If you’re like a lot of guys, you want your hair to look sharp without seeming like you spent time on it. That starts with a great cut, and ends with the right product. But choosing among the many pomades and pastes, creams and clays can be confusing.
Celebrity men’s stylist Diana Schmidtke regularly cuts and coifs the likes of George Clooney and Jon Hamm. Here, she lays out the best products for any hair type—along with application advice for best results.
SHORT-TO-MEDIUM STRAIGHT HAIR
Davines Invisible Paste
This paste is great for natural structure and hold without too much stiffness or shine. Start with a dime-sized amount, and warm it up by smearing it evenly between your hands. That goes for any of these products, Schmidtke says. Spread your fingers and work into—not onto—your hair. “If you only coat the tips, it will just weigh your hair down,” she explains.
Your goal is to apply first, then style—not attempt both at the same time. And always apply to dry or mostly dry hair, Schmidtke says. “That goes for almost any product,” she says. “If you apply to wet or damp hair, the product will smear off or you’ll lock in wetness, which, again, weighs your hair down.”
MEDIUM-TO-LONG(ISH) STRAIGHT HAIR
Aquage Transforming Paste
Yes, this is another paste. But Schmidtke says pastes are the most multifunctional products, and fairly easy to work with. (“When in doubt, use paste,” she says.) This product is a staple in her kit. She says it does wonders for guys with medium-length to longer hair who want style and hold with an “I just ran my fingers through it” look. “Not for guys with, like, Fabio hair, but for men with a little length,” she says.
CURLY OR WAVY HAIR
Bumble and bumble Grooming Crème
You don’t want to hold down curly or wavy hair with sticky, heavy products, Schmidtke says. That makes creams ideal, and this is one of her favorites. “This is more an aid to help curly or wavy hair not look too fluffy,” she says. The product provides control and order for a natural, not-trying-too-hard look.
Towel Dry Paste Styler
“This company doesn’t advertise their paste as being for guys with finer or thinning hair, but in my opinion it works better on fine hair,” Schmidtke says. Along with the paste, she says Towel Dry also makes a great thickening shampoo and conditioner. Even if you go with another product, she cautions against anything with too much shine—like a gel or pomade—which will only draw light and attention to your head, and can make your scalp more apparent.
For guys who want that “Mad Men” look, but also want to be able to run their hands through their hair. “Maybe better for slightly thicker hair types than something with similar hold and shine, like a gel,” Schmidtke says. If you can’t get your hands on this product—or the price tag seems high—not to worry. Schmidtke says “a pomade is a pomade is a pomade.” This is one product you can save money on without sacrificing much.
Layrite Original Pomade
If you have really dense hair—and lots of it—Schmidtke recommends this pomade to give your mane shine and texture. “I love this for a lot of my black clients because it really helps add some definition,” she says.
STRAIGHT, SLICKED-BACK HAIR
American Crew Gel
“A lot of guys still always grab for gel because they grew up on it,” Schmidtke says. High shine and rigid hold isn’t the most contemporary look for a lot of guys, she says. But if you’re going for that rock-solid, Gordon-Gekko-closing-deals look, this is your product. “It’s a great value and it won’t flake,” Schmidtke says, adding that it’s perfect if you don’t want your hair to move once you have it styled to your liking. Like a pomade, but less touchable.
Paul Mitchell Hardwired
For the guy who wants to style his hair in crazy or exotic shapes—and have it stay exactly that way for hours. “Your hair will not move with this in it,” Schmidtke says. Whether you want to go really high with your style or incorporate some swooping bangs à la pre-pubescent Bieber, this is your product. Bonus: If you get your hands slightly wet you can reshape it even if you’ve had it in for a few hours, Schmidtke says.
HAIR THAT HATES PRODUCT
R+Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo
If you’re the type who prefers styling his hair by not washing it too often, this is your product, Schmidtke says. “It’s great for refreshing hair if you’re trying to avoid that fluffy look you get after shampooing,” she adds. It’ll deodorize and give you a little control—allowing you to go a few more days before your next wash. Also good if you workout at lunch and won’t have time for a full shower, Schmidtke says.