History is full of men’s hair icons. From film stars to footballing legends, a simple search for ‘men’s hairstyle inspiration’ returns millions of shots of styles made famous by celebrities, from Clark Gable to Paul Newman, Brad Pitt to David Beckham, George Clooney to Madame de Pompadour… Wait, what? Madame de Pompadour?
The very same. Not a man, of course, but surely the mother of one of the greatest men’s hairstyles in history, the pompadour haircut. Sure, Madame de Pompadour was the chief mistress of the French King Louis XV, but that didn’t stop her towering hairstyle becoming beloved by blokes the world over two centuries later.
While the Madame’s was a sort of upstyle on acid, what we over the years have come to know and love as the pompadour haircut is, at its simplest, a style that calls for hair to be swept up and back over the head. The sides and back are combed neatly and kept close to the head while a sort of mound, or quiff, is constructed using the longer hair at the front.
If that sounds complicated, it’s not. Trust us, for a style created by a French mistress, the pompadour hairstyle is a lot more versatile than you might first think. There are so many variations on the style that it can be cut and tweaked to suit men of all ages, tastes and professional obligations. After all, what other style could work as well for men as disparate in their tastes as a footballer (Becks) and a film critic (the unfortunately named Mark Kermode)?
Here, you’ll find a step-by-step expert guide to everything you need to know about the pompadour, from how it came about to how to get one and how to make sure it looks its best.
HISTORY OF THE POMPADOUR
Primarily a women’s hairstyle until the 1950s, the pompadour’s first great male ambassador was a man who liked his hair as greasy as his diet: Elvis Presley. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was one of a new generation of male stars, along with actor James Dean and fellow musician Little Richard who, from the 1950s and 1960s onward, proved that this heightened hairdo wasn’t just for girls.
In fact, it could be argued that it was precisely because the pompadour hairstyle was so popular among women that Elvis was drawn to it. Popular belief would have it that Presley’s penchant for the pompadour was rooted in the style’s larger-than-life exaggerated shape, but, considering it was fashionable for women as recently as the 1940s, the King’s co-option could be seen as a deliberate two-fingered salute to conservative social mores. (Put that in your glittery pipe and smoke it, Bowie.)
By the late 1970s, the pompadour’s strict form had lost favour among a generation of men eager to do little with their hair other than let it grow and (maybe) wash it every now and again. But by the 1980s and the emergence of psychobilly, the style was making a comeback.
Today, although rarely seen in its classic form, the pompadour remains one of the hands-down best hairstyles for men, a look proudly sported by style icons including model Jon Kortajarena, Zayn Malik and Zac Efron.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE GETTING A POMPADOUR HAIRCUT
Interest piqued? Here are a few things to bear in mind before giving your barber the go-ahead for a pompadour haircut.
1. HAIR TYPE
First, before we get to the root of which hair types suit a pompadour, it’s worth pointing out that unless you’ve got plenty of hair – that is at least 4-6cm at the fringe and decent coverage elsewhere – then the pomp’s not right for you. If you have a receding hairline or experience thinning on top, then swap this forehead-bearing style for something more flattering to shorter hair such as the French crop.
“The pompadour hairstyle lends itself to men with straighter hair,” says Lloyd Hughes, creative director of award-winning men’s grooming brand Men-ü. “That’s not say those with wavy or curly hair can’t also wear the style; it just means their hair’s natural texture and body gives the style a slightly different shape.”
Guys with straight hair will find it easier to create a finely sculpted classic pompadour, whereas men with thick and curly or wavy hair will find this natural kink lends itself to more textured variations.
2. HAIR LENGTH & CUT
Key to creating the perfect pompadour is getting the right cut in the first place. Like having enough hair, having the right amount of hair in the right places is equally important.
“It’s all about weight distribution,” says Adam Gore, founder of Barberology, which was voted Barbershop of the Year 2016 at the hairdressing equivalent of the Oscars. “You need to make sure that your hair is long enough in the right places to ensure the style holds, so usually 6cm or longer on top and as short or long on the sides as you like.”
3. FACE SHAPE
“The pompadour is ideally suited to a face with a wide jawline and high cheekbones,” says Hughes. But, he adds, should you not be blessed with cover model proportions, then a good stylist should be able to deploy a few tricks of the trade to add the illusion of length or width to all kinds of face shapes.
“For longer faces, slightly more hair should be left at the sides, clipped up to a point just below the crown of the head to soften the dramatic contrast of the hair on the top of the head,” says Aveda master barber Stelios Nicolaou. “For round faces, however, hair at the sides and back of the head should be kept quite short and clipped to a point further up the crown – not unlike an undercut, which adds height to round face shapes and reduces their width.”
4. FACIAL HAIR
A clean-shaven face might have historically been the pompadour’s preferred partner, but as has been proved by many beard-loyal blokes in recent years, this hairstyle looks just as good with a face full of fuzz.
“A beard can really accentuate a modern pompadour,” says Nicolaou. “It’s important though, that you balance the length and shape of your beard with that of your hairstyle.” Which means if you have a rounder face and longer beard, the quiff part of your pompadour should be of a similar length to elongate the face.
Also worth noting is that – while there’s nothing exactly wrong with a classic long-on-the-sides pompadour hairstyle teamed with a beard – a sleeker, more modern and overall less Wolverine-y look can be achieved by opting for a disconnected pompadour with the hair clipped short at the back and sides. This will create some much-needed contrast between the volume of the pompadour itself and that of your beard.
TYPES OF POMPADOUR HAIRSTYLES
If you’re considering this hairstyle for yourself, here are some of the main types of the pompadour to serve as inspiration.
1. THE CLASSIC POMPADOUR
Fancy aping Elvis’s iconic hairstyle? Then this is the pompadour for you. As good as it looks today, this style is a throwback in the truest sense.
But whereas life in the 1950s might have allowed a man time to spend upwards of 15 minutes whipping his hair into shape, today’s pace means this style is best suited to those prepared for some serious upkeep.
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