross the bobby pins.

Rivera says one of the most common mistakes people make when trying to secure their hair with bobbly pins is creating sections that are too large. "Smaller sections of hair are best for ensuring the bobby pins hold. This is especially true if the hair is fine," she says.

But it's not just the thickness of your hair that plays a part in your style's success; it's the thickness of the bobby pin itself, too. "While we all know the standard bobby-pin size, there are stronger and thicker bobby pins out there, so if you have thicker hair that needs more support, there are bobby pins out there that can be used alone and get the job done," Fitzsimmons says. We like Goody's XXL bobby pins.

Goody XXL Bobby Pins

Texture matters, too, according to Rivera. "Those with fine hair should use a standard-size bobby pin, while those with coarser hair should opt for a jumbo bobby pin and slightly larger sections of hair," she explains, adding a really smart suggestion for anyone looking for extra hold: "Make sure to spray the bobby pin with hairspray prior to placing it in the hair. This helps the pin to stay in place and hold the hair more securely."

Whether or not you want your bobby pins to be seen depends entirely on the style and your personal tastes. The stylists I spoke to each have different favorite bobby-pin-centric styles, and they each call for a different level of visibility.

"Bobby pins are great for a super-snatched high pony," Fitzsimmons says, giving an example of a style that is usually best served with less obvious bobby pins. However, he's not opposed to a more conspicuous usage. "I love that Sarah Jessica Parker sort of shattered the illusions and rocked visible bobby pins on Sex and the City," he says. "She helped add style to something that was previously strictly functional." Fitzsimmons says he loves using bobby pins in plain sight in the front of the hair to hold it off the face or visibly in the back as part of a casual updo.

Taylor has been loving the look of visible bobby pins, too, getting innovative with the patterns she creates. "My current favorite style using bobby pins is bobby-pin art, more so for the style than for hold," she tells Allure, sharing the style she created for Tiffany Haddish, below. "Bobby pins come in all sorts of colors and styles, so I like to create art with them."

Need a few more ideas? Rivera's got them. "You can part the hair deep to one side and bobby pin one side back. You can also bobby-pin pixie bangs, which is another fun look. Bobby pins also work well when pinning the hair back above the ear," she says. "The sky is the limit when it comes to styling with bobby pins."

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