How to slick back hair: The ultimate guide

There is no more timeless hairstyle for the discerning gentleman than the slick back hairstyle. Made famous by James Dean and Elvis Presley in days gone by, and by contemporary style icon, David Beckham, this timeless and classic hairstyle has remained a popular style down through the years.

David Beckham has proved two things over the years – firstly, it’s impossible for him to look bad with any hairstyle, with the possible exception of the headband? And secondly, that the classic pompadour is one of the most sophisticated looks around, and looks equally great on the green carpet of a football pitch, or the red carpets of the global fashion weeks.

What is slick back hair?

Put simply, its hair that is pushed backward either with the hand or using a comb. Whether it’s classic pompadour, the slicked back undercut or the slick back fade, the basic style is the same.

Careful, though, danger lurks here; you might well achieve the perfect style, but if it’s at the expense of looking like you’ve dipped your head in an oil drum (remember Ross in Friends?) then you’re not going to be smoldering in your next Instagram post, but more likely scaring off any potential ‘likers’. Luckily, we’ve got your back. As well as looking at the different slick back hairstyles and how they differ, we are also going to take a look into the best products for you to achieve this timeless, versatile look.

The History of the Slick Back

The Slick Back style originated in the Edwardian era hairstyles of the poorer people (1901-1910). The undercut style was developed by barbers who were often not skilled enough to blend the back and sides into the longer hair worn on top.

The undercut style was made popular during the early 20th Century when criminal gangs such as the Peaky Blinders sported the undercut style with well-coiffed hair up top. This was partly because having long hair was dangerous during fights! Of course, we are not suggesting that you start fighting once you have the slick back style!

The undercut, which probably would have had some form of slick back on top, lasted until the 1960s when American artists and the so-called British Invasion bands, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones became popular and brought their long hairstyles with them.

Along with the undercut, the Pompadour was made popular among young men in the 1950s and 60s by young rock and roll stars such as Elvis Presley. The name and style are taken from Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of the French King Louis XV. Essentially, the hair is worn high over the forehead and then swept back towards the back of the head.

If you combine the undercut and the pompadour, you basically get the modern, slicked back hairstyle. This hairstyle was worn by the likes of Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt, which is also a popular choice for the ‘Scandi’ look, particularly when worn with a full beard.

The Classic Slick Back

In any discussion on how to slick back hair, it’s pretty well unanimous that the classic slick back is the one to start with. Truly a timeless look, this style looks just as great in the office, as it does on a night out.

Bear in mind that whilst this style is easy to maintain and style in the morning, ideal for the modern man on the go, sadly it isn’t for everyone. Those with very curly hair will struggle to keep their hair in place. This type of hair will most likely revert to its normal style, but with an overkill product in it. It’s also not ideal for those with very fine hair, as it won’t carry the product well and can look more invisible than styled.

If you’re blessed with the perfect hair type for the pompadour, however, then the classic slicked back hairstyle might be the best place for you to start.

This is the easiest style to maintain, although we do recommend washing your hair, or at least rinsing it regularly due to the amount of product you will need to use to hold it all in place.

Ask your barber or hairdresser for a grade two or three on the sides. This will make it look different from the slicked back undercut, and ask him to keep the top as long as possible. Then, right out of the shower, apply some strong hold Pomade to your hair. Work it through evenly, and push your hair back with your fingers or a fine-toothed comb. Allow your hair to dry naturally and you’re all set to go. You can use softer products, of course, but you will run the risk of straggling hairs starting to work loose as the day goes on.

The classic slick back

Side Parting Slick Back

Slightly trickier than the classic slick back hairstyle, the side parting slick back adds another, more modern definition to your style.

With this look, the tendency is to keep the sides a little longer, with a fade from the bottom up. The side parting should be nicely defined with a trimmer to ensure the sharpest of looks. The top is kept longer but is defined using thinning scissors before being styled.

To style the side parting slick back, simply apply the product of your choice to wet or damp hair and style into the parting with your hands. You can blow-dry to add volume and shape to your style. Use a straightening iron to smooth out any stray curls.

We’ll be looking some more at the best products for slicked back hair shortly.

Side parting slick back

The Slick Back Undercut and the Slick Back Fade

If you really want to stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression, the slick back undercut or fade are for you. These dramatic looking styles really modernize the classic slick back hairstyle and bring them right up to date.

The undercut removes most of the length from the sides and the back, leaving just the longer hair on top, creating a look similar to Brad Pitt in the movie Fury. The longer section of the hair should hang over the undercut, shorter hair at the back.

Add some drama, add a fade…

For even more drama, add a fade – starting at the skin at the base of your hair. Ask your barber or stylist to gradually increase the gradient as you move up the head to your slick back. The fade isn’t for everyone, and might not suit every face and head shape. Therefore be sure to ask your barber or stylist for assistance before committing yourself to the electric trimmers.

How to Slick back your hair

Now that we’ve looked at the styles and the variations, it’s time to move on and look at how to create your new style.

The first, and most important, step in the process is to find the right barber or hairdresser for you. It may sound obvious, but you really need to be confident that your barber understands what you are looking for, and can achieve that look. Don’t be afraid to shop around.

 Once you have found your barber soul mate, you need to choose the style that you´d like to go for. Again, a great hairdresser can help you here with some valuable advice as to what will suit your face shape and hair type.

Once you have your cut, it’s time to style your hair.

Before we start, it’s important to mention that you need to make sure you’re looking after your hair, not just for the sake of its health, but also to achieve the best results when styling.

Step 1: Wash & condition 

Start out by washing and conditioning your hair with a great nourishing shampoo and conditioner to remove excess oil, product residue, and dirt.

Step 2: Protect

So, having washed your hair, apply some serum or protective product to your hair. Work the product all the way through, particularly if you’re going to use hot styling products such as hairdryers or straightening irons. Some pre-styling products will also have protective qualities and will allow you to do much of the styling without having to use too much wax, clay or pomade, and risking an oily finish.

Step 3: Blow-dry & shape

If blow drying, it’s a good idea to use a rounded brush and brush the hair from the base up and backward, which will give your style definition and add height.

Step 4: Style

Once you have the shape, you can add your final product to the hair. Work it in thoroughly and ensure full coverage to get the desired effect.

Step 5: Finish

For the side parting, ensure the parting line is clear and well defined and that it’s as straight as it can be. A good comb is ideal for this. When it comes to combs, if you want a more casual, relaxed look, you can style with your fingers, which will give the hair less definition but will make it look more relaxed. If you are looking for a more classic 40´s look, a comb is a great tool to invest in. The comb will give you more control over individual strands and help keep your hair as a whole in place.

To blow-dry or not to blow dry? That is the question.

If your wife, girlfriend or sister has a hairdryer, why not try out a blow-dried look. This will add style, definition and even height to your slicked back hair. Remember, however, that heat and hair don’t really mix, so you´ll need to protect your hair with a serum or protective hair care product. Use the heat on the lowest setting available and try not to hold the heat in one place for too long.

Don’t rush out and buy the latest Dyson product, however. You don’t have to have a hairdryer to achieve the slick back style. If you don’t want any height in your hair and are going for a slightly more conservative look. We do recommend applying your product to damp hair and allowing it to dry naturally if you’re not using a hairdryer. It’s a good idea to towel dry your hair from wet to damp, though, if you’re not going to blow dry.

Best products for slicked back hair

There are a lot of products out there for men’s grooming, and many of them are very good. When it comes to the slick back hairstyle you need something that is going to hold your hair in place without making you look like you’ve slid down a greased fireman’s pole and something which won´t dry out your hair and scalp and cause flaking.

For volume and bounce, we recommend a pre-styling spray. This will help protect your hair from the styling process, especially when using a hair dryer or straightening irons. It will also give your hair the height you need to really pull off the slick back definition. The Sidekick spray from By Vilain is the perfect addition to your styling range. Sidekick not only provides heat protection it also increases styling options as well as adding texture, volume and hold. It’s not limited to the slick back either. In fact, you can use all of the By Vilain products to create many different styles.

After that, you need a product to hold your hair in place. The definition comes from the pre-styling spray, of course. You don’t want to add too much to your hair, which will make it look oily. Depending on your type of hair, and the slick back hairstyle that you´d like to have, there are a number of products you can choose from. We really love the By Vilain Gold Digger wax, which provides a super strong hold with a matte finish, which is unusual for a wax and very unique.

If you want to go for the more traditional look for your slick back, however, you could always go for a pomade. By Vilain have you covered here, too, with their Powermade. This professional, high performing pomade provides a light hold with a great glossy finish for the full classic James Dean look. Not only that, but it’s also water soluble to prevent a build-up of product, and eliminate the need for super aggressive shampooing.

If you’re looking for more suggestions in terms of the best products for slicked back hair, or tips on how to slick back your hair, we recommend watching our video below where we share our “secrets” and will help you achieve the perfect slick hair.

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