What are 'Bathrobe Curls' —and How Can You Get the Heat-Free Waves?

The trick to perfect curls is in your closet.

There's a saying that everything old is new again. It was true for satirist Jonathan Swift in the 1700s, and it's true for a trend called "bathrobe curls."

In 2020, viral TikTok videos helped acquaint millions with the heat-free style, but it's been around for over a century. All it takes to get the perfect air-dried curls is a bathrobe sash, a little water, and time.

Here's how to get started on the low-tech, hassle-free style.

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

How Do You Get Bathrobe Curls?

You get bathrobe curls by placing a bathrobe sash or a long strip of material on top of your head. Then, you wrap damp hair in sections around the strip of material. If you do it right, you can sleep while it dries. When you wake up, you will have (almost) effortless curls.

That's according to some TikTok users who helped make the trend viral. TikTok user Bri Harmon (aka @bacardibri123) is one of many who shared the trick on her page. In the video, she explained you start by placing a belt from a robe on the top of your head, letting it fall to each side.

"So I think you kind of do it like a French braid, and you just go around in circles, gathering more hair as you go and repeat the process until you get to the end, and then you tie it in a ponytail," Harmon said in the video. Harmon noted that after wrapping her hair, she slept on the curls-to-be. The next morning, she unraveled her hair and was shocked at the perfect curls.

Other TikTok users were curious if she used any products before wrapping her hair. "It was actually my hair after not washing it for two days," Harmon wrote in the comments. "There was no product in my hair, it was just my natural hair - it was just a little bit damp. I would recommend (dampening) your hair, but make sure it's not wet because it would be very hard to dry."

Harmon added that her curls "lasted nearly all day, and I definitely didn't put hairspray in it."

Expert Tips for Bathrobe Curls

Garren, Celebrity Stylist and Co-Founder of R+Co, told Health that this technique sweeping social media was just an updated version of rag curls.

"We used to call it that when parents would put their kids to bed with their hair coiled around a rag. They went to sleep with hair half dry, and when it dries, it creates a wave," the stylist explained. As far as any expert tips, Garren suggested avoiding using terry cloth, as it is quite thick. A thinner material works better.

"Separate the hair into two to four sections, coil hair around it backward, and let it hang like a long braid," Garren said. "It will create a big wave pattern when you take it out rather than small waves."

Garren added that you could also use torn sheets or cloth napkins if you don't have a bathrobe handy—but pay attention to thickness.

"It's the width of the fabric that makes the wave pattern larger," the stylist said.

While Harmon didn't use products, Garren said adding some to your hair before twisting it could help give it some extra staying power. You might also want to use a hair product if your hair is naturally frizzy.

"While your hair is damp, apply [the product] and blow-dry your hair, flipped upside down, about halfway so it's not still soaking wet, and start coiling," Garren explained. "Just don't do this on dirty hair. You have to do it on clean hair that's freshly shampooed and conditioned. This will save your hair from the heat. It's an old way of setting the hair."

How Long Has the Technique Been Around?

Rag curls have been around for at least a century, if not longer. The Royal Alberta Museum in Canada has a 1914 excerpt from the Edmonton Capital newspaper on its website. In it, the author suggests going through old scraps of fabric to find ones useful for curls. As a bonus, the article also suggests using the scraps to make a rag rug afterward.

The museum site suggests using different size strips depending on hair texture and the size of the curls you want.

Some tips from the site:

  • Use 2-inch-wide strips that are twice the length of your hair.
  • Use more strips if you have thick or textured hair.
  • Be careful not to tangle your hair when you take it out in the morning.
  • Experiment until you find the look that works best for you.

Another Canadian museum, Victoria's History House Museum, states that people in the Victorian Era (the 1840s through the early 1900s) also wore rag curls. People of means usually had crimping or curling tongs used with heat. Those who couldn't afford tongs used rags and air drying to achieve a similar hairstyle.

A Quick Review

Bathrobe curls are an easy, modern take on an old technique called rag curls. To get heat-free curls, you use a long strip of fabric, such as a bathrobe tie. Then, you curl slightly damp hair around it in sections.

When your hair is completely wound around the fabric, you air dry it or sleep on it and wake up to curls. You may need more fabric if your hair is thicker, longer, or has more texture.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Royal Alberta Museum. From rags, to ringlets.

  2. Point Ellice House and Gardens. Artifact of the month: February 2020.

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