25 Best 3a Hairstyles and Curly Hair Ideas to Copy for 2021

Instagram: @erikathom | @leletny

Call me biased—do it, DO IT—but I personally think that 3a hair is one of the most versatile of the curl types. (…I should also state that I have a mix of 3a hair, so I genuinely am biased.) Still, if you have 3a hair, you know what I’m talking about: 3a curls can be straightened pretty easily with a flat iron or blow-dryer brush, but they can also be made even curlier with a diffuser and the right combo of 3a hair products. 3a hair can be braided and slicked back, or pinned up and fluffed out. But 3a hair can also be a fickle, fickle beast, which means you need a good lineup of reliable 3a hairstyle ideas to get you through the annoying moments.

And that’s where I come in. As someone with a mix of 2c waves and 3a curls, I exist in a limbo of weird hair days that all depend on the humidity, my laziness level, and, like, the gravitational force between the sun and the universe. Truly, no two curl days are alike for me, and if you’re in my same boat, allow me to present to you the 25 best 3a hairstyle ideas to screenshot and copy asap. But first, let’s get some education out of the way, yes?

What does type 3a hair look like?

3a hair is part of the type-3 category of hair types (check our hair-type chart if you need a visual) and is considered the loosest of all the curl types—one step up from tight waves (aka 2c hair). Though 3a hair can have a mix of 2c waves or even tighter 3b curls, its general curl shape tends to look big and loopy, like the size of a cork. 3a hair is also easily manipulated, meaning they can be loosened into waves with a bun or a twist (my M.O. out of laziness), or tightened with diffusing and plopping.

What can I do with type 3a hair?

It depends on your length, texture, and thickness, but 3a hair can usually wear most hairstyles suitable for straight, wavy, and curly hair types (think: types 1c to 3c). Your end results might look a little different, but the styles themselves—like braids, buns, French twists, etc.—are all doable on 3a curls. So to get you started on your hair journey, I rounded up the best 3a hairstyle ideas below. You may officially start experimenting.

1

Scarf Braids for 3a Hair

The best part about braids? Literally any hair type can wear them, whether you’re working with 3a curls or stick-straight, 1a hair. Just twist and pin a silk scarf to the top of your head, then braid the scarf into your French braids, tying your hair and scarf off at the base of your neck into a bun.

2

High Curly Bun for 3a Hair

The difference between the messy high bun you sleep in, vs. the ~messy~ high bun you take a selfie in? A hint of sleek roots, as seen on Jasmine Sanders. Scoop your 3a hair into a high bun, mist your roots with hairspray, then lightly comb your hair back before tying it off into a bun. Leave the ends free for a faux-bang effect.

3

Soft Curly Buns

The thicker the hair, the bigger the (double) bun. But if your 3a hair is on the finer side—hi, same—and you wanna amp up your bun volume, try blasting the ends of your hair with texturizing spray and/or dry shampoo before wrapping and pinning them into buns. Yup, it’s a v sticky, textured, lethal combo, but it works.

4

Raked-Back 3a Curls

Julia Garner’s curly French twist is a thing of my 3a hair dreams. The magic is all in its softness, which requires you to haphazardly scoop and lightly twist your curls into something that resembles a French twist, before securing it to the back of your head. Then, to create the light, airy volume, gingerly rake and pin any loose curls back and in place, misting all over with a shine-enhancing hairspray to finish.

5

Sleek Buns for 3a Curls

Double buns on curly hair? Yes, pls. If you want your 3a hair to look as sleek and shiny as these knots, work a dollop of curly hair gel through your roots and hairline before brushing each side of your hair up and into your buns.

6

Perfectly Undone 3a Updo

The trick to making this curly updo feel like an actual screenshot-worthy updo is to pull out a few strategic curls around the face and at the base of your neck while pinning your hair up. Then, re-add definition by winding the loose pieces around a hot curling wand for just a few seconds.

7

Bubble Braids for 3a Hair

Can’t braid? Behold: Jasmine Brown‘s bubble braids, a hairstyle that works on all straight and curly hair types, including your 3a hair. You’ll need some tiny hair elastics, a bit of patience, and her easy-to-follow bubble-braids tutorial, but the results are worth it, especially on humid days.

8

Accessorized Braids for 3a Hair

Mmmkay, not to pull the curly trump card, but…*pulls card.* When you have 3a hair, you’ve automatically got that whole just-ran-through-a-field-after-my-lover vibe that straighter hair types naturally don’t. Which means a loose three-strand braid and a few gold hair accessories = a whole lewk, not a chaotic mess.

9

Curly Topknot

Listen, ’00s and ’90s hair is back (did they ever really leave tho), which means it’s basically a requirement now to have at least one face-framing curly tendril paired with your topknot. Hey, I don’t make the rules—I just follow them.

10

Claw Clip Hairstyles

I, personally, am very glad claw clips have made a triumphant return, because they’re so freakin’ versatile while still making you look cute. Can’t be bothered to deal with your 3a curls for a day? Claw clip. Want a quick updo that feels more put together than a bun? Claw clip. And stock up, because you know it’s only a matter of time before the teeth snaps off of your clip (love).

11

Accessorized Hairstyles for 3a Hair

You know those days when your 3a curls are just looking…blah? (See: me, most days of the week.) My go-to trick is to either braid them down or cover them in a ton of hair barrettes, because the end result still looks polished, even if you feel anything but.

12

Loose, Low, Curly Ponytail

FYI: A diffuser will be your BFF for this swept-back low ponytail. Play up the curl definition, let some layers hang loose, then gently secure it below the nape of your neck with a ponytail cuff.

13

Half-Up, Half-Down 3a Hairstyles

Welcome to another hairstyle that works on most hair types, but looks especially good with looser, 3a curls. To make your half-up hairstyle look a lil bit more polished, take a section of hair from your ponytail and wrap it around the hair elastic, pinning it in place to hide it.

14

Curly Pigtails for 3a Hair

Have you caught the theme yet? That ’90s hairstyles are still having their major moment and will probably never stop? And that’s a good thing for your 3a hair (or, honestly, any curl type in general), because the texture of your curls makes this style look less “kindergarten playground” and more, “Um, OKAY.”

15

Dual-Textured 3a Hairstyle

Okay, can we just talk about this gorgeous curl pattern for a second? A million years on the Curly Girl Method, and I still could never. To really play up your texture, juxtapose it by slicking down your hairline and securing each side with some statement hair barrettes.

16

Temporary Color for 3a Hair

Uh, when you have curl definition like this, does it even matter what hairstyle you do? Still, whether you’re working with looser or tighter curls, you can always play with some fun hair colors with temporary hair dyes (though, FYI, blonde hair will definitely have the most versatility when it comes to lighter shades and pastels).

17

Super-Sleek 3a Hairstyle

Consider this your classic half-up curly hairstyle dialed up to 100 in the ~smooth~ department. Truly, every hair accounted for. An edge brush (or clean toothbrush) and a moisturizing hair gel are nonnegotiable for the sleekest finish, so get your tools ready before trying this style for the first time.

18

Pineapple Hairstyle for 3a Hair

Oh, look—the very definition of romantic hair, all in one photo. Pineappling is basically the number-one MVP on the holy list of curly hair commands, and for good reason: It preserves your curls while getting them off your neck, and it also leaves you looking like a true ethereal dream.

19

Twisted Half-Up Hairstyle for 3a Curls

If you weren’t naturally ~blessed~ with curly roots (again, me), then you already know the struggle that is half-up, half-down hairstyles. But one simple trick to add some texture and volume? Twists. Instead of raking the top half of your hair back all at once, twist and pin sections of your hair to the crown of your head to create a half-up style that doesn’t fall flat.

20

Claw Clip Ponytails for 3a Hair

As the saying goes, all you need is love claw clips. More or less. Grab yourself a pack of claw clips (they don’t need to be fancy), and swap your usual ponytail elastic for a claw clip next time you’re raking your hair back.

21

Scrunchie Hairstyles for 3a Curls

Honestly, please let Scrunchies live forever, because they’re the best way to tie your 3a hair back without completely squashing or denting the curl pattern. Pro tip: Choose a silk scrunchie over cotton or polyester—silk doesn’t suck the moisture out of your curls like cotton can.

22

3a Wedding Hairstyle

Screenshotting this 3a updo and uploading it to my mental moodboard for my future wedding. The unreal shine, the next-level curl definition—truly, such a good wedding hairstyle, regardless of if you’re a bride or a bridesmaid.

23

Half-Up Pigtails Hairstyle

First thing on my to-do list: grow my hair longer overnight. Easy. Second thing: wear these half-up pigtails on my 3a hair every single freakin’ day with my new waist-length curls. Sigh. *Googles hair extensions.*

24

Undone 3a Hairstyle

Curly folks, listen up: This is why frizzy hair should never be seen as a bad thing! It’s totally cool if you personally prefer your 3a curls frizz-free and smooth, but please take this gorg photo as proof that natural, undone, texture-filled curls (especially in updos) can look 10/10 all on their own.

25

Snap Clip 3a Hairstyles

When you’ve got majorly thick hair—which, uh, can you float some good luck my way?—your curls themselves are the hairstyle. Still, to add a little ~spice~ to your hair, slide in a few brightly colored snap clips to match your outfit/mood/vibes.

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