November 10, 2011

The Perfect Slick-back, a Tutorial

They ask, “How do you get your hair looking so perfect everyday?” “With hot and painful morning hair-pulling, and a cup of hair spray!” I reply, half-jokingly. Knowing how to do the perfect, sharp slick-back is great to keep in one’s arsenal for that hot date or the occasional black-tie affair, or for those with the same commitment to dandyism as I have, everyday. Admittedly, it does take a little more time and effort than a tousled dirty-wax hairstyle, but with technique and lots of practice, this ‘do can be most certainly do-able.

You might notice the rigor and severity of my technique; I do have to contend with the stubbornness of my horse-thick Asian hair. For those with finer hair, feel free to skip the blow-drying step, or use a gel or pomade with a little less hold. Here’s how to do it:
Begin with your hair fresh from the shower; it is most pliable at this state. Towel-dried until it is very slightly damp, parted where preferred.
Start by blow-drying the sides of your hair closer to the head for a slim, sleek profile. Comb the hair down and back, and follow the motion with the hair dryer. Repeat until dry.
Take time to blow-dry the top portion of your hair that falls right opposite the part: this section will carry the most weight, and blow-drying it would prevent it from collapsing throughout the day. Brush back with the comb and follow with the hair-dryer on high.
When all is dry and set, it’s time for gel or pomade. I like the sharpness and the volume that gel permits, but if you prefer the more throwback, closer-to-the-head sort of slick-back, by all means use pomade. I use about two teaspoons of Goldwell’s mello goo gel, it’s thick as jam.
Rub the product thoroughly between your hands, and carefully shape your hair the desired way. I think having it slim on the sides, with a slight bit of volume on the top-front, gradually tapering down is universally flattering.
Follow through with a comb to distribute the product.
And set with hair spray.
I like to run my fingers through the top about ten seconds after spraying it. It gives my pencil-straight hair a bit of texture and it makes for a bit of a controlled messy look. For something more runway-pristine, skip this step and use more hair spray. Make sure to lay the hair spray on twice as heavy on the top portion right opposite the part; this section needs the most support. Set everything with a hair dryer on low.
As an extra flourish, I like to finish it off with a glossing serum. I use the medium-thickness Nigelle Rx from Hair Mates in the East Village.
Rub a squirt or two vigorously between your palms.
And carefully work it through your hair. That extra glint, that shine when the halogen lights at a gallery opening hit your mane, ah, with that perfectly slicked-back mane you will stand out in the crowd.
Finished. Smile, you movie star you.
photographs by Austin A. Wong

58 Comments

  • yanneng
    November 10th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for this! I've been trying to get the quiff right for ages but well, I don't even have a hairdryer so I guess that's a big problem.

  • Mat
    November 10th, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    you're hair does just amazing matey, i must admit. this will come in handy for the hair bunch. sadly mines thin on the ground and has been since i was about 20. my grandad had hair like yours, probably a bit longer but similar teddy boy style in the 50s. it skipped my generation and i got lumped with curly fly away hair

  • chanwit
    November 15th, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Love it!
    Just one question, is it hard to rinse all those products off?

  • Izzy
    November 15th, 2011 at 12:19 am

    chanwit: no, it all rinses out cleanly with water.

  • Christopher Lai
    February 24th, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Great set of pictures and writeup. I’m Asian myself, and trying to go for the slicked back hair look to look more mature and professional. I think the coarsness of our hair makes the task a little more challenging than caucasians. Nonetheless, you demonstrated well on how to tame your hair.

    Question: how long, roughly, is the front of your hair?

  • editor
    March 26th, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    fantastic. you look fantastic! completely halogen light-ready.
    i just have my sides trimmed super nearly-shaved-but-not-short and grow the top. the result is decidedly less fabulous than this.

  • Izzy
    March 27th, 2012 at 2:10 am

    you’re too kind! thank you

  • Kat
    April 11th, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Awesome! Brilliant! I’m a girl, but my hair cut is short and boyish. I’m also Filipino so my hair is super thick, and for the life of me, I could not figure out how to slick it back without it having absurd height (think Christopher Walken in Balls of Fury). Followed your steps and it turned out perfect. Thank You!

  • Tom Seely
    June 29th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Brilliant tutorial. Thanks! Just one thing, this might sound odd but where did you get that blue shirt of yours? Ive been after the exact same for ages now with no succes.

  • Tom Seely
    June 29th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Brilliant tutorial. Thanks! Just one thing, this might sound odd but where did you get that blue shirt of yours? Ive been after the exact same for ages now with no success.

  • Izzy
    June 30th, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Uniqlo! Fine oxford cloth button-down.

  • Gannon
    July 9th, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Hello Izzy! I can’t tell you how much of a fan I am of your site! Thank you so much for posting this! I just have a few questions. I’m 16, Caucasian, male, brown hair, etc. but the point is my hair is VERY THIN and it’s hard to utilize to look as full as yours. (http://tinypic.com/r/112cx7k/6) [not sure if this will work but I'll try][IMG]http://i48.tinypic.com/112cx7k.jpg[/IMG]
    anyways, I really, really, really want your hair in the last picture. Like it’s my dream haha. Are there any hair products you would recommend? As far as mouse, shampoos, I’m desperate haha. I use head and shoulders so when I do my part, my scalp looks healthy. It’s also very helpful in making my hair a little thicker. I’m willing to spend a decent amount of money if I can get your hair haha.
    I understand if you can’t help me because you have thick hair and aren’t used to this question.

    Much respect,
    Gannon

  • Izzy
    July 10th, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Hello, Gannon! Thank you for your kind words. You are right in saying that I have very thick hair, and the way I get it cut and the way I style it is very much about getting it to look thinner than it actually is. I do style my friends’ hair, or models’ hair for shoots from time to time and the best advice that I could give you would be to use a matte wax/pomade instead of gel to achieve this look. Gel tends to clump up the hair into shiny little bits and works to show a lot of scalp. Use a light wax to help create movement and texture in your hair. Create a casual side part and lock it all in with medium-weight hairspray. Needless to say, a good haircut and some thickening shampoo and conditioner are essential. Hope this helps!

    Best,
    Izzy

  • Kal
    July 29th, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Hey Izzy,

    Great hair! I see that you’re also based in NYC. Maybe you can point me in the right direction. I’m in the process of growing out my hair and was wondering how you dealt with the awkward stage where it’s not short but its not quite long enough to slick back. What do you tell your barber/stylist in the awkward stage in order to achieve this hairstyle? And once your hair was longer, what do you ask for?

    Thanks,
    Kal

  • Izzy
    July 30th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Kal,

    Thanks. I’ve never really cut my hair too short to slick back. Truth is, with the thickest of gel and the strongest of hair sprays, I can probably slick back a crew cut. The best advice I could give you is that during the awkward growing stage, have your barber clean up the sides and back, and have the top always slightly longer than the sides; this is universally flattering. For my very thick Asian hair that tends to stick out, I found that wearing a tight cap at home for a few minutes after my hair had dried helps keep my hair from being puffy. My longer hair cut is a constant collaboration between me and my hair stylist, Alex at Hair Mates on St. Mark’s. Best haircut of my life. I would bring him photos of haircuts I like, and we would find a way to make them work for me. Take a bunch with you, and feel free to use photos from my blog, if you like the way I do my hair. Hope this helps.

    Best,
    Izzy

  • Izzy
    July 30th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Christopher: Apologies, I had missed your question. In these photos, my bangs go a little past my eyebrows.

  • Jim
    August 8th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Good job man!, looking sharp!

  • Andrew
    October 17th, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Looking good buddy! I too have “Asian” hair even though I am half asian/white. No barber can cut my hair without it looking ridiculous. I am going to bring photos in to my haircut lady next week of you hair so she can attempt to copy the cut. My question is… how do they trim/taper on your lower sides and neck? Do they use a clipper guard at all? Like do they do a number 2 clipper an inch up then use a comb to fade? Or do they only use the comb/clipper method to get your sides trimmed in that fashion? Thanks for your time!

    -Andrew

  • Izzy
    October 18th, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Thanks, Andrew. It really depends on your barber/hairstylist. My stylist does everything with scissors, save for a few spots on the edges, which he cleans with a razor. The best advice I could give is to bring clear pictures of what you want, and a good barber will be able to replicate that. For Asian hair, I’d recommend the sides be either long enough to slick down with gel when you fix it, or really short so as to maintain a slim, clean profile without product. Hope this helps!

  • Jon
    October 24th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I’ve been wanting to get a slicked backed style for awhile. Specifically, I want to get an undercut, where the sides are, at most, #2 with the top long. Have you ever had that style?

    I ask because I went to a barber that I never used before and asked if I could get that look. He seemed skeptical. He cut the sides to see what would happen and, like your hair, the area that transitions from side to top around the temples really sticks out bad, making it look like I have a square head, with a row of porcupine quills. He gave up really quick and we went with the standard messy/fauxhawk thing. How did you find your stylist? Is he/she a specialist with asian hair or something?

    Also, how does your hair hold up throughout the day? When I had longer hair, if I started to get hot, my head would heat up and I’d lose all the hold close to the scalp. Eventually my hair would start to puff up and was a mess by the end of the day. Do your sides stay close all day or do they start to look like a porcupine by the afternoon?

  • Izzy
    October 24th, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Jon,

    Yes, I get the sides trimmed short like that from time to time. For Asian hair, I think the best is to cut it really short (1 to 2) tapered so that it shows a clean line, or left out much longer so that it falls. I don’t think he markets himself as an Asian hair specialist, but he is half-Japanese and works at a Japanese salon in New York. I think the best way to make sure your hair doesn’t puff up is to refrain from sweating and to use a gel hard enough to hold your slick-back, and lock it in with a strong hairspray. I’ve also found that when I’m in the process of growing my hair out, wearing a cap indoors helps minimize the poufiness and keeps my hair growing flat. Hope this helps.

    Izzy

  • hugh mahed
    November 6th, 2012 at 6:19 am

    do you even lift?

  • Izzy
    November 6th, 2012 at 8:02 am

    do I even lift?

  • Tony
    November 28th, 2012 at 6:55 am

    As an Asian like you I am curious whether and how much you thin your top hair. I find many Asians who attempt the slicked back style have a very puffed out/tall top compared to many of my Caucasian friends, who seem to be able to decently achieve the look by simply growing out their hair and combing it. I am no hair expert but I suppose this is due to the coarseness and amount of hair we typically have. In the pictures above I think you managed to achieve this style rather well and it would be great to know what to ask my stylist/barber next time I get a trim. Thanks!

  • Izzy
    November 29th, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Hi Tony,

    Interesting you ask. I often resist letting my stylist thin out the top of my hair too much, as I like the volume it has when I don’t wear my hair slicked back. I also find that when I slick my hair back, the top volume my hair has (achieved without teasing at all) makes for a really flattering effect. At times when it goes too high, I could either bring down the pompadour by pulling at the ends of my top hair from the top back of my head with some hard gel, or I would weigh it down with the hairspray+finger technique illustrated in the post. Hope this helps!

    Izzy

  • Ryan
    November 29th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    What kind of hair spray do you use? I find that most hair sprays leave my hair too crunchy. I’d like to find one that has the set and hold, but not the crunch. Thanks.

  • Izzy
    November 29th, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Ryan: Tresemme (green) is best!

  • Alex
    December 31st, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I can’t seem to get my hair to slick back, it always springs back forward. I have quite thick hair. Is there anything you could reccomend?

    P.s super job on the hair it looks very suave.

  • Izzy
    January 1st, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Alex: Thank you! Try blow-drying it damp, as I’ve done above, and try growing your hair out a little longer. It should work!

  • Cedric
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:10 am

    What if I use hairspray?

  • Cedric
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:12 am

    As gel substitute I mean

  • Izzy
    January 4th, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    You potentially could, if your hair was fine enough. I think a little of both works best for most people.

  • Sam
    February 2nd, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Hey buddy, I too have trouble with slicking my hair all the way back. It always seems to want to poof back up when combing backwards. I have a theory which may work but do you reckon blow drying it backwards would work as in blow drying it in the direction I want the hair to sit which is essentially backwards since I want to slick it back?

  • Izzy
    February 4th, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Hi Sam,

    I don’t quite get what you mean, but I can tell you that when I blow-dry it pre-gelling, I go up and gentle around the hairline (to keep some volume), and then go back and tighter as I approach the crown and the back, to keep it all tight. It also helps to have a little bit of gel worked into the wet hair to ensure firm hold. Hope this helps!

    Izzy

  • John
    February 11th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Hey Izzi. Great tutorial. I want to slick my hair back, but I have a hard time doing so because my hairline is a bit odd. It’s symmetrical, but almost looks like I have two widows peaks in between the middle and sides and the hair there is very frustrating because it naturally goes to the side and does not easily go straight up. Have you seen this before, or do you have any ideas on how to work with this? Thanks!

  • Izzy
    February 12th, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Hi John,

    I would need to see pictures to know for sure (if you like, you can e-mail info at thedandyproject dot com) but I can think of a couple of solutions for that. First is that if your hair is long enough, and if your face can take the flatness (I prefer to have a little bit of lift in front) you can slick your bangs to the side, or maybe slightly at an angle to the front from the left of your left widow’s peak to the right to cover them both. You will have to skip the part in blow drying where you blow dry it upwards to add lift; you can blow dry it down to keep your bangs tacked down. Another solution is to skip the side part altogether and slick it all the way back. You can have a bit of front lift here, and it would show off your double widow’s peaks prominently. I am a fan of the widow’s peak, and wish I had one myself; having an extra one should be a delight!

    Izzy

  • Sam
    February 13th, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Hi, sorry for the late reply again. Yes, as I was saying basically my hair is very very thick (asian hair like horse hair almost) so that probably is why it’s so hard to slick back. What I meant was when you blow dry your hair, you can blow dry it so the hair becomes straight. My hair is partially wavy (not curly but not too dramatically wavy either) so my guess is it’s easier to slick back straight hair but also hair that’s not thick. How do you recommend me slicking my hair all the way back (the whole fringe) basically the style I have is an undercut so I want an undercut slick back but my hair keeps poofing up and won’t completely slick back.

  • Izzy
    February 13th, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Hi Sam,

    I think I have a better understanding of your case now. Again, I would recommend lightly gelling your damp hair and then taking small sections of your hair and blow-drying it upward to straighten it. When it’s all dry, you can take a small amount of hard gel and slick it all back. It will have some volume (which I like) because you blow dried it upward, but if you want it completely flat, you can add a little more gel and water and use a fine comb to pull it all back. When it reaches the desired shape, heat-set the gelled look with a hot hair dryer on low, then when it’s almost dry, lock it all in with a strong hold hairspray. I hope this works for you.

    Izzy

  • Lazarus
    April 12th, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Just wanted to say awesome tutorial, im in the military and have seen a few people really pull off this look but I have always been curious of how to obtain it. My hair is very unruly, its completely straight buts stick up as if I just stuck my finger in a light socket, I have about 2 and 1/2 on top, which would seem an optimal length to slick back but it still springs foward even with a blow dryer technique. Any advice on how I can get my hair to stay back?

  • Izzy
    April 16th, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Hi Lazarus,

    2.5 inches is still a little short for slicking back. I need my hair to be at least four inches long for me to slick back. Try growing it out a little bit. Also, I find that it helps to comb the hair in the direction of the slick-back when it’s damp fresh out of the shower in order to train the hair to go that direction. Also try wearing a tight cap indoors to get your hair used to being flat. Hope this helps.

    Izzy

  • Jay
    May 15th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I have this problem where my hair on the side opposite the part curls up, how do I prevent this ?

  • Aaron
    May 23rd, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Great tutorial! Great looking hair!

  • Danny
    May 31st, 2013 at 10:54 am

    your hair is perfect my man.i just want to know how to deal with the friziness of my hair,i can never do a propper slick back because of this.

  • Kate
    June 1st, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    You are hilarious and sleek as f**k. Love the tutorial

    -some girl

  • Izzy
    June 3rd, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Danny: Try using the serum I used in this tutorial. It does a lot to tame frizz without weighing the hair down too much.

  • Izzy
    June 3rd, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Jay: Try blow-drying it wet, it should help!

  • Josh :)
    August 24th, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Alright Izzy,

    If you are still monitoring this thread I have a quick query. How long does your hair have to be to slick it back?! Realistically, as I shave my head down to the bone, but I have recently started dating a Sicilian girl and all her male family members have slicked back hair and I have been politely told to ‘sort it out’ where my barnet is concerned. My hair grows reasonably fast but I hate like other people have mentioned, ‘the awkward stage’ where I just want to shave it all off ha! Looking at her uncles hair it looks like its longer at the front in order for it to be slicked?! Another thing is my hair grows straight forward it’s thick and a dark brown, not that colour matters. Anyway if you could tell me how long in CM or MM my hair should be (recommended) I would be greatful as I’m clueless. Also before anyone brings it up… I have tried asking my gf’s family but they just looked at me as if I was meant to be born knowing how to slick my hair back! Ha, oh and I’m white English not Sicilian.

    Anyway if you are still around ill check back for a reply at some point.

  • Izzy
    September 16th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Josh,

    Sorry it’s taken a while to respond to this, somehow it’s gotten lost in a sea of comments. You are correct in thinking that the front of your hair should be long enough in order for you to do a slick back; you wouldn’t want pieces of hair sticking out when your hair is slicked. Assuming you are caucasian English with dark hair, I would say about 4-5 cm long on top would be a good length. While you’re growing it out, try a few of my techniques for thicker hair; it’ll help you achieve a smooth slick while waiting for your hair to grow. Hopefully by the time you read this message, your hair would have grown a substantial length. Hope this helps!

    Izzy

  • Louie M
    December 2nd, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Great tutorial mate!!

    I have really fine and thin Asian hair so really struggle with this style – the sides never look quite right.

  • ryan
    December 5th, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Hey your hair looks great! I have long.. Really really blond hair. Do you think that this style would stil look good for a blonde. And about how long should the sides be.

    Thanks,
    Ryan

  • Izzy
    January 7th, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Blond hair tends to be fine, I think it’ll work for any length!

  • Harry
    January 20th, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I’ve been dreaming of having this kind of hairstyle because I would like to look like trustworthy and a real gentleman. What are your thoughts about using hair wax instead of gel/pomade? Thanks for this post btw!

  • Rob
    January 23rd, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Hey Izzy! I’m Filipino and have grown my hair out to attempt this look. How do you get height on the front of your hair? I’ve been trying to use a roller brush with a hair dryer but it seems like from your tutorial that you just blow dry and easily get volume. Thanks!

  • Rob
    January 23rd, 2014 at 10:23 am

    oh and is the top middle and top back of your hair longer than your front? It appears that way on the side profile. How many inches is it?

  • Izzy
    February 18th, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Harry: wax could work if you have fine hair and if you are going for a softer look. but for thick, stubborn Asian hair like mine, gel works best.

  • Izzy
    February 18th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Rob: kababayan! I find that it helps to sort of tousle the front of your hair while you blow dry, or to brush it up while blow-drying to achieve the height. you can also experiment with teasing, but I wouldn’t recommend that for everyday. I have naturally super thick hair though, and though I don’t need to try too hard to add volume, it helps to not squish that area down with gel as you apply it, and I’ve found that not using conditioner could also help add volume.

  • Izzy
    February 18th, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Rob: no, the middle and top back are typically shorter or at most the same length as my bangs. could have been that way when I had that haircut, but ideally, the bangs should be longer.

  • Rob
    February 18th, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    thanks for the response. man, you should do a video tutorial!! i definitely have the length but my hair sits flat on top of my head no matter what i do. I think it might be because my hair is thinner


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