How To Use Pomade
Mr Jon Hamm in Mad Men season one, 2007. Photograph by Mr Doug Hyun/AMC
Why this traditional styling product might just be right for your hair.
As grooming products go, few have the staying power of pomade. Literally. A hairstyling stalwart since the 19th century (when it was made with bear fat – yes, really), this traditionally oil-based product is unparalleled when it comes to keeping hair slick, stiff and stylish.
Thanks to its uniquely thick, viscous and glossy properties, pomade is the perfect tool for achieving high-shine sculpted styles – think Mr Elvis Presley’s ceiling-skimming pompadour or Don Draper’s sharp side parting. However, like all weapons in a man’s grooming arsenal, it can easily backfire if incorrectly deployed: apply the wrong pomade, or too much of the right one, and you (not to mention your pillows) will be left feeling greasier than a baby-oiled Love Islander.
To help you stay sure-footed in slippery territory, we consulted the experts on pomade best practice. Here’s what you need to know.
Oil Or Water?
“Pomade is an exceptionally versatile product,” says Mr Matt Southerland, barber at the Blind Barber’s Barney’s Downtown outpost in New York. “Not only can you choose from various strengths and finishes, but it also comes in oil- and water-based formulations.”
What’s the difference? As Mr Southerland reveals, water-based pomades, which are a relatively modern invention, are water-soluble and so can be easily washed out. Old-school oil-based pomades on the other hand are not, requiring several shampoos before they’re fully removed. To decide which one is right for you, you need to figure out a) how comfortable you are with hair that feels greasy, and b) how likely you are to style your hair the same way each day of the week. If your answers are quite, and very, then oil’s for you. In all other cases, stick with water-based products.
Prepare Your Hair
Once you’ve found the right product, it’s time to lay sound foundations. “For a sleek-finish style that won’t require much support, like a side parting, you can get away with applying pomade to damp, lightly towel-dried hair,” says Mr Southerland. “But to accomplish push-up styles with volume and texture – such as a sculpted quiff or pompadour – then it’s best to blow-dry your hair before applying.”
“Use your index finger to scoop out a small amount of pomade (about the size of a 10p piece), then rub it in a circular motion between the palms of your hands,” says Mr Brent Pankhurst, founder of the eponymous London barbershop. “Starting small is essential because, while you can always add more pomade, you can’t easily remove any excess.” As one old Brylcreem advertisement put it: “Just a little dab’ll do ya”.
Distribution is equally important, says hairstylist Mr Craig Taylor, whose clients include GQ, Esquire and The Independent. “Always ensure the pomade is spread evenly across the fingers, fingertips and palms, as this helps give you greater control once you start styling.”
Next, Mr Taylor recommends applying the pomade to your hair from the front of your head back towards your crown, all the while using your palms to coat the shaft of the hair, while your fingertips evenly coat the ends. Finally, take a moment to survey your work to ensure you haven’t missed any hair out, or left any clumped product, then continue styling with a comb and/or hairdryer as desired.
Arguably the most difficult step in using pomade is removing it. Thankfully, Mr Taylor has some sage advice for those who find themselves in a sticky situation.
“When washing out pomade, shampoo your hair before wetting it,” he says. “Washing your hair the other way around creates a barrier between the hair and the shampoo, making it difficult to remove the pomade residue. Start by massaging a generous amount of shampoo through the hair, then slowly add water to create plenty of lather. Finally, rinse and repeat if necessary.”