Low Maintenance Hair: Side Bangs Tutorial

Katie is a public interest lawyer living in Chicago with her husband, a basil plant named Boris, and a staggeringly large collection of cookbooks. She has very strong feelings about public schools, letterpress stationary, and beer. (And hair, obviously.) You can also find her at her personal blog, Pseudostoops.

In my last installment, I counseled those seeking low maintenance hair to consider side bangs.

I have had side bangs for several years now, and to be totally honest, they did not start on a good note.  (I tried to find a picture of Katie’s Bangs: The Early Years to share with you, but mercifully I’ve switched computers since then and all those pictures seem to be lost.)

The woman who cut them was, in retrospect, clearly a trainee, and English was not her first language, and when I said “I have a cowlick on the side there” she looked at me inquisitively and said “cowlick?”

(Note: if any of these conditions occur at the salon where you are considering getting side bangs for the first time: RECONSIDER.)

Six years later I still have side bangs, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.  Today, I will share that wisdom with you in the form of a Side Bangs Tutorial.  (Some of you hair experts out there are doubtlessly thinking, “Really?  A tutorial? For how to wrangle bangs?  What kind of amateur hour is this?” To which I say, “For some of us not blessed with intrinsic hair genius, this stuff is NOT OBVIOUS, and if I help even one person through this tutorial I will feel I have done something good here.”)

Cutting guide

The first key to successful side bangs is getting them cut properly.  If you’re new to the world of bangs, ease into it by asking your stylist to cut them long and side-swept.  When they’re longer, it’s easier to sweep them in with the rest of your hair, easier to pin them back if need be, and if you end up hating them, they’ll grow out faster.

If you have a cowlick, you’ll want to make sure that the cowlick is entirely contained within the bangs.  So, if your cowlick is slightly on the right side of your forehead, you’ll want to part your hair on the left, cut some sweep-y bangs, and have them sweep to the right, thus covering up the cowlick.  If the cowlick is on the left side of your forehead, part hair on the right, sweep bangs to the left.

Everyday blow dry
Here is my wet hair in all its natural glory.

Close up reveals both cowlick AND a widow’s peak! Bonus!

To achieve perfect side bangs, you will need:

Hair dryer, round brush, and some kind of cheap-o styling gel.  (I use Garnier Fructis styling milk, which costs a whopping $4 at the grocery store and de-frizzes without leaving any greasiness or stickiness at all.  Highly recommend.)

Take your wet hair and maybe even pin back the main section to keep it out of your way.  (Bangs should always be dried first.)  With your fingers or a comb, separate out the chunk of hair around your face.

Brush the bangs off to one side and, holding them down gently with the round brush, blow dry with the dryer pointing downward.  (Turns out this is awfully hard to do one-handed while trying to take a picture.  Imagine the hand holding the camera actually holding a brush and gently pinning the hair against my forehead.  Also try to picture me using eye cream or something to address the serious puffiness situation we’ve got going here.)

Sweep the bangs across to the other side of your forehead.  Repeat.

Go back and forth a couple times like this, blow dryer always pointing downwards. Maybe, for good measure, brush the bangs straight down, too.

Finish by sweeping them to the angle you want to wear them.  Point the dryer at them for several seconds, then turn off the dryer, brush through, and, if you are paranoid about them shifting, spritz them with a little spray.  I do not do this step, as I loathe hairspray.  The whole thing, start to finish, takes about 2 minutes. Ta da!

Final note:  Also, if you have wavy hair, or a cowlick on your forehead, you must never, ever, EVER do this:

It will cause your hair to puff up and curl under and get all big and you will spend the rest of your day fighting the urge to peg your jeans and belt out Poison lyrics.

Once your bangs are dry, you have many options.  You could blow dry the rest of your hair, or you could do what I do most days and just toss it into a loose bun, which I take down an hour or so later.  Loose bun creates gentle waves, plus no blow drying.  Bonus!

Emergency circumstances

Sometimes, something will go awry, and your bangs will be unwieldy.  In those circumstances, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Flat iron.  If you have one, a flat iron can save your butt in those times when your bangs aren’t cooperating.
  2. Bobby pin.  Easy, cheap, effective.  Twist your bangs gently, pull back at an angle, pin.

Look! Simple, classy, intentional-looking hair!

(I also use this trick when it’s cold and I have to wear a hat for my commute OR when it’s hot and there’s a risk of forehead sweat. I pin my bangs back away from my forehead for my commute, and then remove the pin when I get to work.  Pinning them keeps them looking fresh and straight.)

There you have it- more than you ever wanted to know about side bangs, and how they truly can be low-maintenance.

  • Jen

    February 16, 2009 at 10:37 am

    ooh great tip on the pinning-under-the-hat-in-cold-weather thing! Side bangs are awesome, low-maintenance side-bangs are even better.

  • Groovymarlin

    February 16, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Great tutorial! Thank you. I’m going to try that Fructis stuff.

  • samantha jo campen

    February 16, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I am not even lying when I say that today I cursed my side bangs because I never know how to style them and they just get in my way. “Why did I even have them cut if I don’t utilize them?” I wondered to myself. And alas, here you are with your fabulous tutorial. I can’t wait to try the bobby pin thing too–so easy! So I shall give it another try. And, because I actually have your phone number, I may call you to talk me down from the ledge if things don’t go according to plan :-)

  • CK

    February 16, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I needed this! I almost sent myself into Hair Thursday just to get this tutorial, but then became hopeless about the wait this would entail. BUT: Can you post a picture with the round brush in proper position on bangs for blow-drying? (The “wrong” picture is helpful, cuz I think I’m doing it wrong and ending up with metal-rock hair. Sad. But I am still in need of a “right” picture). Thanks so much!

  • Darcey

    February 16, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Um, I hate to contradict someone with awesomely cute side-bangs, but I have both wavy hair and a forehead cowlick, and using my round brush in the way you said not to was the only way I could get my bangs (when they were side-swept) to cooperate properly.

    Maybe it was the fact that I use a vented, plastic-bristle round brush and not a solid core/boar-bristle (or similar)?

    Anyway, some people may benefit from your technique (no doubt), and some may want to attempt the round brush, under the bangs version.

  • Katie

    February 16, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Darcey, you’re right that I probably overstated the risk of the under-the-bangs version. A vented round brush would definitely help. If you’re careful not to pop the whole thing “up”- if that makes any sense- and keep the dryer pointing down, the under the bangs maneuver can help tame a cowlick. But I would still finish with a brush-over-the-bangs sweep to the side to help them lie flat.

  • brista

    February 16, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Oh, side-bangs. I wish I knew how to quit you!

    I want them so badly and yet, oh, how they push me away! My hair stylist gets them to look right every time — and they look so cute! They pull me back in to this unending cycle. It starts with, “WOW! This is so cute! And look, so easy, I can totally do this! No big deal! I CAN DO THIS!” and then the next morning, my mood deflates as I cry against the bathroom sink. “Why, God?! Why does my hair hate me when every person who cuts it or fixes it says I have good hair?!!? Are they lying to me?! Why would they do that?!?! Whyyyyyyy?” It’s all very dramatic, every morning in front of the mirror as I juggle a brush and a blow dryer and eventually give up and go for the bobby pins or (gasp!) a hairband. And I know I shouldn’t go for the hairband. I have a giant potato-like head and a hairband does me no favors, no matter how badly I hope I look like Blair Waldorf.

    Every time I get my hair trimmed, we have a heart-to-heart (me, and my bangs, and my hair stylist) and discuss the simple directions of “blow dry down, then to the left side until they’re almost dry, then push ’em back to the right side and blow dry a little more — it’s so easy!”

    And yet. The next morning…it’s all tears of sorrow and hairbands of dejection as I trudge my weary way.

  • Jamie

    February 16, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Due to the length of my sideswept bangs, I have to use the round brush in a parallel-to-the-forehead-oh-God-please-don’t-puff-out way – but I also pin them on my way to work, and that pulls the roots down quite nicely.

  • Melissa

    February 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I just got my side bangs…I suspect they may be a bit too short.

    So, if you could just come over like every third day and style them, it would be super helpful! Hee…

  • Catlin

    February 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Dude, this was so helpful! Thanks a bunch.

  • Elizabeth

    February 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This was great; thanks!

    Note re: under-the-bangs: The way I do this is to put the brush under the bangs, but then pull downward and aim the dryer at the roots. I use the brush for control and tension, not for actual shape. Once the hair closest to the roots is definitely dry and straight I can brush them to the side and finish the tips as Katie does.


    February 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I’m actually making an appointment to get some side bangs and you posted this just in time. Plus, I too have a cowlick! Thanks so much for the guidance.

  • Katie

    February 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Yes, Elizabeth, EXCELLENT description- using the brush underneath the bangs for tension and control while you straighten the cowlick-y bits totally works. You just want to avoid drying them perpendicular to your forehead!

  • Leticia

    February 17, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Very dumb question coming. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Are side bangs always meant to be worn parted to the side? Can you never wear your hair parted to the middle? Sometimes I wear my hair to the side, but sometimes I like it parted right down the middle….can I still get/have side bangs?

  • k

    February 17, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I have a similar question to Leticia… My hair pretty much always parts to the middle. If I try to part it otherwise, even when it’s wet, it is too poofy (my hair is curly).

  • Claudia

    February 18, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’ve been really debating the side bangs for weeks now. Each time I decide to go for it, my hair stylist postpones my appointment (3x now!), thus giving me more time to agonize over it. I’m taking your post as a sign from the (hair) heavens that I should stop agonizing and just wait patiently for my appointment to come along. Thanks!

  • FK

    February 18, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I tried this technique this morning and my bangs have never looked better! THANK YOU!

    P.S. Another technique I picked up from my stylist (which everyone else in the world probably already knows) is to dry my bangs with the hair dryer on the lowest setting. It makes my bangs come out so much smoother and they stay in place much better!

  • Darcey

    February 19, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Yes, Katie – I do exactly what Elizabeth does – I use it for tension to battle the cowlick/waves into submission and then swoop to the side.

    Also, don’t forget to blast your bangs (and the rest of your hair, if you’ve used heat to dry) with the cool setting! This really helps preserve the style – especially if you have hair that hits your shoulders and you want to avoid the dreaded flip-out when you’re trying to keep your hair straight at the ends of curl slightly under.

    And! It helps with the shine! :)

  • Emily

    February 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Oh, I have the same cowlick. I hate it. I like to say if I part my hair in the middle and let it air dry, I have parenthesis on my head! Attractive!

    Sometimes if the blowdrying doesn’t fully knock the cowlick out, I pin my bangs to the side while I do my makeup and then once I am done my bangs have straightened out a bit. If not, then I break out the iron!

  • Katie

    February 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    K and Leticia- Not a silly question AT ALL. You don’t have to part your hair strictly on the side to have side bangs. I tend to do it that way because it’s easier for me, but if your hair likes to part in the middle, you can have separate sections for bangs and main hair.

    In that case, the bangs are going to be an identifiably separate section, which may make them look a little more like full frontal bangs rather than short side-swept layers, but you would blow dry them the same way, then pin them aside while you deal with the rest of your hair. If you follow this link (from hairboutique.com), you’ll see a picture of Jennifer Anniston’s hair doing a side-bangs, middle-part thing. http://tinyurl.com/23m4k7

    Oh, and Claudia- DO IT! So fun! Bangs for everyone!

  • fanny

    February 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    This was amazing. Four separate stylists have given me pain-staking tutorials on how to style my side-bangs. And the next day, my hair looks like ass and out come the bobby pins. Today I followed your technique and it worked so well, I bought the Fructis stuff. Thank you!

  • Groovymarlin

    February 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Just one question. Let’s say my side bangs lie to the right side of my forehead. Should I always blow them to the *opposite* side first (so I’d do to the left, then finish to the right), or the other way around? Or does it matter?

  • Misty

    March 21, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cant tell you how many times I just pull my hair back and put a head band on to pull my “bangs” back because they defy my authority! Ok well, I can, pretty much everyday! Ive been fighting this cow lick all my life and I think your tutorial is amazing! I never thought to do it that way! I usually attempted the “wrong way” and I felt like part of an 80s hair band with the poof overtaking the side of my forehead, so Id just hairspray and pin it down. I always thought I was supposed to let the cow lick dictate the part and sweep away…not over! How I have been wronging myself for so long! Again, thanks!

  • Kelley

    May 12, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I was nervous to get bangs again because they always seem to fall in my face and drive me crazy! After reading this, I’m actually excited to try them again. Thanks!

  • Cara

    May 12, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I stumbled on this site and I am having a laugh. This is all girl thoughts , but I am readig them.

    I foud you by looking up Meg Ryan haircuts. THe mullet was a hairstyle I had in High School, now I am worried I am trying to revert back to the good old days. I have on straight hair and work very hard with special volume hair everything. I use a curling iron too , to get curl. My hair works best short, and the chin length bob looks like I have two drapes pn each side of my head. I need a shorter do for the summer and am about to go to the hairdresser.
    I will discuss the possible mullet interpretation and try to avoid.

  • Kris

    May 30, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Thank you for this tutorial! I have worn side bangs for years but my hair grows ridiculously fast and my bangs will be too long in about 3 – 4 weeks after I get them cut. Because my hair is super straight they hang straight down on my forehead unless I use a ridiculous amount of product and hair spray. I end up wearing them clipped 90% of the time because otherwise they poke me right in the eye and there’s not a lot of sweeping action. Do you have any advice on how they should be cut for maximum sweeping? And, any advice on a products to help them stay sweeped? A pomade or creme? Thanks

  • Julia

    June 4, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Do you know how much I LOVE you for this? I’ve had this cowlick all my life (obviously) and I have NEVER found a way to get side bangs until now. Every time I go to a salon and tell them I want bangs, they’re all “You can’t do that with your hairline” blah blah. Thank you so much!

  • Anna

    June 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Bookmarked! Excellent tutorial. Thanks! :)

  • Kelsey

    July 20, 2009 at 7:42 am

    thanks so much for this tutorial. im going to try it out. i have wavyy hair and my side swept never ever look right, only on a good day pretty much. there always either piecey or puffy or something ugly like that. ive tried changing sides as you blowdry hopefully it works. thanks again.

  • stephanie

    July 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I second Kris’ comment/question. My hair is also super straight and even if my bangs look great on my way out the door, a few hours later they fall flat and pretty much just hang straight on my face (even when I use hairspray, although I use a “light hold” one b/c I don’t dig the hairspray helmet look). Recommendations for a product that will actually hold my bangs in place for more than a few hours would be greatly appreciated!

  • raquel

    August 18, 2009 at 3:07 am

    WOW!!! im so glad igot bored a week b4 school starts i just got side bangs and they nvr wanna obey. ive tryed useing boby pins but they nvr hold because i have alot of hair i usaly straiten my bangs to the side but ima try ur tecnique great tutorial

  • JachiCue

    August 19, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Maybe I missed it. Where does the gel come in? Thank you for the tutorial, it’s wonderful and I can’t wait to go get my hair cut and start anew with the bangs. I gave up and just pin them or blend them into my hair right now.

    .-= JachiCue´s last blog ..Oof… =-.

  • Rebecca

    November 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you so much! I have wavy hair with a cow lick and widows peak. I’ve tried the side bangs so many times and each time it just goes behind my ears. I can’t wait to try this. THANKS AGAIN!

  • Audrey

    November 10, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    This is totally off topic, but I LOVE your nail color. I just read on a Glamour blog how gray nails were so in. I love the look–polished, funky, yet understated elegance. Oh, and the hair looks great, too. Hehe.

  • Becca

    November 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    OMG…am I ever happy I found this page in a random search on google that I really wasn’t expecting to help. If u think pro stylist might laugh at u…who cares!!! U stated it was fine by u if u helped at least one person, and well u helped me, and from the looks of the comment section i might not be the only one, so well worth it. I actually didn’t know that the ugly wave in the front of my bangs was a cowlick and I also didn’t know not to wrap my bangs around the brush and pull through with the blow dryer on them…yikes been doin that for a long time, with a double offender, a cowlick and wavy hair. Lastly in this short comment that has somehow turned into a short story, I really found this helpful and highly comical…thanks for the tips.

  • Gail Preston

    October 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    For my 8 year old son’s cowlick, I use Shielo’s Volume Style Creme. Its great hair gel that smells good – the BEST smelling gel I have ever smelled.

    It does a great job at providing a firm hold and making my son’s hair look good, and it does not flake when it is roughed up!

    We both use it and are so happy with it.