How to Do a Top Knot

When you’re traveling or running to dinner, there’s nothing sexier than twisting your hair into a top knot. It gives you the ease and nonchalance of a classic French starlet. Lucky for us, my hair-genius friend Caroline shares the steps below, and the fabulous Jamie Beck took photos…
Steps and “after” photos below

“When I need a quick hairstyle, the messy top knot is my go-to. But sometimes, it’s not as quick and easy as I want it to be. Too floppy. Too tight. Too high. Re-doing the bun four or five times sort of defeats the purpose of a quick hairstyle, doesn’t it? So I came up with this foolproof quick knot that’s easy to nail the first time, and you’re out the door in under three minutes! Here we go…” — Caroline

1-2. Start putting your hair into a high ponytail, but don’t pull the hair all the way through the rubber band. You want to end up with a little loop on top with some hair left over at the bottom. (By the way, I love doing a top knot on hair that isn’t combed through, so I use my fingers to get my hair into place; that way, keeps some of the imperfect lumps and bumps. If you prefer a more polished look, you can comb your hair into a sleeker ponytail.) Tip: If your hair isn’t quite long enough to get a top knot, you can also wear the knot lower down on your head.

3. Take the section of hair that’s free from the rubber band and twist it.

4. Take the twist and wrap it around the base of the little loop of hair you created. If you have long hair, you may need to wrap it more than once. If you are wrapping it a few times, do it loosely…you don’t want it too tight and rigid.

5-6. Use bobby pins to pin the bun in place. I like to secure my bun with four pins: one in the front, one in the back and one on either side. You may have to use more if you have thicker hair. I’ve also found that “U” shaped pins work better to hold thicker hair. These specific pins are great because they have a rubberized texture that helps grip hair.

Optional: Sometimes I like to use a big barrette to add something extra. Tortoise shell is really big these days, and I love this clip. Easy and foolproof!
Thoughts? Would you wear your hair in a top knot? So beautiful.

P.S. More hair tutorials, including three twisted buns and a messy side ponytail.

(Photos by Jamie Beck for Cup of Jo. In the how-to photos, Caroline is wearing an Ace & Jig dress. Her red lipstick is Ruby Woo by MAC. In the lifestyle photos, Caroline is wearing a black maxi dress. (Another pretty one here.) Her belt is from J.Crew, and her necklace is from her own line, Brvtvs.)

  1. Thkans for taking the time to post. It’s lifted the

  2. This is fantastic! I’ve been waiting until my hair was long enough, and now it finally is! Thanks for this – I’m going to wear it tomorrow.

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  4. I love this effortless style but I just can’t seem to carry it off. My hair is super straight and quite fine (although there’s lots of it) and just a little too short for top knots at the moment. As much as I try I can’t get my hair to look right in that slightly messy way. It either looks too messy (like I let my 5 year old style it!) or too flat and smooth like an old school librarian! I think if my hair had a little more body or a slight wave this sort of style would be perfect. I haven’t tried this exact technique though so I’ll cross my fingers and give it a try – but maybe not in that order! Might be a little tricky to style with my fingers crossed ;)

    • I stand corrected – this top knot works perfectly on my hair! I thought my hair would be a little short but it just makes it. I was so happy with the results that I was upset when I had to pull it out to put my helmet on to ride to the shops! Not for bike riding days ;)
      It looks cute with my fringe but if I feel like a change I can pull my fringe back into it too – although this does result in a few “spiky” bits coming out the front. I’ve been thinking about growing my fringe out but hate that awkward in between stage when it’s too long to wear down but too short to put back. This style seems to be the solution!

  5. I haven’t tried this before, I’ll try and remember it. i think it looks effortlessly glam!

  6. I love the high twisty buns! I’m trying to grow my hair out and it is kind of stringy and an awkward length so this is my go to hair style during the week running errands with my two kids. I’m going to have to try out some of the other twists and braids though, they are beautiful!

  7. thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi Jo. Loving your blog here in Adelaide Australia! I have to say I am super excited to be growing my hair now that I have come across your hair tutorials. Bring on the Australian Summer! It should be long enough by then. Do you have any ideas for a long bob while I am growing it out? I can’t quite do the high pony yet. Have a great week! Kelly

    • I’m also from Adelaide (although living in San Francisco) so your comment popped out at me as I scrolled through :)
      I’m also growing out a long bob (my hair is just past my shoulders) and I got this style to work perfectly. I was quite surprised as I didn’t think it would fit.
      Hope you’re enjoying (or hiding from!) the extreme heat I’ve been hearing about back home :)

  9. Clementine says...

    Just in case anyone is still reading the comments, I believe that the dress that Caroline is wearing is from American Apparel…

    It’s a lovely summer dress, I find myself wearing it nearly every day!

    • Too funny — apparently American Apparel won’t give Jo a cut of sales from this dress, so she won’t post a link to their site… but ShopBop will, so she links to them instead.

  10. Love! What do you recommend as a hairdo for wet hair? Both for looks, and also for how it looks after it dries?

  11. thank you thank you for posting this! i am constantly putting my hair up and re-doing it over and over… this “how-to” works every time.


  12. I just came back from 4 months in Australia. Wearing a bun on top of your head is all the fashion there. I have definitely thrown my hair up and around. Will try this recipe too!

  13. oh my
    Caroline is sooo gorgeous
    i must say this is my fave post of yours so far
    this would surely save me from agonising looks in the mirror checking if my bun is floppy or not (99% of the time it is)
    so, THANKS!

  14. Lis says...

    The top know is my go=to during the summer! I love it. that little loop thing I’ve got to try. Someone mentioned braiding it instead of twisting it, and that’s what I usually do. Seems to work better and stay put longer than with the twisting.

  15. I do this ‘top-knot’ when I’ve got lots to do in a day + wondered how to stop it from slipping. Now I know! Cheers.

  16. This is great. I can see it being really cute of you braided the long part before you wrapped it too! God, I can’t wait for my hair to grow back…

  17. Ah, love this! I actually didn’t go for the top knot, but used it as inspiration for a lower, messy bun that will stay put all day. As an ex-dancer I usually can only manage to make my buns rock hard and stay-put (and not very pretty looking). I adjusted this a bit, but used the foundation and am thrilled! A new insanely quick updo for my super long hair in the morning. Would love to see curly/super thick hair ideas too!

  18. She is gorgeous! And I just love the styling in these photos.

    I have been willing my hair to grow just so I can do this! It is such a fun look.

  19. Top bun is a definite “do.” I have fine, slippery hair so I would recommend Goody’s Spin Pins instead of regular bobby pins — they are fantastic.

    Thanks for the great hair posts!

  20. love it! i’ve been looking for the easiest topknot and guess what! this is the one! thanks!

  21. honestly – i’m pretty sure this just changed my life! now if only i could learn how to pull that red lipstick off….


  22. Oh I’m bummed! My hair is too thick for this trick!

  23. Claire says...

    One more person who is dying to know about the actual black maxi dress worn in these photographs. It’s perfect and immediate shot to the top of my lust list. I love it’s boat neck front and deep v back. Please post the info or a link. The dresses linked in the post, while nice, are not nearly as glamorous as the one pictured. Thank you!

  24. This is awesome. Thanks for posting. I just did the knot while sitting at my desk wishing I’d taken the time to do something to my hair before I left the house this morning. It looks great and seriously took less than a minute.

  25. urbnfemme says...

    What perfect timing! I read this yesterday while feeling frumpy, but after giving it a try, I felt like I was in a French New Wave Film for the rest of the evening! Thank you!

  26. Love this! Thanks for sharing! I’m currently wearing my hair in a top knot now thanks to this post!

  27. Love this! Thanks for sharing! I’m currently wearing my hair in a top knot now thanks to this post!

  28. Jo, I would also be super keen to know the actual dress Caroline is wearing. It is just so lovely in both front and back.


  29. This is a great version of the top knot. I like it’s messy quality! It gives it sort of a sexy look!

  30. Joanna, thank you for these tutorial.

    I have a question – I see there are 2 dresses mentioned but none of them is THE dress that Caroline is wearing…would it be possible to unveil the original dresses’ brand/name/link? The first link leads to a beautiful dress but it’s not a low back one..Thank you. Hope this is possible.

  31. i love her dress so much.. is there any way to find out where she bought it? thanks!!

  32. Anonymous says...

    I lovvve hair tutorials!!!!!! Please do more of them!

  33. i used to feel like the biggest dork with a top knot. I wasn’t hipster enough for it, and felt like i was trying too hard. So i’d only have it in the comfort of my own home. But now that my hair is longer, and it’s been hitting 100 degrees in the south, i’ve been too hot and lazy to do anything else. I normally throw on a headband too. the wrap around kind. It pushes back my long bangs and holds all the messy loose hairs in place.

    i don’t feel like as big of a dork anymore with the top knot. i actually went to work with one today. people think i worked hard on it, they don’t realize that i over slept and my hair was so greasy, it looked like i sprayed it with pam

  34. I love these hair tutorials because they are super helpful, but I especially love them because your friend Caroline is such a natural beauty! Just stunning.

  35. Could Caroline BE any more beautiful! I mean, WOW!!!!

    Could we have a makeup tutorial too? Pretty please! Her skin looks so fresh…

  36. I can’t believe I’ve never tried it this way – it’s perfect!
    Thank you : )

  37. I LOVE it!! looks so glam

  38. Anonymous says...


  39. I love the tutorials of Caroline! (she’s such a beauty!)
    But do you have any ideas for shorter hair?
    Mine is chin-lenght… I want to grow it, but what to do in between?

  40. I love top knots and I love your hair tutorials!

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  42. This is my favourite hair tutorial so far! I have always wanted to master the perfect top knot, so thank you! I will definitely try it tomorrow. x

    Kate {Modette}

  43. I love that dress/lipstick combination. So classic and elegant. I’m in that inbetween stage of deciding whether to cut my hair short again or else to let it grow out. This is swaying me for longer hair.

  44. Zsuzsa says...

    Sexy???? Everybody around me, and especially boys thinks this hair is awful, it is godd for taking a showe, but not for being in the street or on a date.

  45. Love this tutorial! I’ve been looking for the right, basic one for so long. Can’t wait to try this tomorrow!

  46. I have to wear my hair up for work everyday and this is such a great alternative to the same old pony tail! Can’t wait to try it at work tomorrow :)

  47. Anonymous says...

    any way you can do a hair tutorial for short hair??

  48. HOLY CRAP YOU HAVE OVER 30,000 SUBS! that is unrealll!!!!!!!!! congrats and great blog postt!!!!

  49. I love this! So simple and classic!

    Now if only I had more hair…

  50. Joanna,
    So beautiful! Do you know the exact black maxi dress that Caroline is wearing? I love the back!

  51. where is the dress caroline is wearing from? it is so gorgeous! i feel like i am always looking for low back maxi dresses and can never find them. i am assuming it is a very expensive designer she is wearing (sigh, someday).

  52. I have worn my hair in a top knot every day for the past year or more (rut, me?) but never like this! It always seems perfect when I wake up, and just whack it up before I take a bath, but whenever I take more time it’s a complete fail. Will give this a whirl for sure!

  53. I really love hair suggestions, so thanks for doing these posts. Would love to see some tutorials for folks with a little shorter hair!

  54. Where has this posting been all my life. As my hair gets longer (and I so struggle on getting it cut) the top knot I normally do is too tight, too loose, makes me look too much like a cockatoo…I can’t wait to try this out! Hooray!!

  55. I have always wondered if men really find hair knots/buns sexy. Women certainly do, but there was that King of Queens episode where all the men said they were fuddy duddy.

  56. Anonymous says...

    I love your hair tutorials, but it seems like they are always geared toward girls with long, straight, thin hair. With my thick curly hair I could never pull any of these off.

    Have you thought of mixing it up?

  57. I love it! I totally agree with her, sometimes the top know isn’t so quick and easy. This looks so much easier and faster. I can’t wait to try it out.

  58. LOVE this, do you think you could wear it getting married? i’m having a hair trial tomorrow for my wedding(happening in 5 weeks!) and want them to try something like this. thanks for any advise or links.

  59. I’m going to do this *right now* before I head out for the evening. Now if only my hair were such a gorgeous color as Caroline’s.

  60. I always have my hair in a bun and I like to think that I am pretty good at them, but I have never though to leave a loop at the beginning. Thanks for that!

  61. top knot is my fav hairstyle. its easy and quick

  62. Anonymous says...

    I need that dress. It’s soo pretty.

  63. This, as usual, makes me want to grow my hair out!!

  64. This is just fabulous! I always love hair idea tips :)


  65. the LOOP!! its what I’ve been missing this whole time…the loop!!

    Thanks for the tip!


  66. Yes! I’m 37 weeks pregnant, temps are in the triple-digits this week here in Alabama, and I pretty much MUST wear my hair up to avoid melting. This is SO much cuter than a regular bun :)

  67. i’ve been trying to master the top knot for ages and this looks fool-proof! thank you!

  68. i seriously feel like i Pin everything you ever post.

  69. Caroline is beautiful and has such lovely staples in her wardrobe. All these hair tutorials make me really miss having long enough hair to do something fun with!

  70. Annika says...

    I like some of the other hairstyles better. Not so sure this one would look great without a face/dress/body like Caroline. (It does look great on her, though!)

  71. I finally found it!!!!!! I keep my hair knotted, almost always and my friends keep saying me that I should loose them. But I think I look great with my knot, I find it so practical, so fresh and easygoing. I use a Japanese baguette, now I will certainly give a try to this one. Thanks, thanks, thankssss. I’m going to show this post to my friends who think that keeping my hair knotted makes me look older and old-fashioned.

  72. Love love love!!!! Any chance we could find out who makes that stunning black dress? Gorgeous!!!

  73. Jessica-
    This ‘do is pretty curly friendly. Since it doesn’t require brushing or anything, you can still do the same steps…you’ll just get a bit of a messier look, which is a-okay in my book!!


  74. She has the perfect ombre locks. Thanks for another great tutorial. Every time I see these I have an “a-ha” moment…these looks seem so easy once you know how to do them. XO

  75. Caroline is gorgeous and I love this look. Really looking forward to something curly girls can use :)

  76. Such a great alternative to a messy bun. With long curly hair I need more ideas how to put it up in this sticky Charleston heat! Thank you!!

  77. ooh this is gorgeous. It almost makes me wish I still had long hair (although I was happy to donate over a foot and a half of hair to make wigs for recovering cancer patients).

    The great thing about hair is that it grows back and I can’t wait to try this out… eventually

  78. I wear my hair like this, oh, three times a week? Ha. I love these tutorials, and Caroline is such a beauty! xo.

  79. Jessie says...

    Not to ask for another tutorial….but :-)….maybe a make-up tutorial in the future? Your friend Caroline always looks so flawless, fresh & pretty. I would love to know some of her tips!

  80. Anonymous says...

    What a gorgeous dress, too!

  81. I want to try this out and see how it looks! The pictures are beautiful, though!

  82. the top knot is my best friend. and caroline is so gorgeous!

  83. Anonymous says...

    I think your hair tutorials are my favorite posts! They are my ‘go-to’ when I need hair inspiration. Any chance you can credit the actual black maxi dress that Caroline is wearing?



  84. this really is the perfect top knot. adore!!!!
    such beautiful photographs! can’t wait to try this look out :)
    xo TJ

  85. The top loop! That’s what my messy top bun has been missing! EUREKA! Thanks, ya’ll.

  86. Love this tutorial! Thank you :)

  87. haha I def tried it out in my work mirror too…how funny would it be to walk in the work bathroom and see someone else trying a top know?

    A Cup of Jo much??

  88. I love these hair tutorials!

    This is the way I fix my top knot most of the time, but I hate using bobby pins, so after I wrap, I find some exposed elastic, and tuck the ends of my hair into it. It holds it great, much better than pins, in my opinion!

  89. YES! I have a love/hate relationship with my top knots. This tutorial is exactly what I needed! Thanks!

  90. Just tried this out in the bathroom mirror at work! Love it!

  91. just attempted this in my office, with my straight asian hair and it’s wonderful. love love love love it.

  92. makes me wish i had my long hair again :(

    can you do a post on quick, go-to styles for short hair? mine is currently an inverted bob that is roughly at the nape of my neck in the back, and frames my chin in the front…


  93. oh! and i linked directly to caroline’s beautiful red lipstick in the credits at the bottom of the post, thank you!!!

  94. ooh, anonymous, i will think….and we can try to use different models with all sorts of hair, too. thanks for the question!

  95. yes, curly hair & short hair coming up, just scouting a model xoxo

  96. Anonymous says...

    I like the hair posts, but anyone know of a blog that features asian hair ideas? My hair is too thick, slippery-smooth, straight-as-a-pin & heavy for alot of these fun casual looks.

  97. Oh, thank you! This is happening right now.

  98. Jessica, you read my mind :)

    Just went to try the top knot but my curly hair just isn’t long enough.

    Have you ever heard of “Spin Pins”? They are a spiral bobby pin that makes messy buns a dream for curly girls!

  99. I was just thinking about looking up a tutorial. Thanks!

  100. Awesome! AWWWWWESOME! Much easier than the way I do, thank you soooo much! Oh, love your skin, so jealous! xxxxxx

  101. Caroline and her hair are beautiful. Do you an equally exquisite curly-haired friend with good ideas? Your hair tutorials are striaght-biased. Give us curly girls some love ;)


  102. FABULOUS! Finally a way to give my bun some extra “volume” when my hair is still wet in the morning!!

  103. makes me wish i had long hair again! i used to do this all the time when i had long hair!

  104. I’m soooo tired of my LOOOOOONG hair… need to try this. Fresh and summery.


    Luciane at

  105. Anonymous says...

    What is her lipstick?? So pretty!

  106. Joanna, pls can I know what lipstick brand and color that it.. L-O-V-E!!! Tx :)

  107. Finally! I’ve been looking for a top knot tutorial and this one is just perfect! Thank you thank you. It’s such a beautiful look!

  108. a messy top knot is also my go-to :) and Caroline is so gorgeous!
    Love these hair ideas :)