If you've ever worn hair extensions, you don't need us to tell you how inconvenient and high-maintenance they can be. If it's not clip-ins, which take forever to do yourself (and leave room for human error), then it's sew-ins or bonded extensions, which require an afternoon in the salon.
So it's no surprise that when Hidden Crown's hair extensions hit the scene, they blew up on Instagram for the sheer ease and accessibility of wearing extensions like a headband.
Instead of the tedious process of applying multiple clips, these hair extensions are shaped like an elastic headband with hair attached around the back. It takes the effort out of extensions; all you have to do is slip it over your head until it sits around the crown of your head (hence the name), layer your own hair around it, and proceed as usual. It's so genius that these halo-shaped extensions are now favorites of Ashley Graham, Kim Kardashian West, Khloé Kardashian, Olivia Culpo, and too many Real Housewives to count (among them Melissa Gorga, Erika Jayne, and Stephanie Hollman).
Founder Shelley Goodstein had a pretty impressive résumé before she added "founder and CEO" to the list. The Tucson, Arizona–based mom of three balanced her career as a pharmaceutical rep, modeling gigs with Ford Models, a blog called A Model's Secrets, and a self-published book, a prescient, pre-social-media guide to taking flattering photos.
Once she hit her forties, she says, her hairstylists started to put clip-in extensions on while she was modeling: "My hair would be fuller, and it’s the one thing you can’t photoshop—fuller hair." She loved the effect of the extensions so much that she once asked if she could keep them in for dinner with her husband afterward. It was easier than doing it herself. "There had to be 25 clips—there was no way I could do that confidently," she says.
When Goodstein began to search for other options (and thus found the fishing-line design), she also entered the Beauty Search contest for the since-folded More magazine, which celebrated women over 40. "I got to come to New York to do a photo shoot and won $10,000," says Goodstein, who was 45 at the time. Her idea: Invest the winnings in a prototype of the halo-style hair extensions. "Once I had the extensions and perfected the design, I decided to test the market," she says. Her best group of testers? Her blog readers.
Goodstein wrote a blog post in which she explained her new hair extensions, shared photos, and compared them to clip-ins. Readers sent in orders—and she sold out her first batch. "I doubled my money on day one, and then I never put another penny into my business," she says. "I did all the shipping, I did all the service. I tried to figure out all the advertising."
And though they're an Instagram darling, Goodstein never sent them to influencers or celebrity reps to get coverage. The purpose of these halo-type hair extensions—which is to make extensions seem less overwhelming and easier to handle—is what made them stand out. That's how celebrity hairstylist Justine Marjan discovered them.
"I’d seen Hidden Crown Hair Extensions all over Instagram for years and love how the headband style makes extensions not intimidating," she says. "The clear string adjusts to your head shape and sits comfortably on your head, so you don’t have to worry about tracks showing or a clip coming undone."
Bailey Marshall, a lifestyle blogger, learned about the extensions when a friend recommended them. "I didn’t realize that Hidden Crown was a thing until two months ago," she tells Glamour. "You know the feeling when you leave your hair in a pony too long? That's what I would get with clip-ins. Now that I have a Hidden Crown, I don’t know why clip-ins are even a thing."
What also sets the extensions apart is the hair quality, which is why celebrity hairstylist Bradley Leake loves them. "I was researching for a client who was interested in getting really great quality hair but didn’t want the everyday upkeep of traditional tape-in or keratin extensions," he says. "The hair density and quality that Hidden Crown provides is unlike any other." Goodstein was insistent on using Remy hair, which is like chopping a ponytail at the base and keeping it bundled: "That way all the cuticles are going in the same direction," she says. When the cuticles on extensions aren't all facing the same way, it creates friction, which leads to tangling. "Hair like that won’t last," Goodstein explains. "You can’t get your brush through it."
The quality does come at a price; the halo styles range anywhere from $199 for natural fullness to $449 for the longest, densest layers. There are three styles available for purchase on the Hidden Crown website: Daydream, which has the lightest weight and less length; Hidden Crown hair, which offers more fullness at the ends; and Hidden Crown Layers, which have the most length and fullness. There are 28 hair shades to choose from too, and if you're not sure of your best match, you can email a photo of yourself to the brand, which will help you determine the right color for you. (Alternately, you can find them in person at a participating salon.)
The hair color has been the most challenging aspect, since it's never exactly the same unless it's coming from a box. "It’s not a dye number. It’s all done by eye," Goodstein says, which is why they have master colorists on hand to help. But even so, it's possible to order the same shade and receive one that's slightly different. "Every time you get your hair highlighted or colored, it’s never the same," she says. "It could be humid out, or maybe the cuticle is damaged and more porous."
And Hidden Crown does now offer clip-ins ("That’s what people start with," Goodstein says), though they're still far easier than what she had on set at her modeling jobs. Instead of nine clip-ins, these come in a pack of three. "I love this because it, again, makes extensions feel less intimidating," Marjan says. "With one pack, you only need to apply one clip to each side and one in the back."
Clip-in extensions are also better for certain styles than the halo, according to Leake. "Clips are easier to hide with an updo, but the halo can be used for braids, low buns, and half-up hairstyles," he explains.
Even with the runaway success, Goodstein is insistent on being hands-on, which is part of the reason she keeps the company small. We're talking really small: She has just four employees, two of whom are part-time. It allows her to know exactly what's happening within her company. "When I sent these out myself, I’d package them and think, I hope she loves this as much as I love this product," says Goodstein. "Our hair—short, medium, long—is what shows us off as women. It's kind of a big deal."
Deanna Pai is a beauty writer in New York City. Follow her @deannapai.