When it comes to slick backs, there’s one factor that’s probably more important than any other and that’s length.
The technique used to slick back hair in the most effective way possible will vary depending on whether the hair is short, medium, or long.
There are no two ways about it – the shorter your hair, the harder you’ll have to work to get it to slick back.
After discussing exactly why length is so important when it comes to styling slick backs in the first place, I’ll go through methods you can use for each length.
Short, medium, and long.
They may be similar, but there are some crucial differences you need to take into account.
Let’s get to it.
Why Does Length Matter When Slicking Back Hair?
Hair needs to be long enough to slick back and stay in place.
That’s the important bit. You may be able to slick back hair that’s pretty short and get away with it for a short while. But if it’s simply too short it’ll fall back forward soon.
Usually, you’ll want your front hair to reach down at least as far as the bridge of your nose.
An average minimum length you could use would be 3.5 to 4 inches. If it’s less than this, there’s a good chance that it simply won’t slick back.
That’s the interesting part.
Although the tutorials to follow are based on length, they’re probably not the lengths you’re used to seeing.
Traditionally, “short” hair is considered hair that’s less than 2 inches, “medium” hair is 2 to 4 inches, and “long” hair is longer than 4 inches.
But when it comes to slick backs, those length ranges need to be increased.
After all, if “short” hair is hair that’s less than 2 inches long, there’s no way you’ll be able to slick it back. We’ve already determined that 3.5 to 4 inches is the minimum length necessary for a slicked-back style.
So, for the sake of slicking back hair, here are the adjusted length categories to prevent confusion.
- SHORT: 3.5 – 5 inches
- MEDIUM: 5 – 7 inches
- LONG: 7 inches and above
To sum that up, if it’s less than 3.5 inches, there’s probably no point trying. “Long” hair when it comes to slick backs is very long hair.
Most men will fall into the “short” and “medium” length categories.
Let’s get to those tutorials.
How To Slick Back Short Hair In 5 Steps
Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to help you slick back short hair in the best way possible. It isn’t easy – but with the right technique, it should be possible if it isn’t too short (i.e approximately more than 3.5 inches).
But whether your short hair is natural, straight, or curly, to slick it back you’ll need to prep it, comb it, and use the right product to make it work.
As a side note, slicked back short hair goes well with a fade on the sides; this is worth considering if you think it could work for you.
1. Prep The Hair Over Time
To slick back short hair, train it to lie backward over time by using accessories.
It needs all the support it can get at first because short hair will naturally want to flop back forward even if you were to use a styling product.
As it gets longer, it’ll be more likely to stay in place on its own accord.
But until then, brush or comb it backward and pop on a spandex cap, hairband, hairnet, or baseball cap for 15 to 30 minutes.
Nothing too tight and not for too long – excessive is not what you want.
But over time, you’ll find that these effective “prepping” methods will make the hair more likely to stay back once you’ve slicked it back.
Over time, you’ll find that it just becomes easier to slick back the short hair as it flows backward with less resistance.
2. Wash And Blow-Dry
Clean hair is much easier to slick back than greasy hair.
So, wash it and towel-dry it first.
Once you’ve done this, use a blow-dryer with the concentrator nozzle targeting the bases of the hairs. Blow-dry from front to back.
Hold it at least 6 inches away from the hair and use a medium heat setting at a maximum.
This pressure and heat is a great way of making short hair more likely to stay in place when slicked back.
You can point the nozzle upward a little bit as you’re blow-drying back if you want more lift and volume. Or, you could point it down a bit if you were looking for a flatter and more defined slick back.
When you’ve got short hair, another reason for blow-drying, as opposed to towel-drying, is that the hold will be better once you’ve applied the product.
Again, the stubbornness of short hair when it comes to slicking it back does make a strong hold appealing.
3. Rake Some Product Through
Short hair, just like thick hair, would benefit from a product with a heavy hold.
Oil-based pomades are good because they give you a pliable hold that can be restyled. If you’d rather have stiff hold, water-based pomades and hair gels are good options. These are easier to wash out than oil-based pomades as they’re water-soluble.
These are all shiny products, which usually isn’t ideal with traditionally “short” hair (i.e less than 2 inches) as the gloss can reveal too much of the scalp. This is especially the case if the hair is short and fine.
However, as we’ve adjusted the length categories for the sake of slick back styling and now class “short” hair as between 3.5 to 5 inches long, these shiny products should be fine.
Clays generally have a better hold than pastes, but both would be reasonable options when slicking back short hair.
Both of them will allow you to build texture and volume, which although aren’t typical of classic slick backs that tend to be shiny, can still work.
Once you’ve chosen your product, distribute it through your hair using your fingers, combing from front to back.
Use both hands – rake it backward through your hair with the fingers of one hand, while following it with the flat palm of your other hand. This should flatten it as you’re applying it, with the additional pressure making it more likely to stay in place.
4. Slick Back With A Fine-Tooth Comb
Why a fine-tooth?
Short hair generally slicks back better with a fine-tooth comb as opposed to a hairbrush such as a vent or a wide-tooth comb.
The narrow-spaced teeth of a fine-tooth comb give you a lot more control and a tighter slick back. Short hair benefits from this control more than medium or long hair when slicking back.
So, just like you did with your fingers, comb backward with one hand and follow it with the flat palm of the other hand.
You’ll notice that the fine teeth leave very little separation between the hair strands once combed. This leads to a really neat, tight, and defined slick back.
If you feel as though you could use some more styling product at this point, go for a second application and repeat the process.
5. Apply Some Hairspray
Hairspray will most likely be more important for short-haired slick backs, simply because a strong hold is necessary to prevent it from flopping back forward.
So, a light spritz of hairspray from a can held a safe 12 inches away from the head should do the trick.
Go easy – nothing excessive.
Once you’ve done this, you’ve maximized your chances of a slick back that should last for your desired amount of time despite having short hair.
How To Slick Back Medium-Length Hair In 6 Steps
When we’re talking about “medium-length hair” in the context of slicking back hair, it’s around 5 to 7 inches. This is longer than the traditional “medium-length” which is around 2 to 4 inches long.
But slicking back hair requires hair that’s long enough to do it, so adjustments need to be made.
When hair is this length, you benefit from it slicking back quite comfortably and staying that way without a lot of effort.
However, results can be enhanced by using the right products (including a pre-styler) and getting the texture you’re looking for.
1. Prep The Hair If Necessary
Medium-length hair (5 to 7 inches for the sake of slick backs) doesn’t need much prepping in order to slick it back.
As I mentioned, it’s long enough to not need much training.
But if you do find that your slick backs just refuse to stay in place or only do so for a couple of hours at a time, some training may be necessary.
So, after combing or brushing the hair back, potentially with some targeted backward pressure from a blow-dryer assisting you, pop on an accessory to keep the hair slicked back.
Spandex caps work pretty well for medium-length hair – they’re usually not too tight. A hairnet would be another option.
Of course, these aren’t appropriate for wearing in public. But when lounging around the house, sure – 15 to 30 minutes with one of these on is a great way to prep the hair.
It’ll make the hair less resistant to slicking back. Over time, you’ll probably find that you need less prepping and less product to get the same job done.
2. Wash The Hair
Medium-length hair is more likely to accumulate grease, oil, and grime than short hair.
This may not sound like a big deal when it comes to slick backs. After all, it’s a traditionally “greasy” style known for that vintage shine and gloss (usually).
But this isn’t the right way of looking at it.
It’s quite obvious when someone has gloss and shine in their hair due to it being unwashed, as opposed to the shine you’d get from a pomade or gel.
Washed hair, particularly medium-length and long hair, is much easier to maneuver when slicking it back. It’s just a lot more responsive.
So, it’s usually always best to wash the hair before you try slicking it back.
Although you’re welcome to blow-dry at this point (and many do), I’d actually advise towel-drying and leaving the hair damp when you’ve got medium-length hair.
Applying a pre-styler and styling product is just easier when you leave the hair a little damp as opposed to blow-drying it bone dry.
You’ll find that you have less resistance when slicking back the hair using your fingers, a comb, or brush.
In addition, you’ll generally get more shine when applying product to damp hair. This is usually what men look from when it comes to slick backs (although not always).
So, towel dry the hair, leave it damp, and prepare to apply some product.
4. Apply A Pre-Styler
This isn’t essential but does come in useful when you’re working with medium-length or long hair, even with simple styles such as slick backs.
A pre-styler is something you use before the main styling product to make the hair more responsive and easier to shape.
Different pre-stylers have different functions, so your choice will depend on your hair type, as well as the finish you’re going for.
If you’ve got thick or coarse hair that you’re looking to slick back, a smoothing pre-styler would give you a neater finish and tighter slick back.
If you’ve got particularly fine or thin medium-length hair, applying a thickening pre-styler like a tonic or a volume-building pre-styler like mousse may be a good option.
It would most likely present a fuller-looking slick back, as shiny styles like this can often make thin hair look thinner sometimes.
So, if you were going to apply a pre-styler, this would be the time to do it.
Rake it through your hair with your fingers from front to back. If you wanted to, you could use a blow-dryer at this point for a short period if you’re looking to build texture and volume.
Try not to use it so long that the hair becomes completely dry. Remember, you want to make it easy for the post-styler to distribute through the hair and it’s easier to achieve this when the hair is a bit damp.
Be sure to point the nozzle so that you’re blow-drying from front to back.
5. Apply Styling Product: Shiny Vs Matte
Medium-length hair is versatile – the length shouldn’t impact your choice of product.
If you want a shiny finish to your medium-length slick back, go for a pomade (oil-based or water-based) or a hair gel. Hair waxes also work well.
Traditionally, shiny products work well for slick backs.
But if you’re looking for a matte, low shine, or natural finish, go for clay or paste. These will help you build a more layered and separated appearance to your slick back.
As always, the initial application should be done using your fingers. Rake it through from front to back, really working it into the bases of the hair strands.
6. Comb Or Brush It Back
After the initial application using your fingers, you’ll want to tighten things up with either a comb or a brush (or both).
Medium-length hair would respond well to either of them. If you’ve got especially fine or thin hair, go for a fine-tooth comb because you don’t want much separation between the strands.
The tighter the slick back, the better. Having a lot of separation or layering when you’ve got thin hair may reveal too much of the scalp or simply make it all look even thinner.
If you’ve got thicker hair, a wide-tooth comb would be suitable if you’re looking for more separation in between the strands and a layered appearance. You may struggle to pull a fine-tooth comb through it without pulling out hairs.
A vent brush such as a Denman would be a good middle ground between these two options.
It’ll still give you some strand separation and layering, but not as much as a wide-tooth comb. It’ll still look tight and well-defined, similar to what you’d get from a slick back if you were to have used a fine-tooth comb.
Whatever you use, brush or comb from front to back with one hand and follow it with the flat palm of the other hand. This should produce a nice and tight finish to the medium-length slick back.
How To Slick Back Long Hair In 6 Steps
Remember – “long” hair in slick back terms is very long in regular terms. Ultimately, because hair needs to be of a minimum length (around 3.5 to 4 inches long) in order to slick it back in the first place, the definition of “long” becomes even longer.
For the sake of our slick back tutorial, “long hair” is considered hair that’s longer than 7 inches. If you’ve got shorter hair than this, check out the tutorials above for “short” or “medium” hair instead.
When hair is this long, a pre-styler definitely comes in handy. It’s more important than it would be with medium-length hair because you just need that additional control.
Plus, you’ve also got the option of using accessories to tie things back once you’ve slicked it if you wish to.
Men with especially thick or stubborn hair may find this useful.
Finally, when hair is this long it’s unlikely to need any training before you slick it back. So, you’re unlikely to need hair nets or spandex caps to prep the hair for slicking back like you may have done for short or medium-length hair.
Let’s get to it.
1. Wash The Long Hair
Long hair, just like mid-length hair will quickly accumulate grime. You’ll need to wash it once a day with water alone and around 2 to 3 times a week with shampoo / conditioner.
Overusing shampoo will dry it out, but twice a week is a good habit.
Long hair that’s unclean is tougher to slick back because the grease makes it less responsive.
Towel-dry after washing until it’s damp.
Because you’re distributing the product through more hair, leaving it damp will make it easier and less resistant to slicking back.
If you’ve got thick and long hair, you might want to use a blow-dryer (blow-drying from front to back) for a short period of time to give you some additional hold.
Not for too long though – you still want to leave some moisture to help the products spread through.
3. Apply Pre-Styler
Pre-styler is even more important when you’ve got long hair as it’ll make it more responsive and lead to a more impressive finish.
Long hair might be easier to slick back than short hair, but it can also be stubborn and look untidy if it isn’t prepped properly.
Here are your options:
- Thickening pre-styler (eg. tonic) for thin or fine hair
- Smoothing pre-styler for thick or coarse hair
- Volumizing pre-styler (eg. mousse) for flat thin hair
Choose what you prefer and rake it through from front to back using your fingers. Really work it into the bases.
You could use a quick burst from a blow-dryer at this point, especially if you’re looking to build a bit of volume.
4. Apply The Right Styling Product
Long hair, just like medium-length hair, is versatile enough to make virtually any styling product potentially appropriate depending on what you’re going for and your hair type.
Here are those options:
- Shiny, formal, or defined slick back: Pomade, hair gel, or wax
- Matte or textured slick back: Clay, paste, or putty
Whatever you use, start with a dime-sized amount no matter how long your hair is. You want to use the minimum amount of product to get the job done.
If your hair is especially long, you’ll probably find that you need to use more – that’s fine. Start low and go slow.
The first application should be with your fingers, so rake it through from front to back. This should produce a basic long-haired slick back with a separated and layered appearance given the wide spacing between your fingers.
To get a tighter and more defined slick back, you’ll need to go over it again with a grooming tool.
5. Use A Vent Or Paddle Brush
When you’re slicking long hair back, hairbrushes are usually more useful than combs.
The spacing between the bristles allows it to maneuver quickly and efficiently through large portions of hair.
Plus, with long hair, you’re not really looking for as much precision as you would be with shorter hair. This is another reason why the broad strokes of a hairbrush are more useful than the precision of a comb.
Vent brushes are great if you’ve got thin or normal thickness hair that isn’t very tangled. If you’re got thick and coarse hair that does tend to get tangled, a paddle brush may be more useful.
If you’ve got very thin hair, you could still probably get away with a fine-tooth comb even with long hair.
This would be more useful as the narrow spacing between the teeth of the comb will lead to a finish that doesn’t reveal much of the scalp as there’s very little space between the hair strands.
But whatever you use, go from front to back, slowly slicking every portion of the top backward.
As you brush or comb with one hand, follow it with the flat palm of the other. This is even more important when you’ve got long hair as you don’t want strays or flyaways poking out.
You’ll need to work a little harder to get a neat and tight slick back than you would have to with medium-length hair.
Once you’ve done this, you can consider defining the side part on one side as well. A neatly outlined side part is a great addition to any vintage style including slick backs.
This is where the edge of a comb would come in handy. Find your side part and flatten the hairs immediately to either side of it using the comb.
Finally, don’t forget about the hair on the sides of your head. A small amount of product would be enough to really slick this hair backward as well, flattening any strays or flyaways. This is best done using your fingers and palms.
When slicking back long and curly hair, vent brushes and paddle brushes also come in useful for detangling. The moister the hair, the better – this reduces the risk of frizz.
6. Spritz Some Hairspray
Finally, given how stubborn long hair can be sometimes, consider a light spritz of hairspray to keep the slick back in place throughout the course of the day.
It won’t be enough to keep everything looking perfect for the whole day – but nothing will be.
Expect some flyaways to rear their heads. Using the technique above, however, should reduce the risk of the long slick back flopping forward too soon.
There you have it. Techniques you can use for slicking back your hair tailored to the specific length you may be working with.
Remember – length is probably the most important factor when it comes to slicking back your hair.
If you haven’t got enough of it (i.e more than around 3.5 inches), grow it longer and try again. Don’t waste time trying to make the impossible happen.
Maybe try a side-slicked style instead until you’ve got enough length to potentially slick it all back.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.