Sofia Richie’s Hairstylist Shares All of Her Best Bun Tips

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Sofia Richie is a household name for quite a few reasons. She's Lionel Richie's daughter; she's an acclaimed model; she had a wedding in the South of France last spring that made it onto nearly every Pinterest wedding board overnight; and she's the slick-back bun inspiration for millions of women all around the world. You know the look: it's the same one she wore for that very viral wedding and continues to wear on red carpets and casual TikTok videos alike. But while Richie is certainly skilled at creating this sleek updo, as demonstrated by her countless TikTok tutorials, the real mastermind behind most of her hairstyles is her celebrity hairstylist, Kathleen Riley.

As Richie's go-to stylist for about eight years now and an industry veteran with her own brand, Shae Hair, Riley has developed her own list of hacks to craft the perfect slicked-back bun. Because when cameras take your clients' photos from all angles, you need to make sure the bun is snatched from not just the front, but also the sides and back — and that's no easy feat.

Of course, over their eight-year relationship, Riley has created more than just bun updos on the model. One of her favorite styles, aside from the wedding looks (more on those ahead), was for a fashion week party with Alexander Wang and Bvlgari in 2019. "It was just [a] center part, sleek, with two bobby pins on each side," Riley says. "She had like this suit outfit on. . . . She looked like an actual little Bratz Doll in that. I just loved it so much."

While the sleek bun has become Richie's go-to hairstyle, Riley still tries to get her to step outside of her comfort zone every once in a while. "It's really hard to get [clients] to experiment, but I always try to have a Pinterest board or something to show them," she says.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07:  Sofia Richie attends Alexander Wang & Bvlgari Celebrate A.W. BVLGARI'S 712 Fifth Avenue on September 07, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Getty | Paul Morigi

Why change a good thing, right? That's why Richie decided to go with her signature bun for her wedding, but things took an unexpected turn for her after party. Those photos of Richie living it up on the dance floor saw her hair in a long, textured ponytail, which wasn't the initial plan.

"You know how it's after a wedding? You're just trying to get back out there and have fun, not do a whole thing," Riley says. In their prep for the big day, they had discussed doing extensions and styling her hair into a half-up, half-down look, but the duo was worried about them coming out while "dancing and whipping her head around." The ponytail they went with became a happy accident. "We just took down her hair, and there was a lot of product in it, and just put it into the pony, and the product kind of gave it that volume that it needed, and it just stood straight up with one hair tie, and it was honestly epic."

Whether you're planning out your bridal hairstyles or just want a slicked-back bun as snatched as Richie's, keep reading as Riley divulges her tips for getting the look.

Section the Hair
When Riley has hours to do Richie's hair, she takes her sweet time dividing it into five sections and creating the bun from there. "I usually do the three [in the back] and then do [two other] triangular sections around the part to really snatch everything back," she explains. However, if you don't want to spend "two hours" doing your hair, she recommends starting with three: one section for the back and one on each side of the head. "When Sofia does it, she ties it around her neck like a beard," Riley says, referring to the two side sections around the face.

Form a Ponytail in the Back
Riley makes a ponytail with the back section of hair, sometimes using multiple hairbands to ensure everything stays tight. To find the right position for the ponytail, Riley says, "I'm always looking on the side and looking to make sure it's in the right area." You can go as low or as high as you want, but if you want a mid-head bun, she says, "I always follow the eye line and slightly higher."

Riley recommends loading the hair up with product to ensure you don't have any frizz or flyaways. She applies product to each section of hair, even if it's going to be covered by another section, because you can tell "if the hair underneath is still poofy."

Instead of using a hard gel to smooth the hair down, she likes to use the Nexxus Slick Stick Strong Hold Hair Wax ($20) and a boar-bristle brush, like The Hair Edit's Cream Finish & Shine Boar Bristle Brush ($21). Once the hair in the back of the head is secured, Riley repeats the process on the two sections on the side of the head. "All into the same ponytail — it's just going to be one ponytail by the end," she says.

Create a Center Part in the Front
Once the back sections of hair are secure in a ponytail, Riley moves on to create a sharp center part with the two face-framing sections of hair. None of Richie's hairstyles would be complete without a sharp center part. "When I'm doing my clients' hair, I do spend all day on the part — it's really important," Riley says. "If one hair is out of place on the part, you will see it in photographs."

She uses a rattail comb to move each strand of hair where she wants it, then uses the same products and brush to pull those pieces of hair back into the ponytail using additional ties.

Get Rid of Any Bumps
If your hair still isn't as sleek and bump-free as you'd like, don't fret. Riley has a great hack for smoothing any lumps without needing to start all over. "You take the end of the rattail, put it in [the hair], and like, bring them back," Riley says. This tip works especially well when doing a bun. "You can bring all the bumps to the base and the bun is going to cover it."

Create the Bun
"The bun is where you can have fun with it," Riley says. How you craft your bun all depends on your hair type and texture. But first, she starts by putting some hair oil on the ends of the ponytail to make it extra sleek. (We love the Moroccanoil Treatment Hair Oil ($48).) From there, Riley either wraps the hair around itself into a bun or does a three-strand braid. "If they have a lot of pieces that are sticking out — a lot of layers — that's when I'll probably do a braid," she says. Otherwise, the layered ends will poke out of the bun as you wrap it.

Finally, it's time to grab your bobby pins. "I usually pin as I go," Riley says, referring to adding pins to the bun one at a time as she wraps the hair around the base. "And obviously, everyone's hair is different; everyone's braid is going to look different; everyone's bun is going to look different — you're just going to play with the placement."

Don't be afraid to wrap and unwrap it a few times to get it just right, Riley advises: "When I'm doing a bun, I twist it 30 different times, different ways, to see which way it's laying."

Last but not least, lock everything in with a high-hold, high-shine hairspray, like the Nexxus Maximum Hold Finishing Hair Spray ($15). And just like that, you have a Sofia Richie-level perfect bun.

Jessica Harrington is the senior beauty editor at PS, where she writes about hair, makeup, skin care, piercings, tattoos, and more. As a New York City-based writer and editor with a degree in journalism and over eight years of industry experience, she loves to interview industry experts, keep up with the latest trends, and test new products.