I’ve rocked a mustache for the better part of 12 years. During that time, I’ve had guys tell me, “Dude! You look like Sam Elliott!”
A flattering comparison. But, until recently, not a wholly accurate one.
For while I sported a Sam Elliott-esque stache, I lacked his long, flowing mane.
For most of my adult life, I rocked a close-cropped side-part hairstyle. It was the dude hairdo to have in the early 2010s when Mad Men and heritage Red Wing boots were all the rage.
A couple of years ago, I was getting tired of my Don Draper hairstyle, decided to embrace my inner 1980’s Sam Elliott, and started growing my hair out. Operation Sam Elliott Hair was on.
My first attempt at growing my hair out was in 2018. It started off strong but then got weird. My hair just got really poofy and wide. I looked more like a Chia Head and less like Sam Elliott.
So I aborted the operation and razed my hair back to my standard close-cropped side-part style.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, and everything, including barbershops, shut down, I figured it was an excellent time to pick up Operation Sam Elliott Hair again. But like the first time, my resulting bouffant made me look more like a lady who could star in Hairspray than a dude who might conceivably be cast in a Western. At least as an extra.
Abort mission. I had my mother-in-law buzz my unruly mane.
In January 2021, I decided to give Operation Sam Elliott Hair one more try. But this time, I brought in a professional to guide the process to improve my chances of achieving my goal.
In March 2021, I drove two hours up the turnpike to Springfield, MO to pay professional barber Thad Forrester a visit at one of the locations in his chain of Hudson / Hawk barbershops. I first met Thad when we made some hair-related AoM videos together, and he’d given me the best haircut I’d ever had. So I trusted him with my locks. And my yet unfulfilled dream.
I told him of my epic quest to achieve 1980’s Sam Elliott hair and how it always ended with wailing and gnashing of teeth and a pile of hair on the floor after I buzzed it all off.
Thad listened attentively and created a game plan to achieve the Sam Elliott Hair of my dreams. After nine months of working with him, I believe we’ve nearly reached the summit.
Here’s what I learned over the course of the journey about what dudes need to know if they want to grow their hair out.
How to Grow Your Hair Long (When You’re a Dude)
Make sure your hair is a good candidate for wearing long. Just like specific beard styles require specific types of beard growth, particular hairstyles require particular kinds of hair growth.
The long hairstyle is best for guys who have thick hair; thin/fine hair can look stringy and unattractive when worn long.
Long hair also won’t look good on a man who’s losing his hair. “A lot of men who start to thin decide now is the time to let it grow for one last hurrah. My advice . . . don’t,” Thad told me. “The longer the hair gets, the more it pulls down on the hair because of the additional weight, leading to more scalp exposure, which accentuates the hair thinning.”
If your hair is on the thicker side, and you’re not balding, then you’re a good candidate for growing your hair out long. If you have thinning hair, definitely consider getting a closer cropped haircut or even a buzz cut. Be sure to check our guide on picking the best hairstyle for balding men.
Visit a barber/stylist when you start growing your hair out to prep it for the process. The biggest mistake that Thad sees guys make when trying to go for long hair is they stop going to the barber completely. “They just end up looking really ragged and like they haven’t seen a barber in a long time. There’s a difference between growing your hair out and not getting a haircut for months,” he says.
If you decide to grow your hair out, visit your barber and let them know that’s what your goal is. “They can start ‘prepping’ your hair for longer growth by cutting it a certain way so that it doesn’t look unkempt as it grows out,” Thad says. “As your hair grows, your barber can make adjustments to your cut so that it lays better and looks better.”
While Thad is a barber (a hair professional trained and licensed in using clippers for close-cropped cuts), he’s also a trained hairstylist (who’s adept in using scissors too). Men who are growing their hair long might consider switching from a barber to a hairstylist. “Barbers are great for close-cropped cuts, but a lot of them don’t have a lot of experience with longer hair. Hairstylists do, though, and they might be in a better position to guide you through the hair growing process,” Thad advises.
Visit your barber/stylist every two months or so for a trim. Even though you’re growing your hair out, you still want to visit the barber every couple months or so. “Again, we want to make sure you look well-groomed during this process and not like you’re growing your hair out,” Thad told me. Regularly visiting your barber can allow him to clean things up and make adjustments with your style.
Growing your hair out is kind of like growing a fruit tree or plant. You let it grow, prune it, let it grow some more, prune it, grow, etc. Once you reach your desired length, you’ll still need to go in for occasional trims to keep it at that length, and to maintain a non-unruly shape.
Besides keeping your hair looking sharp while it’s growing out, your regular visits to the barber will give you a chance to get advice on styling and managing your longer hair.
During my 2021 Operation Sam Elliott Hair attempt, I visited Thad three times for a trim and consult. The regular trims were the key to growing my hair out without looking like Mr. Chia Head. This was the game changer! Below was the progression of how my hair looked after each visit to Thad in the past year:
How to Take Care of and Style Your Longer Hair
While longer hair is often associated with a more freewheeling, bohemian lifestyle, and you do have to get it cut less often than a short style, you’ll quickly learn that, on a daily basis, managing longer hair actually takes a little more work than managing a short ‘do. At least if you want it to look decently kempt. Your styling routine is going to be a bit longer, and look a little different too. Here are a few things that I’ve noticed and learned from Thad on how to take care of longer locks:
It takes longer to dry your hair. When I had short hair, I could just jump out of the shower, give my hair a quick rub with the towel and move on to styling. With my longer mane, I have to spend a few minutes patting and squeezing my hair with a towel until it’s decently dry.
You’ve got to brush your hair. I never really brushed my hair with my Don Draper ‘do. Just combed it into the part. With longer hair, I’ve got to run a brush through it several times like Marcia Brady to get out all the kinks and clumps.
If you don’t have one already, you’ll want to get yourself a paddle brush; you can find out more about the right brushes and combs for different kinds of men’s hair here.
Don’t blow-dry your hair. I tried blow-drying my hair to speed up the drying process. I just got really poofy hair. Looked like a Troll Doll. Thad doesn’t recommend that most guys with longer hair blow-dry it. “It takes a lot of time and tends to leave the hair looking a little too polished for what most guys are looking for when they grow their hair out,” Thad told me.
My hair looks best when completely dry; when wet, it looks like a Jheri curl. So if I have somewhere important to be, I have to keep in mind that it will take hours for my hair to air-dry, and plan when I’ll shower accordingly.
You may need to change your styling products. “The products and techniques you use to style your hair when it’s long vs. short change drastically,” Thad says. “I typically move toward lighter styling creams, sea salt/texture sprays, or leave-in conditioners in most cases.” The thicker styling pomades will just get clumpy in your hair. You can get the lowdown on the right styling products for different kinds of hair here.
If you have wavy or curly hair and want to enhance the waves and curls even more, use a conditioner when you shower.
Thad also recommends experimenting with going longer between shampooing your long hair. For example, try shampooing just one to two times a week. “It just makes your hair look shinier and healthier because you’re not washing away the natural oils in your hair,” he told me. While your body may need washing daily (e.g., if you regularly work out), a rinse, sans shampoo, is all you often need to give your hair. I’ve noticed my hair looks best a few days after my last shampoo.
If you have naturally oily hair, look into dry shampoos to help control the oil. Make sure you are keeping your scalp clean and moisturized to avoid dandruff and flaking.
I’ve been using a light pomade that Thad’s been developing. It will be on sale to the public next year. It’s awesome.
Your hands are your best combs for styling longer hair. After I towel-dry my hair, I’ll apply my product with my hands and then run a brush through my hair to distribute the product evenly and make sure I don’t have any knots and tangles. I then use my fingers to style my hair. “Your fingers are your best combs for long hair,” Thad told me.
So there you have it. How to grow your hair long for men.
Big thanks to Thad at Hudson / Hawk Barber & Shop for helping me achieve the 1980’s Sam Elliott hair of my dreams. I may grow it an inch or so longer, but it’s pretty much there. I love it, Kate loves it, and I get compliments from random dudes and ladies while I’m out and about.