Growing up, four plaits, a ponytail, and the occasional intricate cornrow pattern were the only hairstyles my strict parents allowed me to wear. When my peers were getting box braids, silk presses, and doing their own hair for school — extra chunky plaits (which I loathed) were my signature look. A few times I went rogue: I chopped Rihanna-inspired bangs in 5th grade, which ended in a knockoff 1950s disaster, and when I turned 21, I cut a chin-length bob as my groundbreaking coming of age symbol.
As an adult, Instagram, friends, and my career in beauty have opened me up to hairstyles I’ve always wanted to try. I got my first set of box braids — ever — in 2017 before my first baecation. Last fall, I started to experiment with hair color, too. One morning, I woke up with jet-black hair, only to go to sleep that night Beyoncé blonde. Next up on my list of styles to try was a sew-in weave.
Waking up early every morning to flat iron my sweaty roots became a daunting task in the dead heat of summer, so it was time to give my hair a break. I wanted long hair that could still go up in a ponytail during a workout, but look good at the office. I’ve always been curious about wigs and weaves, and in a world of frontals, closures, and clip-ins, a sew-in felt like an easy entry.
My close friend and hairstylist, Koni Bennett, installed three 24-inch bundles of Mayvenn Virgin Malaysian Body Wave hair to my strands. The style was a far cry from my natural hair, which dangles right above my shoulders. Looking at my new bundles in the mirror, I felt reborn. The Malaysian body wave hair in Natural Black matched my hair seamlessly. The weave cascaded down to my waist, felt super soft, and didn’t get matted or tangled while I excessively flipped my hair. My inner Megan Thee Stallion (with a sprinkle of Beyoncé) was activated. But while I felt like a red-carpet celebrity almost every single day, my sew-in experience wasn’t always glamorous. Ahead, find out everything I learned about getting a sew-in .
High on the list of things I loved about my new style was the quick installation process. Bennett shampooed, conditioned, and braided most of my natural hair in a semi-circle pattern. She left a few strands out along my hairline and crown to create my “leave-out,” which would later be blended with the weave to hide the tracks.
Braiding down my hair was the lengthiest part of the sew-in process. “You want to make sure that your braids are flat and secure, so your weave doesn’t have a helmet effect,” Bennet says. Her speedy fingers had my cornrows done in less than 45 minutes. After that, it was time to install the Mayvenn extensions. Bennett used a curved needle and weaving thread to attach the wefts to the braids. To finish, she straightened my leave-out, and styled it in loose waves to match the texture of the weave.
It was refreshing to be in and out of the salon chair in less than two hours, compared to box braids which can take up to six hours. I also didn’t need to immediately take an ibuprofen to soothe a hair-induced headache. If your scalp is particularly tender, like mine, be sure to tell your stylist in advance so they can keep tugging while braiding to a minimum.
2. Sweat and sew-ins don’t mix.
After a few days wearing the weave, the real work began. To maintain a loose wave, I spent a lot of time curling the waist-length hair with a one-inch curling wand and then braiding it before bed. The weave held a wavy pattern even when I didn’t spend time on it with hot tools. My leave-out, on the other hand, became increasingly annoying to style. Between working out and sweating in the 90-degree New York City heat, keeping my natural hair from curling up required that I use hot tools almost daily.
If you frequently sweat (in your sleep or at the gym), Mayvenn hairstylist Deniel Johnson says that proper after-care is critical. “If you work out frequently, it’s important to make sure your scalp is cool and dry afterward,” she says. “Blowdry your hair in small sections and use witch hazel on a cotton swab to absorb excess sweat.” Johnson adds that if you regularly workout, plan to wash your hair every two weeks (more on that in a minute).
3. Washing all that hair is a lot of work.
Shampooing my weave gave new meaning to wash day. I usually shampoo twice, let my hair air-dry, and straighten it in roughly 45 minutes (give or take a Netflix episode). But wash day with my weave was a different ball game. I started by separating my leave-out and splitting my weave into two sections. I shampooed each part separately using Suave Naturals Sulfate-Free Shampoo, and when I looked at the soapy water, it was noticeably murky. It took three thorough washes to get my hair completely clean.
4. You have to prep your hair before installing it.
In retrospect, the murky water was probably due to the fact that I failed to follow one simple rule before installing my hair: washing it. “Before installing, proper cleansing of the bundles is highly recommended,” says Johnson. “If not, you risk leaving on any coating serums that may have been added to the hair by the manufacturer, which can cause an allergic reaction for some clients.” Oops. “You can shampoo and condition your hair, then allow it to air-dry on hangers to keep its natural texture,” Johnson says.
To prevent your weave from shedding while you wear it, some retailers also recommend sealing the wefts before you install. “To seal the wefts, you can use a glue adhesive or sealant from the beauty supply store to prevent the hair from shedding,” says Bennett. “You can apply the sealant to the weft only and let it dry overnight.” I did not seal my wefts beforehand and didn’t experience significant shedding while my hair was installed. But it probably would have been a good idea to shampoo the wefts before I put them in, so I’ll be noting that for next time.
5. It also takes forever to dry.
It took over an hour and a lot of bicep strength to get my weave (and the braids underneath) semi dry. Before blowdrying, I applied Bumble & Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer to my hair. Johnson advises against using heavy oils on your bundles, and sticking to lightweight leave-in conditioners and serums instead. “Lightweight products will keep your hair smooth and keep it shiny without weighing it down,” she says.
To start out, I used a large paddle brush with my blowdryer, which barely dried my extensions. Eventually, I gave up and let my hair air-dry completely. Having a hooded dryer at home also simplifies the process. “You can section your hair and sit under the dryer on low heat to thoroughly dry your braids and the wefts,” says Johnson.
Not thoroughly drying your weave and braids underneath might leave behind a bad odor, especially if your strands aren’t properly rinsed. I kept my hair in for four weeks and washed it three times. During this span, I used lots of products, attended a handful of hot yoga sessions, and didn’t always rinse my hair thoroughly. Needless to say, when it was time to remove my wefts, my natural hair smelled like it’d been through a lot. “It’s why I don’t recommend going beyond 4-6 weeks without proper removal and treating your natural hair,” says Bennett. “Taking care of your hair underneath is important in preventing sweaty odor, scalp irritation, and hair loss in some cases.”
6. A sew-in is cute, but it isn’t always protective.
When I removed the wefts, there was a noticeable difference in the texture of my hair that was braided down and the hair that was left out. My untouched hair was curlier and more defined, whereas the leave-out around my middle part was limp and loose in its natural state. It’s why I wouldn’t necessarily consider the style “protective.”
If you want to cut back on heat styling your natural hair while wearing a weave, Bennett says opt for bundles that easily blend with your hair’s natural texture. “That way you can braid your leave out and unravel it in the morning, versus using hot tools,” she says. You can also consider wigs and closure pieces, which completely cover the front of your hair and eliminate a leave-out altogether.
My month-long sew-in experience taught me that weave takes a lot of time and care. I spent more time finessing my leave-out to match my extensions than I care to admit. However, the length and look of my hair was worth getting up 30 minutes early for. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but next time, I’ll be wiser. I shall wash my bundles before I install them. I shall invest in a hooded hairdryer. And I shall continue to switch things up — because that’s the beauty of hair.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?9 Wigs That Are Perfect For Beginners7 Wig & Extension Brands The Pros Swear ByHow To Keep Your Hair Healthy Underneath A Wig