The quiff has had one hell of a resurgence in the last ten years. For a while, it dropped out of sight, save for some dedicated rockabilly folk who kept it alive alongside brothel creepers, bowling shirts and enough pomade to squeeze a whale through a keyhole.
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Now, everyone from soccer players to movie stars have sky-high styles that would make Elvis weep with pride. We decided to pay homage to the most iconic pompadours in hair history.
What is a Quiff Haircut?
Quiffs, in their most modern form, originated in the 1950s. The haircut, seen on the era’s stars like Elvis and James Dean, itself was an amalgamation that simplified the coiffing required of a pompadour yet wasn’t as simple or as low-maintenance as the military crewcuts soldiers sported when returning from World War II.
On a basic level, the quiff started with a pompadour foundation but mixed in a flattop, so it was less arch-like. The buzzed sides of a mohawk were merged, and the result prominent initially in the U.K. As Teddy Boy movement went against the era’s masculine conventions.
Although initial varieties alluded to more Edwardian style choices, with two to three inches of hair swooped up to resemble a ducktail, its adoption in the U.S. by rock ”n” roll enthusiasts gave it a rebellious character.
Well-Coiffed But Not Foppish
Whether you’re talking about the original teddy boy or the modern-day rockabilly-based style, all quiffs have one factor in common: the hair is piled high on the head. Contextually, this facet means the wearer is always brushing it out of the way or fixing it to some degree, making it more flamboyant than a crewcut but without any hint of femininity. Today, while the core style is pretty much the same, more hair is placed toward the front, the back is shorter, and the sides are trimmed short perhaps with a fade.
Although the pompadour shares many of these attributes, several aspects differentiate the two hairstyles. For one, quiffs nearly always have a short back and sides, with a noticeably longer length on top that is usually swept up and back or styled in various ways. Added texture, for instance, is more common in the present.
A pompadour has a sweeping motion, but it’s more gradual from the sides on up and has a clearly rounded shape. Although texture is possible see Bruno Mars do for one example it’s typically straight and slicked backward. A true quiff, by contrast, leaves the back generally alone.
How to Style a Quiff in 6 Easy Steps
Andrew Fitzsimons, celebrity stylist and NatureLab. TOKYO Brand Ambassador, gave us these tips for styling a quiff:
“The key to a great quiff is starting with a foundation of a great cut. The very first thing you should do is talk to your stylist or barber about how to best cut your hair to create the quiff style that best suits your face shape.
I recommend bringing reference photos of guys with the style you like, particularly ones who have a similar face shape as you.
1. While your hair is damp, create a straight side part with a fine-tooth comb against the natural grain.
2. Apply a salt spray or texturizing spray to add texture and movement to the final style.
3. Apply NatureLab. TOKYO’s Perfect Volume Blowout Jelly and blow dry hair upwards to add lift and volume at the roots. For extra volume, blow dry your hair in the opposite direction that it grows naturally this will give you insane lift.
4. Once hair is dried, use your comb to reinforce the side part. 5. Work a small amount of pomade or clay through the hair you can work it throughout or use your fingers to help give definition in any desired areas. 6. Finish with hairspray for extra hold.”
Tools of the Trade: Suavecito Pomade
Although barbers and individuals all have their preferences, Suavecito has turned into the go-to quiff-styling product in recent years. A few reasons are behind its popularity. One, its creators originally formulated it for barbershops. As such, the hold is relatively strong although formulations vary and it’s priced reasonably.
Secondly, while the men’s grooming market has greatly expanded, so have the number of products needed to get your quiff just so. For its pomades, Suavecito promises an all-in-one solution that can be rubbed in and, after some styling, is generally good to go. Application is relatively smooth, with no sand-like texture, and the solution can be warmed by your hands to spread easily.
Third, the aesthetic elements keep it above the competition. The amber-colored solution has a distinctive yet not perfume-heavy smell, and it delivers the right amount of shine, so the wearer can replicate those grand retro-styled quiffs that matte-finish products have made nearly obsolete. A water-based formula reduces the potential flat, greasy look you could theoretically have hours later.
Types of Quiffs
Out of all men’s hairstyles, the quiff keeps on returning, seeing resurgences post 50s in the 80s, 90s, and 2010s. The biggest factor behind its popularity? It’s incredibly versatile, no matter your face’s shape, size, and angles.
However not every quiff complements all face shapes. Consider the following basic types:
This vintage-esque, Elvis-referencing version typically starts with a strong side part. Some guys have it combed in, and others opting for the psychobilly variation decide to have it shaved for a stronger look. Here, the hair’s not as high, and the fade around the sides is slightly more prominent.
Undercut Slicked Back and Faded
Although it shouldn’t be confused with the French quiff, both bear a few similarities regarding contrasts. The undercut essentially takes everything to extremes: a longer top, which is usually slicked back, and shorter, sometimes buzzed, sides with more fade. You should see clear bottom and top portions.
Teddy Boy or the Ducktail
Whatever you want to call it, this haircut generally requires a longer length and doesn’t have a strong fade on the sides. Initially inspired by Edwardian-era hair, the teddy boy has a longer back length than its more modern counterparts. As such, your hair needs to be swooped up and forward. Consider using a stronger product and some hairspray to hold it in place
French Quiff, or French Crop
A traditional French crop looks much like a Caesar, with the hair cut close to the head in a slightly ragged, pieced look. However, the French crop adds more hair on top not always enough to fully slick back but just the right amount for some texture and keeps the sides faded. To sum it up, it’s the easy man’s quiff that’s ready to go in minutes and is ideal for guys who’ve mostly kept their hair short but want to try something new.
How Not to Style a Quiff
Between blow-drying and having the right products, little can go wrong when you’re styling a quiff outside of the barbershop. Yet, two mistakes are relatively common:
1. You use too many products. Too much mousse or pomade weighs your hair down. By midday, it’s no longer buoyant and instead may appear flat and greasy. Generally, start with a small amount and work it in without altering your hair’s natural texture.
2. You keep the top too long. While it’s not impossible, a long top always requires more work and product. Unless you have the tools (hot rollers, anyone?) to keep it under control, it’s best to keep the top to no more than four inches in length. Beyond this, the hair naturally falls flat.
Top 10 Most Iconic Celebrity Quiffs for Inspiration
Depending on who you speak to, either Dean or Elvis epitomize the true iconic quiff. Personally, Dean will always be my hair hero; his tousled drank a lot and woke up like this style always looked a lot more achievable than Elvis’s it takes a crew of engineers to build this style.
Not that there’s anything wrong with The King’s gleaming tower of wonder (steady now). There’s a reason it’s probably the most iconic quiff ever: it’s more a sculpture than a haircut, each strand combed carefully into place and set there, impervious to any amount of shaking that might be going on.
From Tupelo to England’s rainy northwest and the hero of introverted vegetarian poets the world over.
The Smiths frontman may now espouse some unfortunate political views, but at the height of his 80s popularity, he was a true icon. That hair helped, a vertiginous era-appropriate quiff piled atop a lanky beanpole of ambiguity.
The Clash’s Joe Strummer was a fascinating enigma: a socialist folkie turned greaser punk with a social conscience. His bleached mohawk was equally unique, but it’s his late 70s, London Calling-era quiff that caught our eye.
It made Strummer look like the villain in a 50s biker movie, the kind of guy who’d corner the hero in an alleyway, a glint in his eye and a switchblade in his hand.
Cash was more famous for his all-black sartorial choices, but the man had a fine head of hair too. In the 50s, it was a classic pompadour, with impressive height and shine and sharp, slicked back sides. Paired with his trademark black suit, he always looked like a particularly dangerous gunfighter, a role head actually play in A Gunfight.
The outpouring of grief when Perry passed was a testament to how universally loved the actor was. He’ll be forever remembered as the damaged, dashing, ever so slightly dangerous Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210, a man whose hair was as impossibly high as his cheekbones were sharp.
The virtuosic guitarist and leader of the Stray Cats pioneered the 80s rockabilly revival, swinging around the stage with his trademark orange Gretsch guitar slung low and his enormous blonde pompadour flopping down into his face. It’s a tricky look to pull off, even with Setzer’s unwavering commitment to rockabilly style.
Our youngest contender, Turner is an undoubted disciple of many of his older counterparts on this list, especially Strummer and Elvis.
Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene as four northern boys in argyle sweaters, but Turner soon transformed into a sharp-suited, pompadoured style-icon. His widow’s peak gives him that effortlessly cool stray lock at the front, while the tapered sides offer a modern twist on a classic style.
Depp changes styles like most people change socks, veering from grungy pretty boy to Keith Richards to vaguely threatening 1930s gangster. But in Cry Baby, he was the 50s greaser to end all 50s greasers, so beautiful it’s almost obscene.
He nailed the slicked-back quiff/white tee/biker jacket look so comprehensively that it should have been retired from common use after that film.
Isaak is the Elvis you could take home to meet your mum: a charming, classically handsome crooner with a heavenly voice and a quiff that never quits.
In his Wicked Game heyday, Isaak’s pompadour was as high as anyone’s saving maybe Setzer. If he is in the same imaginary 50s movie as Strummer, he is the one being threatened in the alleyway.
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Mark Grassick joins us with over 17 years' experience as a journalist covering pop culture in the UK and Ireland. He's interviewed everyone from Alan Rickman to Iron Maiden and is currently a bearded, music-mad father of two and husband of one residing in London, England.