The ultimate hairstyles guide to growing a manbun or topknot
It is a fact that most guys who want to get a man bun will start their man-bun journey with short hair or medium-length hair. Thus, one question that I get a lot at my barbershop is what hairstyles to use while growing a man bun or while transitioning to a man bun. While I’ve covered in this site some of the different hair styles and haircuts that you can use to get a man bun, I’d like to publish this definitive guide with all the best hairstyles to use while growing a man bun or a top knot.
One thing to bear in mind in this guide is that a top knot hairstyle will require that the sides and back of your head are kept buzzed or trimmed very short. If you’re unsure of the difference between a man bun and a top knot, then go ahead and read my popular man bun and top knot guide which explains all the differences among the man buns and top knots of our bro-bun kingdom.
In essence, however, a man bun (i.e. a “full” bun) has the hair on the sides and back of your head just as long as the hair on the top of the head. A top knot (i.e. a “semi” bun) has the hair on the sides and back of the head buzzed with a hair clipper (e.g. an undercut) or tapered in a very short length (e.g. a short taper cut).
Following from the previous paragraph and so as to ensure that you can tell the difference between a man bun and a top knot, here’s a top-view picture illustrating a man bun hairstyle:
Heck, I’m sure that the picture below of Donald Trump’s man bun (instead of his usual combover hairstyle) will get the point across even better: a man bun requires longer hair (than a top knot) and all of the hair on the head is to be used to tie the single bun.
In contrast with the two manbun pictures above (including the ever-so-epic man bun of Donald Trump), here’s (below) a before-and-after picture of a top knot hairstyle for you to tell the difference between a top knot and man bun:
Notice how, in the before-and-after topknot picture above, the hair on the top is hardly of (what we would consider) a long length and is just over 6 inches in length at the front, which allows for the tying of a small bun (i.e. a “knot”) on the vertex area of the head. Likewise, the hair below the top of the head (i.e. the hair on the sides and the back) is buzzed, which is the opposite hair-length format of the aforementioned man bun.
Right, now that you know the difference between a man bun and a topknot, let’s continue with our man-bun transitioning guide. However, before proceeding with the full explanation of each of the best hairstyles suited for the growing phase of the man bun and the top knot, I will first list below the actual hairstyles that I’ll be going through:
- Slicked back hairstyle
- Slicked back undercut hairstyle
- Surfer-dude hairstyle
- Layered haircut
- Middle-part hairstyle
- Side swept undercut hairstyle
- Side part with tape haircut
- Side fringe with taper haircut
- Mop top hairstyle
- Side-parted quiff with executive contour haircut
- Curly hair (explained as an additional section in this guide)
Let’s get on with explaining each of these hairstyles in detail so that you can transition to a man bun or a top knot like a Sir; no matter what your starting hair length may currently be!
Slicked back hairstyle
As your hair gets longer, it can become a mess to style. Likewise, many guys who want to grow a man bun do also want to be able to sport a formal look at work as their hair grows longer. Ergo, the slicked back hairstyle is by far the best style to use in a professional setting as you get closer and closer to your man-bun goal with your growing hair.
The best hair product to slick back your hair is a pomade. Choose a strong-hold pomade with as much shine as you prefer. If you want a super-shiny look that looks “greased up”, then choose an oil-based pomade. If you would rather have a cleaner look (i.e. less “greased up”) while still keeping your hair slicked back securely, then choose a water-based pomade. Since I will be going recommending the different hair product types to style these transitioning hairstyles, I highly recommend that you read this men’s hair styling products guide which goes through all the products that you can use to style any type of male hairstyle, including those in this guide.
As far as transitioning to either of our two “bun” hairstyles, choose a slicked back hairstyle if you want to grow a full man bun.
Slicked back undercut hairstyle
The slicked back undercut was a very popular hairstyle in the early 2010s due to the popularity of the TV show Boardwalk Empire. In this TV show, one of its main characters called Jimmy Darmody wears a slicked back undercut hairstyle. By proxy (i.e. due to the popularity of Jimmy Darmody as one of the show’s character), the slicked back undercut skyrocketed in popularity in 2011 all the way to 2013; it was a huge thing and, back then, we would get dozens of undercut-haircut requests daily at our barbershop.
Incidentally, the popularity of the slicked back undercut faded in 2014 to make way for the top knot hairstyle. Since the hair in the slicked back undercut is kept very short with a single hair-clipper length, the transition to a top knot (which benefits from an undercut) was extremely easy, since all you need was a couple of extra months to grow the hair on the top of your head a little longer to tie it as a top knot.
The best hair product for the slicked back undercut is a pomade if you want to keep your slick-back undercut flattened or a styling cream if you want your hair to be loose and dangling in the slicked back undercut.
A surfer-dude hairstyle is a hairstyle that has a relatively-similar length of hair all across the scalp. Once your hair reaches 4 inches in length, you start to style it in a shaggy and tousled manner with a styling wax. You maintain this hairstyle until your hair reaches the minimum length for a man bun which is 8 inches of hair length. You can also side part the hair as it gets longer.
Use the surfer hairstyle to grow a man bun, not a top knot.
A layered haircut allows your hair to have a very similar length all across the scalp, which is what matters if you want to grow a man bun. From a layered haircut, you can pretty much choose any hairstyle that you fancy, although a curtained style works the best with a layered haircut as the hair hangs down and low smoothly; even the mighty middle-parted hairstyle (see the next style) works really well with a layered haircut.
With a layered haircut, you can also part your hair to the side for a side-part hairstyle or a side-swept hairstyle; however, these two side-parted styles aren’t very practical once your hair is longer than 6 inches of length.
Middle part hairstyle
The middle-part hairstyle was the hairstyle of the 1990s. Just like nowadays we have the man bun all over the United States, the same occurred with the middle-part hairstyle in the ’90s; and, not just in the United States, but all of Europe was taken over by the middle-parted style in the ’90s too!
The middle part hairstyle is a very simple style that, as the name implies, has you parting your hair in the middle. Once your hair reaches 6 inches in length and beyond, your mane will have a tendency to go with gravity and hang down; thus, parting your hair on the middle of your head allows for it to hang down without causing any nuisances (e.g. blocking your eyes). As a bonus tip, all the major TV heartthrobs in the 1990s had a middle part hairstyle; that’s enough of a good reason to sport the hairstyle as your hair gets longer!
You should use the middle-parted hairstyle as you grow a man bun (if you keep all the hair on the scalp at the same length) or a top knot (if you leave the sides and back of your head very short or at a buzz-cut length). You can also use the middle-part hairstyle when your man bun is untied (i.e. your long hair is hanging down). A styling cream is the best type of men’s hair product for the middle-parted hairstyle.
Side swept undercut hairstyle
As I mentioned earlier, a side swept with long hair all across the head (i.e. sides and back included) becomes a very tricky thing. This is mainly because the hair on the sides and back of the head becomes a pain in the behind to keep swept and secured when it is longer than 5 inches in length. However, the hair on the top of the head can remain swept, secured and flat at very long lengths, and this is where the side swept undercut hairstyle comes in.
A side swept undercut is nothing more than having your hair parted at either of your temples (left or right) while the hair on the sides and back of the head remains buzzed at a very-short length with a single hair-clipper length (i.e. a “textbook” undercut haircut).
A side swept undercut is the perfect solution for those of you who work in a very formal environment (e.g. office jobs or corporate jobs). This is because the flattened swept hair looks very formal, even when the hair is at 6 inches of length (which is the minimum length for a top knot). Both the side swept undercut and the slicked back undercut are the best formal hairstyles for those of you wanting to grow your hair long in an office-type environment. And, as with the slicked back undercut, a pomade is the best men’s hair product to use for the side swept undercut.
As said, the side swept undercut is the best hairstyle to grow a top knot. Moreover, since a top knot never exceeds 8 inches on the top of the head, you can continue to use the side swept undercut as a regular hairstyle whenever you don’t feel like tying your hair into a top knot.
Side part with taper haircut
The side part with a taper haircut is the ultimate classic hairstyle for men. The hair is parted at either the left or right temple and the hair on the sides and back of the head is gradually tapered. The hair is combed as vertical as possible to the parted line, describing a smooth and even direction of the hair across the top of the head. Unlike the side swept hairstyle, a side-parted hairstyle leaves some volume on the hair (i.e. it isn’t flattened and slicked as with a side swept style). Ergo, the best products for a side part hairstyle are styling creams, hair gels and hair mousse.
As opposed to the side-fringe hairstyle (see the next hairstyle), a side part does not leave a fringe of hair hovering over the forehead, although a very-narrow fringe usually occurs naturally at the forelock from simply keeping the hair combed vertically to the parted line.
A side part hairstyle with a taper haircut is a great way to grow a top knot. Once you reach the minimum length for the top knot, you’re then free to keep the same length of the taper haircut on the sides and back of your head, or to instead shorten the taper cut or turn it into an undercut.
Side fringe with taper haircut
As with the side swept, a side fringe has the hair parted at either of your temples and combed to the side. However, unlike the side swept, a side fringe leaves the hair on the forelock (i.e. the hair at the front) covering your forehead. The hair making the fringe is angled, as the hair maintains the side-combed direction of the parted hair.
A side fringe hairstyle works best with a taper haircut. In a taper haircut, the hair on the sides and back of your head is gradually reduced in length. You can choose this gradual shortening of the hair to be as “long” as you want it to be: simply tell your barber that you want your taper haircut to be short, medium or long.
You may, however, still go with an undercut with your side fringe hairstyle; it’s a bit more of an extreme look, but it will go very well as a complementary hairstyle to the side swept undercut described previously.
For a side fringe as a hairstyle to use when growing a top knot, I recommend that you go with a short taper haircut. A short tape is done exclusively with a hair clipper. The hair at the top of the sides and back of the head (where it meets the top of the head) is buzzed with the longest hair-clipper length available and, then, the hair is gradually buzzed shorter towards the hairline of the ears and neck. Don’t worry if this sounds like some voodoo magic, just tell your barber that you want a short taper haircut done with a hair clipper, and he or she will know what to do exactly.
A side fringe with a taper haircut is a great hairstyle to use as you grow your top knot. The shortly-tapered sides and back enhance the top knot, so you can alternate daily between the side fringe style and the top knot style.
Mop top hairstyle
The mop top hairstyle was all the rage in the 1960s thanks to The Beatles and the Beatlemania that swept through the United States, Europe and Australia.
The mop top hairstyle keeps your hair at the same length all across the scalp (or in a long taper cut) and it is kept flattened. The hair on the forelock (i.e. the hair above your forehead) is to be left as bangs covering your forehead. Once your hair is long enough to block your eyes, you sweep the hair across the forehead to leave a fringe.
The main difference between the mop top hairstyle and the surfer hairstyle is that the latter has a messy component (i.e. a messy look) while the former has the hair neatly combed flat and down.
You may also turn your mop top into a side combover hairstyle in the likes of Justin Bieber’s hairstyle before he started living the “gangsta” lifestyle; you go from a mop top to a side combover by simply combing your hair to the side starting at the left or right ear. There is no parted line in a side combover hairstyle; instead, all of the hair is combed to the right or to the left depending on your own preference.
The mop top hairstyle is a good hairstyle to use as you grow your hair longer in order to sport a man bun. However, once your moptop is 6 inches long, switch to the slicked back hair style until you reach 8 inches of hair length so as to then tie a man bun. Use a styling cream for your mopped top.
Side-parted quiff with executive contour haircut
Nowadays, the executive contour haircut with a side-parted quiff or with side-parted hair only is all the rage. This particular hairstyle is the current flagship hairstyle for hipsters and it is the medium-length equivalent (in terms of popularity) of the top knot.
An executive contour haircut, also known as an executive haircut or a mid-contour haircut, is a tapered cut done on the sides and back of the head. The hair is first tapered with scissors and then it is buzzed with a hair clipper. It certainly isn’t an easy haircut but any good hairdresser or barber will be able to do it. The executive haircut is also called a regulation haircut in the military, so, if you have a barber who has been in the military or who has plenty of experience with the different types of military haircuts, then count yourself lucky!
While the sides and back of the head are cut as an executive contour, the hair on the top is left to grow to a length ranging between 6 to 8 inches so as to then tie it into a top knot. With that said, until you have enough length to tie a top knot, the hair in the side-parted quiff is, as the name rightfully implies, parted to the side (again, at either of your temples) while the hair at the forelock is given some volume and combed at a backward angle from the forehead (thus slightly breaking the evenly-combed look of the rest of the hair.
With the side-parted quiff hairstyle, you may simply avoid the quiff and just part your hair to the side while keeping your sides and back of the head in an executive contour haircut. In fact, you can switch back and forth between an even side-parted style and a side-parted quiff style on the top of your head as your hair grows longer.
Since the executive contour haircut is a great haircut for the top knot hairstyle, using a side-parted quiff with an executive haircut is a great way to naturally grow into a top knot. Use hair gel or hair wax to style your side-parted quiff or to simply comb your hair to the side.
Long curly hair
Right, long curly hair in itself isn’t a hairstyle or a haircut, but it merits being mentioned in this guide. The reason? Well, as long curly hair gets longer, it can completely get out of control if you don’t take care of your curls, and you definitively do not want that if you’re growing a curly man bun or top knot! This “wild-hair” issue specially affects men with coiled curly hair and kinky curly hair, which are the curliest hair types under the ISEZ hair type method from Rogelio Samson. If you happen to have curly hair, you will be very aware of this issue of your curls puffing up and out once you cross the 2-inch length barrier.
All the hairstyles that I’ve detailed above can be done with curly hair, but you need to learn how to take care of your curls. See the link above to read my interview with Rogelio Samson as he is the guy to go to when it comes to curly hair for men. It’s very important for you to learn how to control your curly mane as it grows because, once your curly hair is at the minimum length for a top knot or for a man bun, you will have a lot of hair bulk and volume, which will cause aesthetic issues very fast if you don’t know anything about curly hair care.
It’s here that I highly recommend the use of headbands for curly men who are growing their curls so as to put them in a bun or knot. A headband is a hair accessory used across the top of the head so as to pull the forelock’s curls back. If you’re having curly-hair problems as your hair gets longer or if you aren’t getting good results from the hairstyles recommended for your man bun, then you can simply slap a headband across your head, pull your curls back and that will solve (to an extent) your curly issue.
Curly guys aren’t the only ones to benefit from the use of headbands. Any male growing his hair long will benefit from having a couple of headbands handy for those days when one’s own hair doesn’t seem or want to co-operate. You can even use a headband with your man bun in that the headband will pull back any hair strands or locks that are too short to be tied into the manbun or topknot. The possibilities are endless, and headbands are dirty cheap so grab a few from the ones that I recommend in my hair products guide for the man bun.
Lastly, remember that a headband is not a hair band. While both types of bands are elastic, a headband is to be placed across your head (to pull the hair back) and a hair band (also known as an elastic band or scrunchie) is a smaller band used to tie the bun itself in the man bun and top knot. Like headbands, though, hair bands are extremely cheap and I always recommend that you buy at least a dozen every time that you shop for them (you can also get the ones that I use in my previously-linked product guide for the man bun).
Conclusion to our hairstyles guide to transition to a man bun or top knot
There you have it, folks; I’ve gone through in this guide through all the optimal hairstyles to choose when growing your man bun or top knot. Many of these hairstyles are interchangeable in that you can alternate through some of them daily. Even better, some of these hairstyles, like the slicked back undercut, can be alternated with a man bun or with a top knot; thus enhancing your range of hairstyles to choose from once you have the length needed for your chosen “bun” style.
In any case, these hairstyles and haircuts are only there to help you achieve your man-bun or top-knot goals with style and aesthetics, so do always remember to maintain your patience during the transition phase as the months go by and your hair keeps getting longer and longer. You will get to your man-bun or top-knot destination sooner or later, and it will be well worth it!
If you have any questions about the hairstyles in this guide, then please let me know in the comments section below. You can also visit my Man Bun and Top Knot FAQ which covers in detail all the questions and issues that I’ve faced as a long-haired and manbun-wearing barber throughout my career.
Guide last updated: 3rd October 2015