Simple, "undone" hair and makeup has long been popular among celebrities and models. It's not uncommon to see a paparazzi photo of your favorite celeb with what appears to be wet hair, and the result is undeniably chic. The same slicked-back hairstyle can transform simple streetwear and/or a designer gown into something that feels that much cooler.
While the look has long been popular among celebs, its versatile, cool energy is easy for anyone to embrace. Slicked-back hair is also not restricted to one hair length or texture, but it can work across all hair types. Whether you choose to test it out while running errands (à la supermodel) or for a bold date night look, you have many different options to embrace the slicked-back hairstyle.
Meet the Expert
- Jonathon DePaca is a hairstylist at Fekkai at the Mark.
- Joseph Maine is a celebrity hairstylist and the Artistic Director of Color Wow.
Scared of attempting slicked-back chic strands and instead landing in greasy territory? Don't worry: We've rounded up 20 of our favorite celebrity takes on the style and brought in the experts. We also turned to two hairstylists for their advice, including styling tips and product recommendations. Keep reading for our 20 favorite slicked-back hairstyles and expert advice on adopting the style yourself.
The inherent coolness of the slicked-back hairstyle comes from the implication that its wearer appears to have simply stepped out of the shower. There's something so confident about the ability to arrive on the red carpet with an "undone" style, as seen here on Alessandra Ambrosio. However, it's important to note that most slicked-back styles are not as low-maintenance as they appear. "The celebrities that do this look on the red carpet know they are not made for movement," cautions celebrity hairstylist Joseph Maine.
When combining an over-the-top gown and a bold, dark lip color, it's no surprise that Lizzo opted for a simple slicked-back hairstyle. The understated nature of this sleek style keeps the focus on both her dress and makeup, preventing this dramatic fashion statement from becoming too busy.
Here, Marsai Martin strikes a balance between sleek and voluminous, slicking back her roots while allowing the rest of her natural curls to shine in a ponytail. Paired with radiant makeup, it's a look truly worthy of a celebratory night.
Slicked-back hairstyles can sometimes seem repetitive, which is why this multi-direction voluminous moment from Selma Blair is one of our favorites. While her bob may not have a lot of length, the actress makes the most of her layers with this coiffed style. Hairstylist Jonathon DePaca recommends adding some texture with hairspray to make achieving volume easier.
Slicked-back hair does not always have to be completely smoothed down. Estelle's look proves that you don't have to sacrifice volume for sheen. For a gravity-defying slicked-back hairstyle, you'll want to use plenty of hairspray as well as a blow dryer and/or teasing to get volume at the roots. When drying, take care not to dent the hair, as that will stand out once the style is set. Maine recommends creaseless clips that can help set the look without getting dents.
Seriously sleek hair isn't just for those with longer strands: Grace Elizabeth demonstrates how well this style translates to super short lengths. When attempting to slick back short hair, it's easy to overdo it on products. "When I apply product, I always use a very little amount and then add as needed. Less is always better than too much," DePaca says.
The key to any slicked-back hairstyle is the correct products. "I think so much of the red-carpet look starts with the prep," Maine says. "Moisturizing products in the prep will help create that texture. Use Color Wow's Dream Coat ($28), spray all throughout, and blow-dry! You can still add a wave or curl afterward. If you’re looking for a drier finish like the one seen here on Gal Gadot, Color Wow's Cult Favorite Hairspray ($26) is perfect."
With a more intentionally greasy slicked-back hairstyle as seen here on Petra Němcová, its important to consider the rest of your look. This same style with a darker outfit or heavier makeup might have appeared unkempt, but the heavy weight of her hair instead balances with the minimal makeup and white dress.
Slicked-back styles don't always have to look "wet," but if that's the look you're going for, you may want to use specific styling products. "If you like more of a product look, like wet or glossy, Color Wow's Pop & Lock ($20) will add some hold and give it that glossy finish without using something heavy like gel or drying out your hair as a regular hairspray might," Maine shares.
Sleek can manage to be shiny without the weight of a gel. Maine says using hairspray is always best when it comes to attempting slicked-down styles like Constance Wu's stylish center part. This allows you to tame flyaways for a smooth style without the wet effect that comes from gel.
It's possible to achieve an unbelievably smooth slicked-back hairstyle with the right products. "For a slick and effortless hairdo, I would highly recommend any product that brings shine to the hair or a product that helps to smooth the texture and control frizz," DePaca explains. "My absolute favorites at the moment to use for updos are the Fekkai Brilliant Gloss Multi-Tasker Perfecting Crème ($24) and the Fekkai Clean Stylers Straight Balm ($26). These products help me to bring out all the shine in the hair and control texture so you have a smooth base to work with."
Slicked-back hairstyles are not only for straight strands. Yara Shahidi's curly ponytail with sleek, wavy roots is the perfect example of embracing this style without sacrificing your natural texture. "Using the right products will help keep the curly texture in your hair while sleeking it back," Maine explains. Those with curly or wavy hair will want to use more hydrating products before applying hold products like gel or hairspray.
Slicked-back updos are an ultra-chic option for formal events. "My first tip would be having good tools to perform a slick look—like brushes, products, et cetera," DePaca explains. "My second technique would be to create tension for a strong hold. Once the hair is pulled back, add a veil of hairspray and brush very lightly through to control any fuzz and have a very nice and polished result."
Just because the bulk of your hair is slicked back doesn't mean you can't experiment with bold styling in the front. We love this side-swept bangs moment on Anitta. The front piece here creates visual intrigue on an otherwise dialed-back hairdo.
Slicked hairstyles don't always require combing your strands straight back. Feel free to part your hair as normal with a side or middle part, then slick it back from the sides. This is a great option if you have shorter hair or want to create a low bun or ponytail.
Slicking back all of your hair is intimidating (and requires lots of product), so why not ease your way into this trend with some sleek roots? "A great tip is hiding the front panels of your hair," Maine says. "Do this by starting with a middle part, taking the front panels of hair (as if you were creating a triangle), following it back behind the ears, and making a ponytail at the nape of the neck. This will help keep those parts that might normally be a pain to keep tucking behind the ear in place without a bunch of bobby pins."
Slicked-back hairstyles don't have to look wet or greasy. "To avoid it looking greasy, the main thing is to make sure the hair is adequately prepped," Maine explains. "You don't need to pile on the product. You can do a directional blow dry to make sure the roots are going the way you want, which will allow your hair to lay flat. You don't need a lot of hair gel; it's always going to have that wet finish, but using hairspray is always best."
A structured high ponytail is a great complement to any slicked-back look, but it's important to start with an evenly smooth base. DePaca recommends smoothing out any fuzz or frizz before starting the updo by preparing your texture with a nice blowout a day ahead and adding shine with a serum or gloss.
Slicked back does not necessarily mean flat. Heidi Klum's slicked-back look at the 2018 American Music Awards is the perfect example of a sleek, wet look that still manages to pull off masterful volume at the roots. This gives the style more dimension and movement.
A timeless style, the chignon is an easy way to wear the slicked-back look on a casual day. DePaca says that as a French stylist, he sees the chignon as a pure reference of the red carpet. "It’s not only one of my favorites, but it’s a very simple way to look extremely elegant. The chignon has always been here, and I feel it will always be around," he shares.
How do you create a slicked-back hair look?
A slicked-back hairstyle is easy to recreate. First, blow dry your hair while brushing it back, then either apply hair oil to lightly slick everything in place—or comb through a more heavy-duty hair gel to really firm things up.
How do you keep slicked-back hair in place?
If your hair gel or oil isn't quite strong enough to keep hair in place, use a flexible hold hairspray.
What products do you need for a slicked-back hair look?
In addition to a blow dryer, you'll need either a hair oil or a strong-hold gel to replicate the slicked-back hair look. A high-quality comb or brush (to push all your hair back) will come in handy, as well.