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It’s Time to Reclaim the Slick Back

Gordon Gekko gave the classic hairstyle its slimy reputation. Trump’s large adult sons all but murdered it. Now, it’s time for the resurrection.

In my 30 years of life, I’ve spent an unrecoverable amount of time primping my hair. It began young, this primping: I watched my dad spend at least 10 minutes every morning blow drying his head before scooping up a thimble of blue goop and applying it meticulously to his hair to form a pompadour. 

Not long after, I too began a never-ending search for my perfect hairstyle — the one that would and could carry me through my midlife crisis and beyond. For years, I searched. I used a blow dryer. I used hair-straightening tools. I colored my hair. I shaved it all and grew it back out again. And yet, after a few weeks, sometimes even a few months (if I was lucky), one bad hair day was enough to send me spiraling; I’ve literally taken clippers to my own head to silence the voices.

But this pandemic year, I’ve unlocked a new, seemingly-impervious-to-bad-hair-days way of styling my hair: The slick back. 

Before you roll your eyes so far into the back of your head that you begin to see splashes of color in the shape of Gordon Gekko, hear me out. First and foremost, the slick back is, despite its reputation, not a hairstyle that was born from 1980s slimeballs. In fact, according to Emma Mustich’s 2012 article in Salon about then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s hair (though really, Romney’s hair is more of a side part), the slick back has been around since at least the 18th century and “was popularized by Madame de Pompadour, mistress of France’s King Louis XV.” 

For men of that same era, however, the slick back was merely a way to accommodate their wigs. “After the wigs went away, slicked-back hair was really associated mostly — before gangsters — with a general category of movie stars and actors; it goes back to the 1920s, with Rudolph Valentino,” Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer for Wall Street, told Salon

In that regard, the slick back doesn’t have the most inspiring roots. More recently, in 2017, it was referred to as “rich asshole hair” by The Guardian, and it certainly doesn’t help too that the Trump sons are noted purveyors of the style, along with others in the group of the most insufferable humans on earth.

Having said all that, it’s time to reclaim this hairstyle from the rich assholes who ruined it. Because to hell with those people, I want to slick my damn hair back and feel polished in this era of aesthetic fog. 

If, like me, you’ve been through any number of hair episodes, the slick back offers a road of lesser temptation. You won’t be possessed to touch and fix your hair every time you pass a mirror, primarily because the key to a slick back is to not touch it. In many ways, this hairstyle is the series finale to a lifetime of follicular drama, one that won’t knock your socks off per se, but also won’t leave you hanging in the balance, wondering if the main characters are dead or alive. The slick back is a hairstyle you can count on. 

For those who are insistent about not wanting to look like the Trump sons of the world, the less greasy version of the slick back takes a bit more work. According to GQ, to achieve the anti-Wall Street slick back, you’ll need to first dry your hair. “Finally, once your hair is dry, reach for a pomade or wax instead of mousse or gel,” writes Megan Gustawshaw. “That’ll help give your hair a little bit of movement and touchable realness, instead of making it look like a hard hat.”

But again, despite its promise of being a less-villainous version of the famed hairstyle, the additional step of having to first dry your hair is a bit much in this age of sweatpants and socially distanced hangs. Also, it’s nearly summer and I’ll be at the beach, so I’m doing it the old fashioned way: Simply towel dry your hair, add a bit of product (I prefer a nourishing leave-in conditioner because it washes out easily), and then use a brush or comb to slick it back and into a shape that best suits your face. Sure, you can use hair grease to get that sucker sculpted like a Bernini statue, but I prefer not to have to wash my hair with Acetone. 

As far as the shape is concerned, for me, I prefer to comb my hair slicked tight against the sides of my head and ever so slightly loose and poofy on top. That way, I can hope for a bit more of a voluminous look. You’ll have to find the best slick back look for yourself, but it’s not rocket science. You just have to be willing to mine your own vanity in search of your inner mobster, hopefully with a nickname like “Tony Ducks.” 

The best part is, once you find your lines, you can kiss bad hair days goodbye, because this is one hairstyle that looks the same. Every. Single. Day.