MANual of Style

Lesson Three: Hair by Shreyas
15 December, 2009, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: ,

Having nice hair (on your head, on your chin, whatever) is one other key way to look healthier and more put-together. It isn’t hard to have nice hair, and unless you’re going for certain specific styles, you don’t need to use a lot of product to do it.


You don’t need to wash your hair every day, but it’s a good idea to do it regularly, every other day or so. Your hair-washing schedule depends on the oil content of your hair. Hair feels and looks good with a certain amount of oil in it, and so the idea is to balance your maintenance so you stay at that optimum oil level. The tools you have to do this are time, shampoo, and conditioner. Your scalp secretes oil naturally, so over time your hair becomes oilier. Shampoo removes oils, and conditioner replaces them.

When to Wash

There are two good ways to figure out how long you should go between washes. The quick way is to wash and condition your hair, and then just let it go until it gets greasy. Pay attention to how many days it takes. Then just wash your hair the day before it gets greasy.

If the prospect of maybe not washing your hair for a couple of days is daunting to you, you can gradually adjust the frequency of your washes instead. Wash more often if your hair’s usually greasy, and less often if it’s usually dry.


Oily hair is easier to deal with than you might think. Heat, humidity, stress and hormones all contribute to the sebum that your hair follicles secrete. If you can’t move somewhere cool, dry, and relaxing, you might want to consider the instructions on your shampoo bottle: wash, rinse, repeat. No, that last instruction isn’t just there to sell more shampoo—if your hair is oily, one shampoo may not cut it. Repeating allows the shampoo to wash away more oily residue. Using a lot of shampoo on one wash won’t work: you’ll waste shampoo and still only clean off the top layer of oil. Make sure to use a clear shampoo, too: opaque or colored shampoos tend to leave more residue behind, and residue attracts oil. If your hair isn’t short, condition the ends of your hair to prevent breakage. Finally, consider using a rinse of two parts water to one part vinegar after your shampoo, in order to prevent the buildup of oil during the day. If there’s a chance you’ll run into someone you want to impress, carry a trial-size container of baby powder with you. Duck into a bathroom and apply baby powder to the roots of your hair, brushing it all the way through to the tip. That will absorb the oil and give you temporarily cleaner-looking hair. Just shampoo well when you get home.

Dry hair needs love, too. You might want to look into using a gentler, sulfate-free shampoo: they cost a little more, but they’re worth it. Don’t be concerned if the shampoo doesn’t lather as much as you’re used to, either—the lathering agents in shampoo are usually powerful, sulfate-based detergents that also have industrial cleaning applications. Never skimp on the conditioner. Avoid blow-drying. If your hair is especially dry, consider a leave-in treatment once a month. You can buy hot oil treatments at any drugstore, or if you prefer a more DIY approach, soak your hair in warm olive oil for 10 minutes.


So, remember our discussion about beards and how they affect the perceived shape of your face? The same effect works with your hairstyle. It’s part of a stylist’s job* to work with you to find a style that looks best on you, but it helps to be prepared if you find your hair being cut by someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing, or if you want to give some direction to a competent stylist.

Round faces need length, so you can either grow sort of tall hair to add height, or if it’s longer you can frame your face to narrow it. In either case, you want to avoid covering the forehead. Again, square faces have similar needs, but to soften the outline of a big rectangular forehead you can bring your hair forward rather than up, which will break up the corners to some extent. Avoid anything cut straight across the forehead—the hard horizontal line will make your face look even wider.

Long faces can do with some forehead coverage. You don’t need to go all High School Musical about it. You can also try letting your hair grow long, if it’s a bit wavy and has some body. Keep it behind your ears and it will make your face seem wider. Don’t do this if your hair is very straight and fine, though, because it’ll hang straight down and make you look even longer.

Triangular faces need some length at the top to balance the narrow chin, or width at the bottom to make the chin look wider.

The key here is balance. Remember, we are men, so we have the ability to use facial hair as well as hairstyle to achieve a balanced look, but we can also overdo it. Your aim should be to strengthen weak features and deemphasize overpowering ones, but don’t go and obliterate a part of your face because it’s too big.

*: N.B. Barbershops are very different from salons, by the way. They are both the haunts of people who cut hair, but that is perhaps the only thing they have in common. I find that if I want a quick trim and a chat about this season’s sports or politics, a barbershop is a better place to get those things, since they tend to be less expensive and have a shorter waiting time. I’ll also go see a barber if I want professional help with my facial hair. Salons are where I go if I want to change my hair a lot, and I’ve got a bit of money and time to spend. I also find it useful that salons will often take appointments with specific stylists, which lets me get my hair cut by the same person each time. That’s useful because, if your stylist remembers you, you can skip the preamble and say, “Well, let’s do what we did last time but shorter,” or discuss what didn’t work about the last cut and what to do about it, or whatever. Plus, she’ll already be familiar with the texture of your hair and the issues you have with it.

Special Considerations

Thinning or Receding Hair can’t be covered up, so don’t even bother with the comb-over attempts. Long hair can just look like over-compensation. The best thing to do is simply toacknowledge how hair loss is changing the shape of your face, and change your hairstyle accordingly. Receding hair, especially, lengthens your face and changes its shape depending on the shape of the hairline. Thinning hair can be given volume with product, but will still look thin– it’s easiest for short hair to look thick, so keep that in mind. If you have a bald spot, you have two options: shave your head or accept and embrace the bald area. As long as the rest of your hair looks good, who cares?

Long Hair isn’t something covered by men’s haircare products. Don’t buy shampoo or conditioner specifically for men: those products assume short hair, and adjust the oil content accordingly, so you might end up with hair that’s particularly dry. Fortunately, there’s a world of shampoos and conditioners marketed to women with long hair, and not all of them have terrible and perfumey smells (Pantene is good, and also mostly smells like soap). Make sure to trim the ends every six to eight weeks in order to avoid breakage and split ends, and be gentle when you brush and style it. Long hair is attractive when it’s taken care of, and it’s easy to spot the difference between someone with long hair because they like having it, and long hair because they can’t be bothered to take care of it.

Thick, unmanageable hair is best handled at the salon. When you visit your stylist, explain the problem and ask for your hair to be thinned. There are specific thinning shears that take the bulk out of your hair without making you look as though you’re going bald. The excess hair is removed evenly and in such a way as to be invisible. Shorter haircuts work best: on the bright side, you have the perfect hair type to rock a fauxhawk.

How to Use Product

Let’s face it, even when stylists show you what they’re putting in your hair, they gloss over its use and leave you wondering just what on earth they did to make your hair look the way that it did. There are a couple different classifications of hair product, and we’ll go over them generally.

Sculptors: this includes pomade, gel, “hair glue,” putty, paste, and beeswax. Rub it between your hands until it warms or softens, and then apply sparingly at the tips of your hair for a spiky look. Pomades are good for adding gloss and smoothness; waxes tend to be better at creating rough, spiky textures. You can also apply these products to your hair and then comb it through in order to make your hair look neat and smooth. (What I usually do is get my hair cut with a specifically spiky look in mind, and then use pomade when I want to smooth it down.) Over-use of sculptors can lead to hair that looks gluey or greasy, so always start with less than you think you need. You can always add more.

Volumizers include mousse, spray mousse, “volumizing cream,” etc. Basically, if it has “volumizer” or “mousse” in the name, that’s what it does. You want to apply a small amount of this at the roots, and use your fingertips to work it out to the tips of your hair. Spray products have more air in them, and a lighter feel.

Stiffeners include hairspay, gel, and spray gel. If you can style your hair into the desired format, but it won’t stay in that style for very long, you can try a stiffener. Like gels, sprays aren’t very good for touchability, but they have excellent precision and rock-steady hold. If you’re trying to control a cowlick, for instance, you can comb it into place and just spray that area; that’ll settle the trouble patch without giving you a whole head of crunch.

Gel is its own sub-class: it can make your hair hard or crunchy, so it works for very specific, sculptural applications, but not for date -night touchability. You can apply it wet or dry; if you apply it wet, it will make your hair look wet for the rest of the day (although it will be hard and crunchy instead of wet and soft). You can also apply it to dry hair; it blends slightly better there, but tends towards intensity regardless. There are some specific, low-hold “soft gels,” but I feel that sculptors like pomade can do the job better in that case.

On Thursday, we’ll talk about how to shop from your closet, and how to recognize great items of clothing you already own, and we’ll talk products on Saturday, as well as a handy step-by-step guide to the best way to wash your hair.


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What about pear-shaped faces (I am thinking of my little brother)?

Also, this advice seems pretty heavily geared towards people with straight and wavy hair. What about people with curly hair?

When I was in high school, Pantene was sort of infamous for its animal testing, though I don’t know whether they’ve stopped.

Comment by Alexis

Thanks for pointing out that oversight, Alexis. I’m not really the dude to ask about curly hair, actually, so this week I’m going to consult an expert for advice. I’ll post about that on Saturday.

Thanks for the heads-up on Pantene, too. I’ll keep an eye out and see what I can find out about that as well.

Comment by shreyas

Curly hair has three options:

1: cut it short, and often
2: embrace your curl, and mock people who pay lots of money for perms.
3: deny your curl and spend tons of time and money trying to maintain a hair style that isn’t short or curly.


Comment by James Brown (Blankshield)

So, a receding hairline makes your face longer, and the suggestion for people with longer faces is to cover more of the forehead….talk about a catch-22.

Please dispel my confusion.

Comment by Kevin

Hi Kevin! There are, as I pointed out, two ways to balance the shapes in your face; you can cover up things that are too big, or you can emphasize other features to compensate.

Since you don’t have the option of covering up your forehead, you can, for instance, grow a moustache or a horizontal sort of goatee (squared or rounded on the end, rather than tapered to a point) or grow wide, blunt sideburns, or cut your hair short and spike it out in all directions (like that dude in the photo) to add perceived width.

Or wear a hat!

There’s always a solution, as long as you keep all your options in mind.

Comment by shreyas

Sadly, facial hair trickery can’t be a solution for me (no sideburns, just scattered whiskers along the cheeks, and what grows in around the goatee area doesn’t look or feel good); also, my hairline’s already up above the guy in the photo and is thinner/lighter than his, so I doubt his hairstyle would work that well for me.

So…no actual options beyond head-shaving and/or hat-wearing, huh? That’s very disappointing.

Comment by Kevin

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