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The Knack

How To Style A Quiff

Four steps and some forward planning are what you need to achieve the original cool-guy hairdo

The roots of the term “quiff” are tangled. Some have linked it to the French “coif”, which later came to mean a haircut but originally referred to a kind of chainmail balaclava worn by knights that had the effect of leaving a small tuft poking out at the front.

What is more clear-cut is that the quiff is the “hair apparent” of the pompadour. The latter was named after 18th-century trendsetter Ms Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson Le Normant d’Étioles, the mistress of Louis XV, known as Madame de Pompadour on account of hailing from the French town of Arnac-Pompadour. The Ms Cara Delevingne of her day popularised the style in which hair was pulled up and away from the face and onto a wire frame stuffed with fabric or straw. This allowed ’dos to grow increasingly extreme, associated as they were with literally high status; they were set with pomades made from bear fat.

Pomades became decidedly more popular from 1925 with the advent of cheap, petroleum-based products that allowed for more adventurous styles. But the quiff really rose to prominence in the 1950s as a post-war reaction to utilitarian military cuts, a form of follicular rebellion embraced by iconoclastic rock ’n’ rollers such as Mr Elvis Presley and, er, Sir Cliff Richard. The mop-topped Beatles precipitated a fall in quiff popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, but the 1980s saw a resurgence in 1950s styling, with the flat-top a contemporary update to offset all the retro jeans, white T-shirts and biker jackets.

The quiff, then, is, if not always the height of fashion, never far off. The pendulum may swing towards textured, messy looks, but its extravagant swagger always holds some sway. “Invariably, the quiff will be popular again,” says Mr Adam Brady of award-winning barber Ruffians, which has branches in London and Edinburgh. “It has been worn by iconic male figures from Motown stars to Danny Zuko.” The quiff is always going to get some “hairplay” – and it helps, too, that it’s currently endorsed by some modern-day ambassadors with musical chops as impressive as their barnets. “Mr Mark Ronson and Mr Alex Turner are well-known for giving great quiff – in the hair world, anyway,” adds Mr Brady.

Here, with Mr Brady’s expert advice, MR PORTER explains how to raise your quiff game until you’re several degrees cooler than an Arctic Monkey – and you look The Business (Intl).

01. The starting point

Before you can erect a skyscraper of a quiff, you need to lay the foundations. “The haircut is very important for the quiff to look polished,” says Mr Brady. “You essentially want to go for a short back and sides, but not faded and not too close to the skin, as you’ll want to push the hair behind the ears.” A quiff is not something that you can just undertake on a whim – at least not without flowing locks. “The hair on top needs to be pretty long for it to get as much height as possible.” And you’ll also need to assemble the right tools before you begin construction. “In order to gain height and hold, a hairdryer and a round brush will be required,” says Mr Brady. Why a round brush, you ask? “It’ll give tension from the roots of the hair, while also providing the correct shape for a quiff.”

02. The mane event

As well as a commitment to growing your hair to the necessary length, a successful quiff demands no small amount of technique. “Dry your hair until it’s just a bit damp, then use the dryer to direct the airflow up from the forehead, keeping the dryer at the front now,” says Mr Brady. “Then use the brush about an inch in from your hairline, latch on to the front of the fringe and twist and raise it vertically, while at the same time drying the front from below.” You’re basically using the brush to tease your hair into the desired swept-back shape, while the dryer firmly encourages it to stay there. “Continue this, moving further back from the hairline each time, so the front of the quiff rolls nicely into the sections further back,” adds Mr Brady. You’re almost ready to rock.

03. The set formula

Bear fat notwithstanding, your choice of styling product is between water- and oil-based pomades. “At Ruffians, we prefer water-based,” says Mr Brady. “It’s easy to wash out, and to restyle if your hair goes flat during the day (just add a bit of water), plus it won’t stain clothes if you accidentally rub up against someone. That said, oil-based pomades mean you don’t need to use as much product, as it will remain malleable overnight.” Whichever you plump for, take a pea-sized portion and rub into your hands first, so it’s evenly dissipated and has no clumps. (Err on the side of caution: you can always add more later if required.) “Once it’s evenly spread out, use a comb to add some definition in the shape of the quiff,” says Mr Brady. “Finish with a setting spray to keep it all in place.”

04. The long game

By now, you may have gathered that a vertiginous quiff is a fairly high-maintenance hairstyle. “It takes quite a lot of ‘experienced wrist action’ to get the round brush rolling neatly upwards from the scalp while holding a dryer in the other hand,” admits Mr Brady. And a quiff is clearly incompatible with headgear. “It will simply crumple,” says Mr Brady. “Also, it’s best to sport the look indoors, as it can easily blow out of place or be ruined by a flash downpour – unless you’re prepared to carry a dryer, brush and products with you at all times.” If your quiff collapses and you’re without your armoury, all is not lost, however. “If you’ve used a water-based pomade, just wet your hands and fix accordingly,” says Mr Brady. The last thing you want is for your quiff to be skewwhiff.

The essentials

  • Blind Barber 60 Proof Wax, 75ml

  • Baxter of California Tortoiseshell Acetate Pocket Comb

  • Lavett & Chin Sea Salt Texturising Mist, 100ml

  • Malin + Goetz Intensive Hair Conditioner, 118ml

  • Oribe Rock Hard Gel, 100ml

  • Blind Barber Lemongrass Tea Shampoo & Bodywash, 350ml