The Comb Over Is Cool Now—and These 10 Haircuts Prove It

Close up of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo with a comb over haircut.

Getty Images / Byrdie

The comb over has gotten a bad rap over the years, considered by many as a trick to hide a thinning scalp or a characteristic foible of a certain former U.S. president. But recently, fuelled by a '60s-inspired revival in classic men’s style (à la Mad Men), as well as celebs like Justin Timberlake and Cristiano Ronaldo sporting bold parts, the comb over—including its modern cousin the comb over taper—has reclaimed a top spot in trendy men’s hairstyles. 

To better understand the comb over, forget what you think a comb over is and focus on what we’re about to show you. The comb over taper has been reinvented into a sleek, modern men’s hairstyle that flatters a variety of looks. And the best part? There are several distinct variations that allow you to tailor it to your own style and preference.

We sat down with two experts in all things hair—barber Hung Q. Nguyen and celebrity hairstylist Kristan Serafino—to unpack the various versions of the comb over taper and to find out how you can get the look at home. 

Meet the Expert

  • Hung Q. Nguyen is the regional barber manager at Fellow Barber in New York City.
  • Kristan Serafino is a celebrity hairstylist and men’s grooming authority. Her clients include Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Mendes.

What Exactly Is a Comb Over? 

The comb over, also called a side part, is a haircut where the back and sides are cut short and the hair on top is longer and parted to one side. Where it gets interesting is the placement of the fade on the sides, which, Nguyen explains, depends on both the client’s preference as well as what best complements their head shape. The same goes for the part: Whether you part from the left or the right comes down to your hair growth pattern. 

“The comb over is a timeless haircut that has not and will not go out of style,” Nguyen says. “There are many variations that will either make it edgier (fit for a night out on the town), or more conservative fit for a day at the office.” He also points out that the comb over fade is a practical option for guys who may be self-conscious about their hairline, as the recession actually lends itself to the natural flow of the haircut. 

Check out our top 10 comb over haircuts.

01 of 10

Classic Comb Over

“This is where it all started,” Nguyen says. The back and sides are cut to a conservative length without showing any scalp for a look that’s clean and professional. And because it doesn’t expose the scalp on the back or sides, it grows out well, meaning you probably won’t need to get your hair cut more often than every four or five weeks.

What to ask your barber for: “Ask for an all-scissor cut to preserve the length on the back and sides,” Nguyen says. “You can also ask for a clipper cut with the fade starting with a #3 guard (10 mm) and let the barber know if you prefer to comb your hair from right to left or left to right.” He also recommends that both you and your barber take time to assess your natural growth pattern to determine the ideal placement for your part and hair growth pattern.

How to get the look

  1. Start by finding your part on clean, wet hair. Use a comb and comb the hair on the top forward, looking for a disconnection from the top and sides where the barber established your part. Locate the disconnection and split the longer hair from the shorter hair. 
  2. Comb the hair into place based on how you want the final result to look. 
  3. Use a blow dryer to quickly dry and set the hair in place. 
  4. Finally, run a matte-finish styling paste through your hair to help set the look. 
02 of 10

Comb Over With High Fade

The high fade is often referred to as a “high and tight,” and resembles a military-style cut on the back and sides. These days, the high fade is more versatile, where the top can be left longer for a more contemporary look. Nguyen mentions that sometimes the length on the side where the part sits is so short that you don’t even need to fuss with finding a part. It’s a great style for guys with thick, coarse hair as well as guys dealing with thinning hair on top. If you’re of the latter, Nguyen recommends keeping the back and sides tight, which will help the top to look fuller by directing the focus away from the back and sides.

What to ask your barber: Simply ask for a high and tight fade with a comb over, Nguyen explains. Be sure to mention your preferred length for the hair on top as well as the fade. “I recommend talking about how much of the skin you want to be exposed rather than using guard numbers,” he says. 

How to get the look

  1. Start with slightly damp hair and add a bit of styling cream, such as Fellow’s Styling Cream ($25), as a base. “Definitely don’t skip the styling cream because it will lock in moisture and tame those dreaded flyaways,” says Nguyen.
  2. Blow-dry on medium heat and high speed, pointing the dryer in the direction you’d like the hair to go once styled.
  3. If you like to have a bit more volume on the top, take a few sections and mist a texturizing spray to the base of the hair.
  4. To finish, apply a texturizing paste for a matte finish, or a high-hold pomade for a shiny finish.
03 of 10

Comb Over With Medium Fade

The most common variation of the comb over, the medium or mid fade features a smooth transition that doesn’t have as much contrast as a high fade. No surprise then that it’s the go-to style for most clients seeking a comb over style, according to Nguyen. Serafino also points out how nicely a beard tapers into the haircut— rather than stopping with a hard line—which adds to the overall quality of the look. 

What to ask your barber: Just go for a mid fade with a comb over, but be sure to explain where you like to part your hair and discuss the length options for the hair on top. 

How to get the look

  1. Begin with slightly damp hair and work through a dime-sized amount of styling cream.
  2. Again, blow dry on medium heat and high speed. 
  3. Spring for a texture spray like Briogeo’s Ginseng + Biotin Volumizing Spray ($24) if you want more volume on top. 
  4. To set the look, finish off with your choice of styling products: a clay or paste for a matte finish or a pomade for a high-shine look. 
04 of 10

Comb Over With Low Fade

The low fade version of the comb over places the fade transition lower on the sides and helps to build weight as it blends up towards the parietal ridge. Due to the fade placement, there is usually a bit more length on the sides, which allows you to comb the hair down when styling. Serafino points out that the barber who created this style opted for a softer part, rather than a hard line, because this client has finer hair on the top. This helps the whole look meld together nicely. 

What to ask your barber: Tell your barber you want a comb over with a low fade and added length on the sides so that you’ll be able to comb it down while styling. Nguyen also says that since the sides are longer for this style, be mindful of your natural hair growth pattern in these areas, since your hair will lay down better when it’s combed in the direction in which it naturally grows. 

How to get the look:

  1. Start with slightly damp hair and work through a dime-sized amount of styling cream.
  2. Blow dry on medium heat/high speed, aiming the air in the direction you want you hair to fall.
  3. Again, go for texture spray around the base of the hair if you want more volume on top.
  4. To perfect the look, finish off with your choice of styling products: a clay or paste for a matte finish or a pomade for a high-shine look.
05 of 10

Comb Over With Natural Hair

Serafino points out that this is more of a hard part, rather than a comb over, since there was no manipulation of the natural hair. “Putting a part into the natural texture gives it a super modern look and feel,” she says.

What to ask your barber: The easiest by far, just ask your barber for the cut you’d usually get and request for a part to be cut in. 

How to get the look:

  1. Start by prepping the hair, massaging a pump or two of hair oil, like Jim + Henry Five Hair Oil ($22), into the hair and scalp, followed by a frizz control lotion to hydrate and moisturize curls.
  2. Nguyen recommends then using a texture comb like the Twist It Up ($25) to give the curls a textured look, or going for a pick comb to pick out the hair and using a handkerchief to shape hair into the shape you’re going for.
06 of 10

Comb Over Taper Fade

Nguyen says the comb over taper fade is where only the nape of the neck and the temporal areas are faded. “This style blends the classic comb over with modern-day fading techniques—by tapering out the sideburns and neck, it gives the classic style a modern twist.” Serafino adds that the comb over taper fade is especially great for guys with shorter foreheads, as pushing the hair on the top back and to the side helps open up the forehead and face, and even slightly elongates the face.

What to ask your barber: Nguyen says you can ask for the classic comb over with a natural taper around the neckline and sideburns.

How to get the look

  1. Starting with damp hair, work through a dime-sized amount of styling cream as a base to help hydrate hair and stop flyaways.
  2. Use a blow dryer on medium heat and high speed, directing the flow of air in the direction you want your hair to go. 
  3. If your hair is longer on top and you want more volume, Nguyen says to spray a texturizing spray onto the base of the hair as you blow-dry. 
  4. Finish off your comb over taper with a clay or paste if you want a clean, matte-finish look, or go for a strong-hold pomade for a more classic, shiny finish. 
07 of 10

Comb Over With Long Hair

This variation is cut like an undercut but styled like a comb over. “The length on top is more exaggerated—usually there is a disconnection on both sides of the head, but the client will use one of those disconnected sides as their designated part,” Nguyen explains. He also says the length on top makes this cut ideal for those who want several different styling options.

Serafino points out that the hair starts at the round of the head, whereas a more typical part would be somewhat higher up on the head. Along with the variation in color, it makes for a bold, edgy style statement. 

What to ask your barber: Nguyen says you can start by asking your barber for an undercut, but specify on which side you prefer to part your hair. 

How to get the look

  1. Start with slightly damp hair and work in a dime-sized amount of styling cream to keep hair moisturized and prevent flyaways. 
  2. Set your blow dryer to medium heat and high speed and aim it in the direction you want your hair to lay when it’s styled. 
  3. This is a great style that can benefit from some extra volume, and Nguyen recommends using a vent brush to create volume on top as you blow-dry. 
  4. Finish off using a paste or pomade-based product to give your hair texture and shape.
08 of 10

Comb Over With Hard Part

Here, the parting of the haircut is cut in using a trimmer and straight razor. This makes finding your part easy peasy and allows for a fuss-free style. This cut is ideal for a variety of hair types, however, Serafino points out that the hard edge requires high maintenance. Since the growth will show quickly in such detailed areas, you might be looking at a trim every two weeks or so. 

What to ask your barber: Start by asking for a comb over haircut with your preferred fade length, fade placement, and top length, then request for a hard part to be cut in and your barber should take care of the rest. 

How to get the look

  1. Starting with hair that’s slightly damp, add a small amount of styling cream and work through to cover all your hair. 
  2. Using a blow dryer, dry your hair on medium heat/high speed and point the nozzle in the direction you want your finished hair to lie. 
  3. For a sleek, shiny look finish off with some strong hold pomade, but for a more texturized, matte look, opt for a styling paste or clay. 
09 of 10

Comb Over With Line Up

Here, the comb over style is basically the same as a typical comb over with a hard part, but the hairline has been shaped up to achieve perfect symmetry. Nguyen says the line up is a great option if you have an uneven hairline and are looking for a more balanced shape, and is an essential for those with natural hair, as it helps define and pull together the final result. Serafino added it’s also a great way to add edgy style and definition to the face. 

What to ask your barber: After describing your comb over preferences in detail, Nguyen says to ask your barber to line up your hairline for a more defined result.

How to get the look:

  1. While the styling rules are essentially the same as the hard part comb over, Nguyen notes that the line up is a high-maintenance style that will require frequent touch-ups to keep it looking its best. 
10 of 10

Comb Over With Wavy or Curly Hair

This comb over style is similar to other variations. except that it is specific to wavy/curly hair clients. “Oftentimes, clients with this hair type are not sure what else can be done with their hair and tend to be more apprehensive about trying something different,” Nguyen says. “The comb over is a safe and stylish look that can be achieved with a bit of coaching and patience.”

What to ask your barber: After giving your barber your comb over haircut preferences, ask for styling tips on how to turn your curls into waves. Unlike other hair types, curls need heat styling in order to change the natural formation of the hair to fit the comb over look.

How to get the look

  1. Serafino recommends using a wax or pomade that will work nicely with your natural waves and add both shine and definition, such as Dax Wax ($10).

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