Slick-Back Bun or Ponytail 101: Everything You Need to Know to Achieve the Perfect Look

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Written by Taylor Augustin

Updated: June 5, 2024

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image via @ghdhairde

Whether you style your hair every single day and run a curling iron through it, or fall more on the side of plopping it into a messy bun on top of your head, we think it’s high time you changed up your look.

And one of our go-to hairstyles of the moment is the slick-back.

Not only is it a great option when you’re dealing with day three hair, but it provides a sleek vibe that gives off rich mom energy.

From Sofia Richie Grainge to Elsa Hosk and more, celebs have turned to the hairstyle, and they always look on point.

Interested in finding out how to perfect the slick-back?

robin groover

Meet The Expert

Robin Groover is the Chief Hair Officer for MYAVANA.

We tapped into Robin Groover, MYAVANA‘s Chief Hair Officer, and she spilled the tea on all things slick-backs, from styling tips to product picks, and more!

All About Slick-Backs

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image via @luxyhair

Slick-backs aren’t anything new or groundbreaking, so why have we been seeing an uptick in the style? If we’re being honest, we owe it to our favorite celebs and influencers (we’re looking at you, Hailey Bieber!).

People like her have shown that slick-backs aren’t just a lazy hairstyle, but a chic look that gives runway vibes that’s also super versatile.

“When you pull your hair back tightly, it highlights the structure of your face, basically giving you a free contour session,” Groover tells Timeless Hairstyles. “And who doesn’t love a little cheekbone pop? The sleekness of the bun adds a touch of sophistication, transforming you into an instant head-turner at any event.”

How to Get a Slick-Back

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Prep Is Key

If you want to master the art of the slick-back bun or ponytail, it all starts with preparation.

Before brushing through your hair and simply pulling it back, Groover suggests starting out with clean and conditioned hair. “Using a smoothing shampoo and conditioner can help tame frizz and provide a sleek base for your style,” she tells us.


Once you’ve done your hair prep, the next step you’re going to want to do is to include the perfect products to help you achieve a polished and sleek look.

“While your hair is still damp, apply a serum or lightweight oil to add shine and manageability,” shares Groover. “For those with thicker or curlier textures, a strong-hold gel may be necessary to maintain control throughout the day.”

Detangle and Smooth

Next, it’s onto the detangling and smoothing step! No slick-back looks good with bumps and flyaways, and this step will ensure you have the smoothest look ever.

Groover tells us, “Use a wide-tooth comb to gently detangle your hair. Switch to a fine-tooth comb or a brush to smooth your hair back. This helps in evenly distributing the product and aligning your hair in the same direction, which is crucial for the sleek look.”

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image via @eliza.tanasie

Secure the Base

Then, you’re going to want to secure the base of your slick-back bun or ponytail. Decide where you want it to rest on your head and go from there!

“Gather your hair at the desired point—low at the nape, mid-back, or high at the crown for a dramatic effect,” Groover tells Timeless Hairstyles. “Use an elastic band that matches your hair color to secure it tightly. For extra hold, double up on elastics.”

Twist and Wrap

If you’re going for a ponytail, you’ve already completed the look. However, if you want a slick-back bun, the final step is twisting and wrapping it into the perfect bun.

“Twist the ponytail tightly and wrap it around the base to form your bun,” says Groover. “Secure the bun with bobby pins that match your hair color. For a polished finish, tuck the ends under the bun.”

Finishing Touches

The last and final step of completing a smooth slick-back bun or ponytail is applying finishing touches, from fun accessories to hairspray. “Use a soft bristle brush or your hands to smooth down any flyaways,” shares Groover.

“Spray a light coat of hairspray for added hold. For an extra sleek finish, you can apply a bit more serum or gel to the top and sides. Elevate your slick back bun with accessories like a silk scarf, decorative clips, or even a subtle tiara for that extra bit of glam.”

A Look Into Products You Should Use for Slick-Backs

Hair Gels: Long-Lasting Hold and Style

Hair gel is going to be your best friend if you’re looking to get a super long-lasting slick-back.

“Hair gels are formulated with film-forming agents like polymers that coat the hair strands,” Groover tells us. “When the gel dries, it creates a film that holds the hair in place, maintaining the slicked-back style throughout the day.”

We like SheaMoisture’s Coconut & Hibiscus Defining Styling Gel ($10). 

Serums: Soft Hold and Nourishment

Serums are another great product to consider, especially when it comes to hair prep for slick-backs.

“Hair serums are used for their smoothing and shine-enhancing properties,” says Groover. “They typically contain silicones like dimethicone or cyclomethicone, which provide a sleek finish and intense shine.”

We like Maui Moisture’s Scalp Care Soothe & Strengthen Hair Serum ($12). 

Hairsprays: Natural Hold and Finish

Hairsprays are another vital product to use when it comes to perfecting the slick-back.

“They provide hold and can also shield the hair from humidity, which is vital for maintaining the slicked-back look all day,” Groover shares with us.

We like Sebastian’s Shaper Hairspray ($30). 

Mousse: Wave Enhancing Hold

Whether you have curly hair or fine hair, mousse is a proven tool that can truly transform your locks.

“Mousse can add volume and hold to hair,” Groover tells Timeless Hairstyles. “It’s especially useful for fine hair that might need a bit of body before being slicked back into a bun.”

We like Design Essentials’ Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousse ($17). 

Pomades and Waxes: Sleek Hold and Style Memory

Another product to consider is a pomade or a wax, which is great for achieving a sleek hold and even style memory.

“These are used for their ability to provide a stronghold and a polished look without the crunchiness that gels might impart,” says Groover.

We like Bumble and bumble’s Curl Gel Pomade ($35). 

Styling Tips Based on Hair Type for Slick-Backs

Curly/Coily Hair

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If you have curly or coily hair, you’ll find that a gel or pomade will tremendously help with frizz. After detangling your hair, Groover suggests “using a brush with natural bristles for a smoother finish.” 

Straight Hair

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For those with hair on the straighter side, you’ll actually find that mousse is going to be a great tool!

“Apply a light mousse or spray gel to give your hair more grip and prevent it from slipping,” shares Groover. To complete your look, finish it off with a light hairspray.

Wavy Hair

Wavy hair is going to benefit from serums and lightweight oils. And if you’ve attempted to do slick-backs in the past with dry hair, you actually might find that damp hair is the way to go.

According to Groover, “It’s often easier to style wavy hair into a ponytail or bun when it’s slightly damp.”

3 Slick-Back Styles to Try Out

1) Low Bun

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Low buns will always have our hearts, and we’re obsessing over this style as seen on Hailey Bieber. She’s the unofficial poster child of the slick-back, and to get her look, part your hair in the middle and slick it back into a low bun.

2) High Ponytail

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If you’re anything like us and like to have your hair pulled out of your face, a slick-back pony like this one is the way to go. Gather all of your hair on top of your head, following the above steps!

3) Sleek Braid

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image via @_emilyprice_x

The fun thing about slick-backs is that they can be transformed into fun braid hairstyles! After gathering your hair back, twist your hair into a braid, as seen in this pic!

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