How to Slick Your Hair Back

For high hold and no shine, use fiber

It can also be applied to dry hair for medium hold and piece-y, surfy texture.

For light-to-medium hold and high shine, use pomade

This gives you more of a modern-day Suits finish, instead of an old-school Mad Men slickness. (Less greasy, really.)

For medium hold and light shine, use paste

This gives you “touchable” hair that can be mussed up after work for a more Happy Hour-friendly style. (It also happens to be GQ readers’ favorite hair product.)

For light hold and medium shine, use oil

Jack Black hair, face, and beard oil

It’s is as good for your face as it is for your hair. But, applied to hair, it’ll give you a pinch of sheen with no grip whatsoever. This is a better bet for longer styles that won’t otherwise suffer from flyaways. It’s also good to mix with cream or paste for more added control + shine.

For light hold and light shine, use cream

Cream gives your hair the control and style you want, but will make it look as if there’s no product added at all.

For extra hold, use hair spray

Give your finished look a light layer of hair spray to restrict any movement (if that’s what you want; it doesn’t make as much sense if you only use a cream or oil). Point the spray eight inches from your head, to ensure that the style holds all day.

How to Slick Back Different Types of Hair

Here are a few suggestions for different hair types—since no two men will have the same results, based on density, thickness, and texture.

  • To slick back curly or wavy hair: Opt for a lightweight product, like paste, which will give you the right amount of control without compromising your texture. You probably won’t get the same effects as the straight-haired guys, but you can give yourself a nice modified version of the style. (Unless you relax and straighten it out first, à la Justin Timberlake.)

  • To slick back thin or thinning hair: Stick with something lightweight, to avoid any added strain on your hair. Again, pastes are typically a safe bet, since they are lightweight on application but that still provide enough hold. Creams will give you direction without hold, which might be a smart option for you, too.

  • To slick back thick, wiry hair: Have your stylist or barber texturize and thin the hair, which will allow it to lay flatter and cooperate with your styling. Use conditioner and leave-in hair masks to keep the hair hydrated and soft. Then, try something with higher hold, like gel or fiber, depending on the amount of shine you want. You can finish with a hair spray for added control.

GQ’s pick for best leave-in hair mask for thick hair:

Kérastase thick-hair relaxing mask

More Tips for Slicking Back Your Hair

  1. Think about context
    Having slicked-back hair is a statement. Doing it in your casual clothes—or even your gym clothes—makes you look a little stodgy. It’s better to stick to formal occasions or a buttoned-up workplace.

  2. Try different products
    In addition to a being a statement hairstyle, slicked-back hair can also read a little intense. (Which can be a good thing, when the context is right.) So, if you like the general look on yourself, it might be wise to modify it for different occasions. Use gel or pomade for really formal occasions. Use paste or fiber for more casual settings.

  3. Keep your edges clean
    You need clean lines with this cut. That means you need to visit the barber once a month to keep a neat perimeter and neck.

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