When it comes to slick back hairstyles, for every Eric Trump (shudder), there’s a David Beckham, smugly smouldering into the camera with the single greatest loose pompadour known to man.
This proves two things. One, its impossible for any of David Beckham’s hairstyles to look bad. And two, the devil here is almost certainly in the detail – a fractional misstep and you’re in slick back hell with hair greasier than a strippers pole.
So, if you’re looking to add the slick back look to your grooming arsenal, here’s everything you need to know to get it right.
Where Slick Back Hairstyles Came From
The slick back was arguably the most popular hairstyle in the first half of the 20th century (think Jay Gatsby and Clark Gable) as men lacquered their locks with hair products in the pursuit of a smart, controlled look.
After waning in popularity in favour of shorter military haircuts, the slick back returned at the beginning of the current decade with the more contemporary undercut in tow before briefly dipping again when flowing locks made an appearance on the catwalks.
Despite the flux, a classic slick back will always be cool, and it’s remarkably easy to do. The reason for this is that it’s less to do with the way your hair is cut, and more about what you do with it – all you really need is enough hair on top to successfully push it all back. “It’s a great way of varying up your look when some gents hairstyles can seem one dimensional,” says Denis Robinson, creative director at UK-wide barbers Ruffians. “The addition of product and slicking it back adds variation and a bit of a change to your everyday look.”
Will It Work For Me?
Classic slick back hair is relatively easy to style, so it’s a sensible option for men who have to get up and go in the mornings. Joe Mills, owner of Soho barbers Joe & Co, says that the best haircuts tend to take into consideration the lifestyles of those wearing them. “Most guys haven’t got 45 minutes every day to sit in front of the mirror blow drying their hair, or they might come out the gym and don’t want to be seen standing there with their straightening irons and hair products.”
The ease of styling rests solely on your hair type. The slick back look works best with naturally straight hair, not so much curly types. “Very curly hair tends to spring back to type, just leaving you with hair that is heavy with product,” says Robinson, who also warns against the look for those with fine hair as well. “It will usually end up looking transparent and see-through with all the gel in it.”
Also think about how you play with your hair during the day. A classic slick back will be crispy to touch and you won’t be able to run your fingers through it. A pompadour will be easier to mess about with, but might start to look messy after daily conditions have battered it to within an inch of its life.
According to Mills, other questions you should ask include “does it suit what you wear, how you wear it, what you do for a job and what your social scene is like?”
As far as whether your face shape will suit the style, a slick back is versatile enough to suit most. “The only shape I would say doesn’t lend itself to the style so well is a round face – I wouldn’t go for the hard undercut slicked back because it will just follow around the shape of your head.”
5 Ways To Wear A Slicked Back Hairstyle
Classic Slick Back
The classic slick back is the easiest to style and maintain, although it does require you to wash (or at least rinse) your hair regularly, as the amount of product needed will start to dry and flake if kept in for too long.
Ask your barber for a grade two or three on the sides to differentiate it from the undercut, and for it to be kept as long as possible on the top. When styling, apply some strong hold pomade straight out of the shower then push it back before allowing it to dry naturally. You can use a softer product like a paste or gel, but you run the risk of stray hairs flying about the place at the end of the day.
Slick Back Pompadour
Before David Beckham made the world swoon at the Royal Wedding with a short textured crop, he had been more well-known hair wise for his slick back pompadour.
Though it’s easy to ask for (you want four to six inches left on top and a taper on the sides), it’s not a look that comes easy. “The styling aspects of this is key,” says Mills. “For Becks to have a quiff like that, it has been blowdried, then a mousse or texture spray added, before a light pomade or a paste in it and then hairspray. So that’s at least three different products and four different stages.”
Slick Back Undercut
Not for the faint-hearted, a slick back undercut requires dedication, mainly because of the time it would take to grow out again once the sides have been clipped short. “Reaching, say, man-bun-level would be as hard as growing it out from the skinhead stage,” warns Mills.
If committed, aim to create contrast by first growing a minimum of four to six inches on top before sitting in the chair. Once there, your barber needs to section the hair away from the back and sides, and you need to go as short as you’re comfortable with. “If you keep it skin tight around the edges, you’ll be going back to the barbers every 10 days. However, once the top is cut and shaped, it probably only needs one haircut in three to tidy it up.”
Slick Back Man Bun
If you have what it takes to survive the horrendous growing-out stage needed for a slick back undercut, why not keep going until you reach the length required for a man bun? “To get it to that length you are literally not going to get a haircut for a year,” says Mills. “You have to stick it under a beanie or a baseball cap and just live with it.”
Once there, the payoff is a style that doesn’t require much attention. You don’t have to wear a lot of product, so if someone wanted to tie their hair back I’d suggest you wash it and towel dry it, but leave a bit of leave-in conditioner on and then literally tie it back with a band that’s not too tight, so it doesn’t dig in and damage the hair. The length of the hair should literally hold it back itself.”
Slick Back With Fade
Similar to the slick back undercut, but softer, the slick back with fade is a go-to cut for men who after a modern style that will last for several years. “The advantage of it is that it looks smart,” says Mills. “If you have a short back and sides and your hair is pushed back on top, it tends to look very presentable and like you have a direction with your image.”
Style it exactly as you would the undercut by working a pomade into the hair that allows you to push to back. You may also need to use hairspray to keep it in place, and if you are after volume, the styling aspects up top are very similar to a pompadour.