The Pompadour Haircut: What It Is & How To Style It
January 13, 2022
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.
What is a Pompadour Haircut?
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.
Known for plenty of volume and high-shine, the classic pompadour requires plenty of hair that’s been scissor cut slightly shorter at the back and sides compared to the top, with the fringe left longer than the hair at the crown.
When it comes to styling, reach for an old-school pomade such as Dax, which guarantees that slick, brilliantly shiny finish.
2. The Modern Pompadour
Like the King’s do but want something more contemporary? Try a modern, disconnected pompadour.
As the name suggests, this style is defined by a clear contrast between the shortness of the hair at the sides and back compared to the length of the hair on the top. Unlike the classic pomp, which is achieved with scissor-cut hair, the modern variation requires your hair at the sides and back be clipped either to a uniform length (usually a grade four or lower) or graduated, i.e. faded, from very short at the hairline at the sides and back to slightly longer towards the crown.
Less work than its classic forebear, the modern pompadour does not require a lot of combing and styling product (like hair mousse for men) at the sides and back, so it’s ideal if slightly pinched for time.
3. The Short Pompadour
If you’re looking for an alternative to the classic pompadour that’s a little less, well, extra, try shaving off a few inches.
Less of a commitment than longer variations – not only in terms of time, but also the confidence required to pull it off – the short pompadour is a more subtle take on the modern style. The sides and back are clipped short, either to a uniform length or faded, and the hair at the fringe, while longer than the sides and back, doesn’t go beyond about 4cm.
Although you’ll still need to go through the motions to build the pomp, you’ll be working with a lot less hair, which means you’ll save both time and product.
4. The Curly Pompadour
Traditional pompadour styles a little too neat for your taste? Add some rough to the smooth with a textured take on the time-honored style.
Ideal for guys with curly, wavy and/or thick hair, this textured pompadour swaps the classic style’s clean lines and high-shine for a matte, tousled look that gives the impression you’ve just been riding a Yamaha at high speeds, or holding your own in a scrap.
Rather than pomade, this style relies on a texturizing clay or paste and while a comb can be used, your bare hands are near enough the best tools for the job.
5. The Fade Pompadour
Fades are all the rage these days and incorporating one into your pompadour has the potential to make you the sleekest looking guy in the room.
With gradually tapered sides and the signature coif on top, this is a great way to bring your pompadour into the 21st century while retaining a classic look.
Rock this style with a shorter fade above the ears and polished ‘do on top. To really look your best, keep the hair on top tight to maintain a neat looking style with clean lines framing your face.
6. The Low-Fade Pompadour
If a dramatic fade pompadour is a bit too out there for your taste, you may be a fan of the low fade, which retains the on-trend style with a bit of a more nuanced look.
Rather than creating a fade where the sides are short all the way to the top of your head, the low-fade pompadour creates a more balanced look with less contrast.
This style requires easy maintenance, like a quick gel up, but can also be the perfect tousled look on mornings when you’re lacking time.
7. The Undercut Pompadour
For a more dramatic pompadour, you may consider pairing it with an undercut. The combination of clipped sides and back, with longer hair on top makes for a striking style that will set you apart from other men around.
This look is clean and highly versatile as it doesn’t take the constant styling other pompadours may. You can still achieve a highly polished look by gelling the hair back on top, but you can also let it hang loose without looking sloppy.
Try out the undercut pompadour if you’re looking for a trendy twist on this classic style.
8. The Parted Pompadour
Another way to make waves with your pompadour is by throwing a vivid part into the mix, think Leonardo DiCaprio style.
Traditionally, the straight hair on top of a pompadour is brushed backwards and styled in that manner, however, why not change things up and brush to one side?
This gives a clean combover style, minus the impending baldness, and has been sported by celebrities and trendsetters alike, thanks to the ultra classy look.
If you’re feeling extra bold, you can even incorporate a shaved part to the mix to make this side-swept look stand out even more.
When sporting the parted pompadour (especially with a hard part), comb your hair neatly in one direction… And don’t forget the back!
8. The Voluminous Pompadour
Got a lot of hair and unsure what to do with it? Give the voluminous pompadour a whirl, making the most out of your luscious locks. This is certainly among the most eye catching styles out there.
With thick hair, use a blow dyer and brush upwards to add extra volume before slathering it full of product for an all-day stay.
Take things a step further by fading the sides, to give the illusion your pompadour is even more full.
While you can attempt this style with finer hair, you may quickly realize why it’s more realistic to obtain the look with thick strands.
9. The Relaxed Pompadour
On the other end of the spectrum, the most low maintenance look is the relaxed pompadour, which is suitable for a variety of hair types.
This longer, tousled hairstyle is a choice pick for dudes who don’t want to spend hours getting ready in the morning, particularly with wavy, curly, or thick hair. It’s pretty much roll out of bed and ready to go, giving it that effortless, laid back look.
You may find that this style requires some more work if you have a head full of fine hair. But plenty of product should keep your pompadour from falling slack.
10. The Single Length Pompadour
The modern pompadour often incorporates faded sides or an undercut to this timeless style, but another way to wear it is to have everything at the same length.
Rather than shaving the sides, a single length pompadour retains longer hair all over the head, with that familiar brushed back styling.
Without the distinction between the hair on top and the hair on the sides, you wind up with a classic haircut. But a word to the wise: this pompadour can easily resemble a mullet if you aren’t cautious.
To rock a single length pompadour best, brush both the top and sides of your hair towards the back and secure with product.
How To Style a Pompadour
Whether you want a slick, tightly sculpted classic pompadour or one that’s loose enough to run your hands through, the basic styling method is the same.
Step 1: Wash & Condition
First, make sure to start with freshly washed and conditioned hair that’s completely free of excess oil, dirt and product residue.
Step 2: Dry
Lightly towel dry the damp hair. Then, with a comb and a hairdryer, blow dry it as you comb backwards from your forehead and temples backwards towards your crown and the back of your head, each time moving along the full shaft of the hair from root to tip.
Step 3: Apply Product
Next, apply a pea-sized amount of product. Make sure to thoroughly rub it between the palms of your hands first to warm it before running it through your hair.
NB. Ignore our recommend product dosage at your peril. Apply too much product, and at best you’ll look like a Love Island reject; at worst, you’ll have to go straight back into the shower and start all over again. Start with a small amount, and you can always gradually add more as required.
Step 4: Comb
Resume combing, using the technique outlined in step two. As you comb with one hand, use the other to gently pat down the hair you’ve just combed. This helps to further smoothen the hair and shape the style.
Step 5: Create the Quiff
Next, create the quiff. With the palm of your free hand, gently push forward the hair you’ve just combed backwards – not a lot, just enough so that the hair starts to bend slightly. Then, use the comb to gently tease your fringe straight up and back, so that it curves up and back over your head.
Unless your fringe grows poker straight, you’ll probably find that the style sits naturally with the fringe falling slightly towards the right or left. Don’t fight it, go with it.
Step 6: Use Hairspray
Once happy with the shape of your pompadour and depending on your desired finish, spray judiciously with a strong-hold hairspray to help keep everything in place.
Choose Your Finish
The product makes the finish, whether you want to go after a classic glossy look, or a more laid back, textured pompadour. Here are your different options for looking fresh, every time.
For a classic, sleek pompadour, use a high-shine pomade. Remember to finish with a strong-hold hairspray.
For a textured, less meticulously sculpted pompadour, opt for a texturizing clay, cream or paste, either combing through or using your hands to scrunch through your hair. Hold the hairspray for this one.
Loose & Natural Pompadour
For a surf-inspired look that’s loose and relaxed, swap pomade and paste for salt spray instead. Spray liberally onto towel-dried hair and comb through to form a loose pompadour.
Although this finish doesn’t offer much hold, it gives a more natural look, doesn’t require any heavy or greasy product and allows you to every now and again seductively brush it off your forehead and back into place. Never let it be said we don’t have your best interests at heart.
Still have a couple questions about the pompadour haircut? Check out these FAQs for some final advice.
How long does your hair have to be for a pompadour?
While you don’t need a ton of hair on top for a pompadour hairstyle, you’ll want a solid three or four inches so that there’s enough to create the distinct shape. The length of the hair on the rest of your head doesn’t matter so much, as it boils down to personal style preference.
How do I get a pompadour?
To get a pompadour, you should start growing your hair out, at least on top. If you already have some decent locks going, choose a pompadour style that suits your look and hair type, find a reference picture and head to the barber shop.
But that’s only half the battle. Part of having a pompadour is commitment to styling it. To get this signature look, brush damp hair back and up while blow drying it to create volume, and secure with product or hairspray, while smoothing hairs into place.
Are pompadours sill in style?
For a hairstyle that’s been around since before the French Revolution, the pompadour has withstood the test of time surprisingly well. Throughout history, men have sported the pompadour, and it’s only increased in popularity as the modern guy seeks out an ever timless look.
What’s the difference between a quiff and a pompadour?
It’s easy to confuse the quiff and the pompadour, but the main difference between the two is where the volume is located. With a pompadour, the volume is focused on the top of the head, with the hair brushed back for a sleek look. On the other hand, a quiff’s volume is concentrated just above the forehead using only the front portion of your hair.
Pompadours also tend to take more meticulous styling while quiffs can be styled quickly with more texture.