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.

  1. 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.

  2. Groovymarlin

    February 16, 2009 at 10:39 am

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

  3. 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 :-)

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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…

  10. Catlin

    February 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Dude, this was so helpful! Thanks a bunch.

  11. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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?

  15. 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).