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Pompadour Vs Comb Over: The Key Differences

May 2, 2021
Pompadour Vs Comb Over: The Key Differences

Choosing between two hairstyles can be a peculiar challenge these days, mainly because the definitions are so blurred. So, what’s the difference between a pompadour and a comb over? 

A pompadour is generally fuller and has more vertical volume and height than a comb over. A typical comb over is brushed or combed to one side or the other and looks flatter than a pompadour. 

Understanding the differences in a little more detail is the key to eventually choosing the right one for you. 

The two styles don’t just differ in appearance. They’re also different in terms of maintenance requirements. 

We’re about to discuss all of that and more. Consider this the ultimate guide to choosing between these two goliaths of men’s hairstyles. 

Let’s get to it. 

Pompadour Vs Comb Over: 3 Key Differences

There’s a chance that not all of these differences will be relevant or important to you. But bear them all in mind when making your decision. 

1. Appearance

Here’s the meatiest difference of them all. 

Pompadours and comb overs definitely look different. There are no two ways about it. 

A pompadour is a hairstyle where the hair on top is swept upward and all the way back and away from the face. 

long modern pompadour
A pompadour. Notice the volume and height

[From Shutterstock]

It’s usually styled using some pre-styling mousse, a blow-dryer, a round brush or comb, and some pomade, wax, or gel to keep it in place. 

Traditionally, it’s known for its fullness, volume, and height. 

It looks tall, pristine, and glossy. 

Of course, this isn’t always the case. There are many, many modern variations these days. But the basic principles of prioritizing height, fullness, and volume will always hold true. 

A comb-over is relatively simple to describe. It’s simply where the hair on top is swept to one side or the other using a comb, brush, or even the fingers. The side parting is usually well-defined. 

example of a comb over
A comb-over with a well-defined side part

[From Shutterstock]

It can be left long, short, slicked, tousled, and so on. 

Just like with pompadours, there are many, many variations out there. 

example of a side part
A slicker and flatter comb-over with a well defined side part

[From Deposit Photos]

So, if you prefer the look of one style over the other, this decision just got a whole lot easier for you.

Some men just prefer the subtlety of a comb-over compared to that of a pompadour. 

Pompadours are typically more in-your-face and glossy. This is mainly because they’re taller and fuller – there’s just more on show. 

It’s more likely that a pompadour will become the dominant feature above the neck. Comb overs won’t draw as much attention – they’re a little simpler and aren’t as immediately eye-catching. 

There are definitely exceptions, however. For example, you can have particularly small or short pompadours that still fulfill the criteria to be labeled a “pompadour”. 

But overall, pompadours are just more attention-grabbing than comb-overs. 

So, take your personality into consideration when you choose. 

Do you prefer subtlety or something a little more eye-catching? 

2. Maintenance 

In general, pompadours will require more maintenance than a comb over. 

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. For example, a short pompadour may well require less maintenance than some long comb overs. 

But overall, the average pompadour will take longer to style than your average comb over. 

The main reason for this is that pompadours usually need more blow-drying than comb overs. 

It just takes more time getting that volume, fullness, and height. 

To really get that traditional pompadour shape it’s usually best practice to blow dry in multiple different directions first. Left, right, backward, and forward, before setting it in the direction you ultimately want it to go. 

This is a great way to get volume fast

Comb overs, on the other hand, aren’t as demanding when it comes to blow-drying. Sure, you may well need to use one for the neatest outcome. 

But you don’t need to spend that extra time trying to get height or volume. It doesn’t take as long. 

So, you may be in a position where you like the look of both of these styles. 

But if you’re a fan of low-maintenance styles where you don’t have to spend as much time trying to achieve the look you really want, the comb over may be a better option. 

3. Reliance On Styling Product

As I mentioned earlier, pompadours are known for that pristine and glossy appearance. 

It’s no secret that the way this is usually achieved is by the clever and effective use of styling products. 

Comb overs aren’t a stranger to products either, but pompadours will almost certainly require more. 

Before you blow-dry that pompadour into place, some pre-styling mousse is definitely worth applying. 

Use one with heat protection, as blow dryers can do some damage to the integrity of the hair when used for prolonged periods. 

But the main purpose is to add volume and texture to the pomp. 

The use of volumizing powder is also worth experimenting with. It’s another quick way to add some fullness. 

Once the pompadour has been blow-dried into place, you’ll want to use a styling product with enough hold to keep it like that. 

It may be some pomade, gel, wax. Considering pompadours prioritize shine and gloss (usually), these products would be better than more matte products like hair clay or hair paste

Oil-based pomades are the classic products used for styling those vintage and greaser-style pompadours from the silver screen of the 1950s. 

But there’s a bit of a learning curve to using them as they’re pretty greasy and tough to wash out

Products that will give you that shine but are easier to use and wash out include water-based pomades and hair gels, although be aware that they’ll give you a stiff hold. 

Hair waxes are great because they give you a soft and pliable hold like an oil-based pomade would but still aren’t as tough to wash out (usually). 

A light layer of hairspray may be necessary to keep it in place too. 

As you can see, there’s no shortage of potential products you could use on that pompadour. 

Don’t feel the need to use all of them, but experiment and get the right mixture for you and your hair specifically. 

Of course, a comb over will also need some product. But a simpler style such as this will usually require less product to get the look you’re going for. 

So, if you’re someone that leans toward the minimalist end of the spectrum when it comes to using styling products, a simple comb over may be more suitable for you. 

Can A Pompadour Ever Be A Comb Over? 

This question tends to confuse people. 

At the end of the day, a pompadour could never really be a comb over because the two hairstyles are fundamentally different. 

By this point, you know exactly why they’re different. 

But it is definitely possible and very common to have a pompadour with the classic characteristics of a comb over. In other words, a pompadour that’s been brushed or combed to one side, as opposed to swept directly backward. 

What distinguishes it from a standard comb over is the fullness, volume, and height that pompadours are known for. 

To save yourself the confusion, however, avoid calling these styles “pompadour comb overs”. 

Call them “side-swept pompadours” or something to that effect instead, because they’re a variation of the pompadour and not a variation of the comb over. 


There you have it. 

You’ve got to grips with the lingo and also seen some solid pictures of these two glorious men’s hairstyles. 

Understanding the differences, as you can see, should help you distinguish between the two when you see them and also choose which one you might like to style for yourself. 

It isn’t rocket science, but the two styles are commonly confused despite being very different. 

After this, that’s not something you’ll ever have to worry about again. 

If you aren’t sure which one to go for, try them both out and see for yourself. Chances are you’ll figure it out immediately.