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. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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! :)

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. Anna

    June 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Bookmarked! Excellent tutorial. Thanks! :)

  14. 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.

  15. 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!