Your wardrobe has evolved since your 20s. So have your musical tastes, your exercise habits, even your cocktails of preference. (So long, things-mixed-with-Coke!) Shouldn’t your haircut reflect your more dignified station in life, as well?
Of course. That’s why we checked in with several of New York’s top hairstylists to compile the definitive barbershop do’s and don’ts for men on the cusp of middle age. Here you’ll find not only hairstyles that are perfectly handsome, sophisticated, and age-appropriate, but you’ll also see helpful examples of what not to do (and yes, they’re the follicular equivalents of natural disasters).
One more thing: even if you’re not wearing an enormous pompadour in 2017, your haircut may still need a subtle reboot. Over time your body and face changes shape ever so slightly, and the hairstyle that once made you look handsome and put-together might not be working as well as it did before. “Every hairstyle creates a silhouette—a shape,” says Robin Capili at New York’s Sally Hershberger Tim Rogers salon. “And that shape can either complement or conflict with your features over time.”
Once you’ve tamed your mane, then set out to learn all of the 40 Things You Should Do in Your 40s.
BEST: Short on the sides, long on top
“This is a really nice look for men of all ages,” says Annie Montgomery Rush, stylist at Marie Robinson salon in New York. Her tip for making sure it looks sharp? “Keep the contrast to about an inch and a half difference between the sides and top.” Otherwise, you could end up with something that’s a little too trendy. “Also, tapering the neckline into a soft natural line without carving out the hairline is key” she notes, since super-defined edges can make your cut look cheap and will require a lot of upkeep.
Rush recommends asking your stylist or barber to fade out the cut in a way that lines up with your natural hairline, rather than creating a square or round shape. “This can make your cut last longer and look much more expensive,” she adds. To upgrade your own personal grooming arsenal, check out the Best New Grooming Tech You Need This Year.
BEST: The Scissor-Cut Side Sweep
There’s a reason this classic style has been around for so long. Not only does it look great but it also allows you to have longer hair while still being clean-cut. Eschew the clippers for a more precise and customized look. “Scissor over comb allows for the stylist to have more control over the shape of the haircut,” explains Rush. “They are not relying on a guard (like with a clipper) that follows your head shape to manipulate your style. Not all head shapes are the same.”
She also says that if you’re dealing with hair loss, timeless scissor-cut styles are the best way to create a flattering shape that works especially for you. The side sweep will also make any thinning less obvious. As for product, Rush says you should stay away from gel that is too slick. “Always opt for a matte pomade; it will give you a more sophisticated feel. It’s just a fact that gel looks cheap.” For the best new products, don’t miss our roundup of What’s New in Men’s Haircare.
BEST: The Close Crop
Super short hair looks totally fresh and clean, regardless of whether your style is flashy or understated. While you don’t have to go straight for a buzz cut, the close crop look has the advantages of being ageless and easy to maintain. While it’s definitely okay to grow your hair out for a bit of volume (especially on top), a full-on afro is probably a step too far. After all, there can be only one Questlove.
Best: Short & Textured
“A universal style that looks great on every guy is a short and textured cut,” says Mia Santiago at Sharon Dorram at New York City’s Sally Hershberger salon. “Whether you decide to fade the bottom a bit or not, this is a fantastic and versatile cut. It can be worn messy and piecey for a casual weekend look or a hard side part can make it more regal and sophisticated.” For more great ways of looking at the top of your game, don’t miss our products and procedures for looking your best.
WORST: Very Long. Hair.
Sure, longer locks can be really cool. But they can also look messy, dirty, even greasy. (Look at just about any rocker over the age of 40.) It’s probably best to skip this style altogether, especially if you’ve never had long hair before. “As much as I love long hair, if you have never had the urge to grow your hair out before, now is not the time,” says Rush. “Your 40’s are not a decade for reinventing the wheel. As a man, you’re in your prime. Being sexy is about holding back a little and emphasizing the right attributes.”
Of course, if you’ve always had long hair and it’s kind of your thing, keep doing you. But maybe round yourself out with help from the 25 Ways to Look Your Best Right Now.
WORST: The Undercut
Not even Colin Farrell can pull this one off, guys. While long on top, short on the sides cut is a great idea, anything with an extreme difference in length is a serious no-no. “For the 40s crowd, a tailored classic is always a winner, and I’m sorry gentlemen, but the shaved-sides-top-bun look is not one of them,” says Capili. While a bun situation is the worst-case scenario, even a several-inch difference in contrast can be too much if you want to look professional and dapper.
WORST: Creative Clipper Work
Just, no. “I don’t recommend the hair trend where designs are carved into the fade,” says Santiago. “It’s definitely trending for the 20-something’s but men in their 40s are more distinguished and should leave the hair art to the kids.”
It’s true that this could maybe look cool as a temporary thing on a globally famous professional soccer star, but if you’re older than, say, 27, do not attempt this look. Instead, try these other 7 Secrets of Staying Young.
WORST: The Weeknd
This works on “Starboy,” but not you.