Over the past decade, the slicked-back bun has held a top spot on the cool girl hair roster. Though unassuming, the hairstyle has several draws. An integral aspect of the clean girl aesthetic (aka minimal makeup and polished, sleekly bound lengths), the updo is stylish and understated, all while giving off an easy luxury. “To me, it’s a powerful hairstyle,” says celebrity hairstylist Kathleen Riley. “It shows off the face beautifully and is simple yet elegant.”
As a bonus, the style is universal. “A slicked-back bun is a staple for everyone and every hair texture,” adds hairstylist Dimitris Giannetos. “It's quick, easy, requires very little technique, and is a great way to have a low manipulation protective style.”
The minimalist approach makes for a perfect out-the-door strategy, too. “My favorite part of this style is that it is so sexy and chic, yet can be easy to achieve on days when you’re short on time but still want a bit of a sophisticated look,” says hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons. And never underestimate the look's versatility. “There are so many different variations of a sleek bun,” adds Riley. The only real mandate? Wearers must make sure that there’s not a single hair out of place.
Meet Our Expert
Kathleen Riley is the hairstylist behind Sofia Richie’s wedding day hair (which was, in fact, a slicked-back bun).
Dimitris Giannetos is a celebrity hairstylist who works with Megan Fox and Joey King.
Andrew Fitzsimons is a celebrity hairstylist who is a go-to for the Kardashians.
How to Execute a Slicked-Back Bun
The slicked-back bun can be worn at high, midi, and low levels, parted precisely down the middle, to one side, or simply combed straight back. The goal is a neat and seamless style that showcases your face.
Comb the Hair Straight
Styling will depend on both hair texture and density. Combing hair out until you’re able to easily bind it in a sleek ponytail is a worthy starting point. (For an extra-polished look, Fitzsimons suggests blowing straight, or at least straighter, ahead of styling.)
Apply Moisturizing Cream or Detangler
Moisturize lengths ahead of styling with either a preferred cream or oil to make the finished look extra slick and offer hair extra protection. Additionally, remember that unwanted knots are the enemy of the style. “You are going to want to make sure your hair is fully detangled,” says Fitzsimons. “If you have thicker or textured hair, I recommend putting a bit of Salwa Petersen Chebe Hair Milk One Step Detangler.”
Create a Ponytail
Before the bun comes the twistable ponytail, the foundation of the updo. To create the perfect pony, the experts work in sections. “I part the front sections of hair away from the back and tie the back section into a ponytail, then I add in the two sides,” says Riley. Both Fitzsimons and Giannetos recommend using a boar bristle brush to pull the hair neatly back while distributing natural oils (hello, organic shine) and securing the pony with a non-snagging elastic. “Once the ponytail is in place, wrap your pony around the base to form your bun and secure the ends under with hair pins until you reach your desired look,” says Fitzsimons.
Apply Gel or Hairspray
Should you need additional hold, a strong gel can be incorporated as needed along the way—but finishing with a spritz of hairspray and/or shine spray is ideal for everyone. “For ultimate shine, finish off the look with a shine spray like the Andrew Fitzsimons Prism Shine Invisible Shine Hair Spray or the NatureLab Tokyo Perfect Shine Oil Mist,” says Fitzsimons. While dressing up the style is always an option, the tie-back seems strongest when carried off sans hair accessories (save, perhaps, for a subtle pin, barrette, or trailing ribbon).
Downsides of the Slicked-Back Bun
As with all good things, the slicked-back bun does come with a few drawbacks. To begin, executing the seemingly simple style does require time and attention, and pretty much mandates either natural oil or additional product. Plus, as noted above, the slickest of slicked-back buns are executed by smoothing texture and regularly manipulating your mane’s natural curl pattern is a habit best avoided in terms of hair health.
Tight hairstyles can lead to physical issues, too. Over styling can result in hair loss over time, while taut styling can result in headaches for some. As such, be sure that your slicked bun looks tauter than it may actually be; better to save yourself a literal and figurative headache.
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