There aren’t many hairstyles that have stood the test of time like these two. But the unfortunate truth is that they’re often confused. So, what exactly is the difference between the pompadour and the undercut?
Pompadours are high-volume, contoured, and glossy hairstyles where the top is swept up and worn tall above the forehead. In contrast, undercuts have slicked-back, long hair on top that is left disconnected from the shaved or buzzed sides.
Although that’s the short answer, there’s more to it.
After going through the main differences between these two classic hairstyles, I’ll give you a few actionable tips to help you choose the right one for you.
Let’s get to it.
Pompadour Vs Undercut: 3 Key Differences
Consider all of these differences when making your choice.
1. Disconnected Sides
Undercuts are known for having the sides “disconnected” from the top, with a harsh transition between the two. Pompadours, on the other hand, don’t have as much of a disconnect between the top and the sides.
It’s important to note that the term “undercut” is used to refer to a wide range of hairstyles, often incorrectly.
The main feature that leads people to call a style an “undercut” is that the sides are typically shaved or buzzed very short, while the hair on top is long in comparison.
The short sides and the long hair on top aren’t faded or blended into each other gradually. The sharp transition between the two leaves a clear delineating line at the top of the scalp where the sides meet the top.
While it’s true that any style with short sides, a long top, and a harsh transition between the two could be called an undercut, the classic undercut style is more specific.
It usually has the hair on top slicked back flat.
The pompadour, in comparison, doesn’t usually have a harsh transition between the sides and the top.
It’s not uncommon for the sides to be short relative to the top, but the transition from the sides to the top is more gradual.
The “pompadour undercut” does exist and refers to a style where the top is styled into a pompadour but the sides are shaved/buzzed short and left disconnected from the pompadour on top.
There is a harsh transition.
But as I mentioned earlier, this shouldn’t be considered a “classic” undercut, as this would typically have the top slicked back flat and not swept upward into a pomp.
Pompadours are known for their high volume and curved contours. The hair on top is swept upward and worn tall above the forehead. Undercuts, in contrast, are usually low volume and more defined, with the hair on top often slicked back flat.
The terms “volume” and “pompadour” often go hand in hand. It’s the defining characteristic of the classic pomp and it’s what gives it that vintage ‘50s aesthetic.
As you’d expect, you need enough length to pull it off. In addition, it isn’t easy to style, form, and maintain a pomp (as we’ll discuss in the next section).
Undercuts don’t usually have this sort of volume.
While it’s true that the contrast between the shaved/buzzed sides and the long hair on top does make the top voluminous in comparison, the top is usually slicked back flat.
Volume isn’t a priority. In fact, the flat appearance of the top usually focuses more on slickness and definition than it does on volume.
Pompadours are known for looking glossy, often styled using typically shiny styling products, as well as hairspray. While undercuts can also be styled using shiny products, gloss and shine aren’t prioritized in the same way.
Certain styling products are ideal for styling pompadours.
The classic product would be pomade.
You can get both water-based and oil-based pomades, with each of them having its pros and cons.
If you want a real vintage sheen, oil-based pomades would usually be the way to go. However, there’s a bit of a learning curve to using them and they aren’t easy to wash out.
But both oil-based pomades, water-based pomades, and even products like hair wax can give you the gloss and shine you’d need for styling a simple pompadour.
Undercuts don’t necessarily have this type of gloss built into their definition or key features.
While these glossy products would lend themselves well to the slick and defined appearance that undercuts usually go for, you could also quite confidently use more “matte” products to style an undercut and get away with it.
The bottom line here is that gloss is almost required to style a pompadour, but not necessarily for an undercut.
Pompadour Vs Undercut: How To Choose
Now that you know the main differences between these two timeless styles, it’s time to really select the right one for you based on your specific circumstances and preferences.
Consider the following three factors when doing so.
Pompadours are generally considered higher maintenance than undercuts due to the additional length you’re usually working with, the need for more meticulous styling, and the heavier use of product.
The beauty of the traditional undercut is how simple it really is.
The sides and back are usually shaved or buzzed down ultra-short. This immediately removes the need for worrying about strays and flyaways at the sides.
The top may be long, but it usually isn’t grown any longer than medium-length.
In addition, the hair on top is usually just slicked back in any case. You don’t have to work at getting lift, volume, or anything else.
Just use a dab of styling product and slick it straight back.
Pompadours, on the other hand, aren’t quite as simple.
For one, you’ll usually need hair that’s long enough to achieve that sort of volume and to form a nicely contoured shape.
In addition, you’ll usually need to work with “trickier” products like pomades. If you’re using oil-based pomade, you’ll need to get used to washing it out as well – deep conditioning is usually required.
I’ve written about washing out oil-based pomade in more detail if you’re interested.
You’ll probably also need to get pretty confident with round brushes and blow-dryers as well.
In general, you can expect your styling routine to take longer with a pompadour than it would with an undercut.
However, once you get more used to it, you can expect this routine to get shorter over time.
2. Face Shape
People with rounder or shorter face shapes would benefit from the additional height that a tall pompadour would give them. The relative flatness of an undercut may simply exaggerate the roundness or shortness.
The opposite would be true for people with longer face shapes (eg. oblong, diamond).
These people would actually benefit from the flatness and slickness of an undercut, as the height of a pompadour would usually just make the face look even longer.
It’s important not to overthink face shape when choosing a hairstyle.
However, it’s definitely worth factoring into your decision.
While both of these hairstyles could be thought of as eye-catching, the undercut would generally draw more attention than the pompadour.
Don’t get me wrong, an ultra-tall and ultra-glossy pompadour would certainly turn some heads.
But the average undercut is just a little more bold and striking than the average pompadour.
The main reason for this is the disconnection.
The shaved/buzzed sides, the large difference in length between the top and the sides, as well as the harsh transition between the two, leads to a very eye-catching appearance.
So much so that many may actually prefer a more subtle hairstyle.
While the pompadour shouldn’t ever really be considered “subtle” given its height, volume, and gloss, it’s usually a little more subtle than the average undercut.
To sum this up, if you want a more striking hairstyle, go for an undercut. If you’d prefer something a little more understated, a pompadour may be the better option for you.
The two styles may be similar, but there are some clear differences between the classic undercut and the classic pompadour.
Consider these differences, as well as your personal preferences when making your decision.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.