As we get older our bodies change, our priorities shift, and our lives evolve. So, too, does our style. Case in point: hair. Changes such as a decrease in hair fullness or less time to dedicate to styling can have you looking for a different 'do as you move into a new phase of life.
"Some men [over 40] that have great heads of hair include Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, Josh Duhamel, Jared Leto, and Jamie Foxx," says Gregory Patterson, a stylist for beauty retailer Sally Beauty. "These are great style wearers to follow because they all play with different lengths and textures."
We spoke to Patterson and other hairstylists for their take on 40 of the best cuts and styles to suit men and male-aligned people over 40.
Below, our full roundup of the best haircuts for men over 40.
Even short hair can benefit from texture. "It makes hair look fuller and can camouflage thinning a little bit," says Rodney Cutler, founder of the New York-based Cutler Salon.
Just don’t go too long if you notice thinning; longer hair will actually call attention to lost volume. Use a matte clay or paste to help build up, but not weigh down, hair. We like Detroit Grooming Co. Matte Paste ($22).
A buzz cut is not about cutting your hair one short length all over your head. Slightly tapering the sides and leaving it a little bit longer on top, like actor Sterling K. Brown, can help elongate your face and make it look slimmer.
No one can go wrong with the classic-leading man look, which involves either a side part or a bit of tousled texture up top to make it more versatile. “Ultimately, a lot of the styles older guys want are more classic,” says Cutler.
The secret to fuller hair isn’t always how much you have, but how much texture your cut gives it. Asking your barber to texturize your hair helps it stand up easier with less product. A cut like this “is not even a style, but it just looks pushed back and natural,” says John Barrett, a stylist with more than two decades' worth of experience and the founder of the eponymous salon, located in New York City.
"I would say the only rule to hair in your 40s is that if you’ve only got three pieces of it left, consider getting rid of them and embrace your bald head," says Patterson.
Losing your hair is a reality for plenty of guys, and the bad news is it’s impossible to regrow hair you’ve already lost. Some guys choose to cut their losses and shave it completely. It can mean less maintenance, less stress, and a great look.
If your head is shaved, be sure to apply a good sunscreen to the scalp before prolonged sun exposure.
According to Cutler, "[Men] tend to want their aesthetic to fit into their career and their social environment." Enter the grown-out fade, which easily transitions from boardroom to bar. Ask your stylist to keep the shape of a fade but leave the slides a little longer.
The standard quiff is highlighted by a short back and sides, with longer hair (typically swept upward). The look can run the gamut from messy and tousled to suave and sophisticated, as seen on actor Matt Bomer.
Not ready for the full-on shave? A super-close crop that leaves a little bit of hair is still low maintenance but can camouflage inconsistencies in hair growth. For extra interest, dye or bleach the hair, á la Kanye West.
Contrary to popular belief, not all men’s haircuts need to be short. If you had long hair when you were younger (and provided thinning isn't a big issue for you), you can keep it as you get older. Keep it well above your shoulders and ask your stylist for layers.
Lots of guys use gels to slick back hair, but wet products can cling to hair and show more scalp (making it look thinner). To slick back hair, we recommend using a styling cream to help moisturize and build up volume. Keep hair at a medium length and don’t try to use longer hair to mask bald spots.
Embracing natural waves can go a long way to help hair look fuller. Patrick Dempsey's shape is similar to a fade but uses natural texture to create more height on top. Use a salt spray to build up hair without weighing it down and looking over-styled. Try Pete & Pedro Natural Sea Salt Spray ($19) for texture and a light hold.
Hair naturally gets thinner as we age, even if we don’t notice it falling out. Length can be your friend here, as long as it’s not all one length. Take a cue from Lin Manuel-Miranda. “You need internal length,” says Cutler, which is when your barber cuts into the hair to create body.
“If you're losing your hair on top, having a lot of bulk at the sides just will accentuate what you're losing,” says Barrett. “Have your hair cut tighter so everything will just flow nicely.” Even if you aren't losing your hair, embracing a bit of natural texture, while keeping hair short (like actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) offers ease and style in spades.
The first place many men notice hair loss is at their hairline (it’s an indicator of male-pattern baldness). “If you’re receding, be realistic,” says Cutler. “You don't have to try and completely hide it. A little bit of a recession is actually quite attractive and realistic." Here, actor Jude Law highlights his receding hairline by styling the hair up top.
Textured Flat Top
Using natural texture to build height on top of your head is like an optical illusion. It builds volume without weighty products. Keep the sides slightly longer than a fade to show off the look, like Mahershala Ali.
A more casual part like Kumail Nanjiani's can make your hair look fuller than a crisp, shellacked hairstyle. It’s all about what products you use. “Use a pomade that has a little bit of a natural feel to it instead of a gel,” says Cutler. "You can still get away with it at work but look a little bit more playful and fashionable.”
“A shorter hairstyle that’s nice and clean” looks good on everyone, says Barrett. A military-inspired crew cut is great and a little more length on top makes it even suitable for civilians.
If the transitions in your crew cut are too obvious, use a pair of thinning shears to blend out the cut.
Instead of trying to use bangs to cover up receding temples, ask your barber to blend them and cut them a little shorter. “If you don't blend the temples, your eye is actually drawn to it,” says Cutler. “It accentuates the bald spot because of the amount of hair on the sides.”
Length is your best friend when it comes to versatility, but it doesn’t mean you have to have long hair. Even a tiny bit of texturized length on top, á la Henry Golding, means you can style your hair natural and messy or slick-backed and sleek.
Longer hair can look cool on older guys, as long as it’s shaped properly. A slight oval shape keeps the sides shorter and offers a cleaner look. Keep it just long enough for natural curls to be defined but not weighed down.
Short, Layered Cut
A short layered haircut works well at balancing Chris Evans' wide jaw and it frames his face well. For this style, the hair is cut into shorter layers all over the head. Use a bit of pomade for added shine and control.
"Styling and grooming creams are great additions to your styling arsenal because they are such a multi-benefit type product, great for all lengths," says Patterson, who recommends Suavecito Original Hold Pomade ($10). "It is perfect for all hair types and formulated to keep your hair in place all day long," he says.
There comes a time when all of us need to grow up a little. Long hair can look messy on older guys (especially if you're not willing to put in the daily effort to style it), but a classic, super-short fade, like the one seen here on Shemar Moore, will always look clean and stylish.
You can never go wrong with a classic, but to keep it from looking too square, shape it with your hands instead of a comb. That subtle change in texture, but not shape, will make it cooler.
When your hair goes gray, you may need to change your product more than your style. “Gray hair becomes wiry because there's a lack of moisture,” says Cutler. “Creams, oils, and shine serums help control but also add moisture.” Instead of weighing hair down with pomade, switch to a styling cream to keep it in place.
If you want to lessen the gray, try covering just some (and not all) of it. Using a subtle camouflage of color, “adding more pepper to the salt” as Cutler says, will take you back a few years but still look natural and unforced.
Sometimes it’s best to not overthink it. A fade works well on everyone (there’s a reason why it’s a classic) but a slightly lower transition helps add height.
Pharrell's lineup cut is clean and put-together. For a similar look, ask your barber to use clippers to line up the forehead, temples, sideburns, and back of the head.
The short Ivy League cut is another great shorter option for dudes in their 40s who just want an easy-to-maintain hairstyle. There is enough length on top to offer a little bit of versatility. It can be worn neatly combed to the side, as seen on Ben Affleck, forward as a short Caesar, or messily with a bit of loose paste like Fatboy's Perfect Putty ($21) to add texture.
A little bit of gray at the temples ramps up the sophisticated nature of Will Smith's classic fade. Keep in mind that face shape plays into the suitability of any cut. "Where the weight line in the fade sits is going to accentuate that shape," says Wayne Wildrick, a stylist and the regional barber manager at the Los Angeles location of Fellow Barber. "It can make the client look more or less round or square, based on the placement."
If you're lucky enough to have a great head of hair and want more of a rock 'n' roll vibe that's still aligned with your age, the loose pompadour is great, especially if you have an oval or slightly longer face shape.
On actor Josh Duhamel, the cut works perfectly. A short beard also helps frame his face well. He's chosen to leave his hair gray, and the salt-and-pepper hue makes his eyes pop. Sometimes gray can be a great thing, especially if you have light-colored eyes.
Shorter Layer Cut
This short layer cut is another good option for people who want enough length to be versatile, and yet still have a style that's relatively easy to maintain. It can be worn with minimal product and casually styled with fingers, as shown in this photo of Matt Damon.
There is enough length, however, that if you apply a bit of stiff pomade (R+Co's Control Flexible Paste, $28, is about the right texture,) add a clean side part, and style it like a pompadour, you'll get a more formal look.
Short and Natural
Short and natural hair exudes youth and requires little in the way of maintenance. You'll want to invest in a good conditioning treatment to ensure hair stays moisturized, as it is here on Usher.
This long shag style is common on surfers in California (or, in this case, on actor Tom Hiddleston), and it looks great at any age. If you still have a full head of hair and want a longer style, this long shag is something to consider. But stay far away from this style if you have thinning hair, because it will make your hair look much thinner than it actually is.
For this style, the hair is cut in long layers all over. If you're not a surfer, don't worry, you can always get this look by having your salon add natural highlights and using a bit of salt spray, such as Sachajuan's Ocean Mist Spray ($34).
Long hair like Jared Leto's might take a while to grow out but once it's at the appropriate length, it can be fairly low-maintenance. Have your stylist cut layers for interest and either dry naturally or with a blow-dryer.
Longer Up Top
Marlon Wayans' natural curls are slightly longer on top but kept closely cropped on the sides. Though he's experimented with many looks in the past, his fade—characterized by a finish of gradual length tapering—is one of his most sophisticated.
Side Part Taper
"The classic side part taper is a great example of a timeless look for men in their 40s—or any age really," notes Vicky Pena, a hairstylist and employee engagement and training coordinator at Boardroom Salon, a chain of upscale barber shops for men. "With the right product, clean, maintained lines and a brush or comb, this look can stretch all the way to a red carpet event." Zachary Quinto, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bradley Cooper have all been known to rock this style a time or two before.
Faded Lineup With Beard
To balance out his classic lineup—made all the more trendy with a slight fade on the sides—Jamie Foxx adds a longer beard. The key to this look, says Patterson, is to care for the scalp.
"The best products to consider using for hair in your 40s are scalp scrubs to keep the skin healthy for good growth," he notes. "Moisturizing shampoos and conditioners are also essential, because hair ages and becomes brittle and dry. The ion 2 in 1 Anti Dandruff Shampoo & Conditioner ($8) has a gentle cleansing formula that cleans and conditions in one easy step, leaving hair soft and manageable."
Long and Tousled
Actor Joe Manganiello keeps his hair just long enough to be manageable while still looking youthful and casual. To keep the look from veering too trendy, try adding a well-groomed beard, as pictured here.
Mario Lopez channels a debonair, old Hollywood actor with his slicked-back hair, kept slightly longer for added drama. For this look, try a product such as Aveda Control Paste ($31), which will help keep hair locked in place without looking too stiff.
Short and Styled
For This Is Us actor Justin Hartley's style, the hair is cut clipper-short on the sides and back and left about two inches long on top. The hair on top is razor-cut to add both separation and texture. This hairstyle works particularly well for men who may have thinning hair or a receding hairline. If that's the case, and you want to wear this style, use the lightest styling product possible to avoid creating too much separation in the hair—more separation means a more exposed scalp.