Is Wet Look Hair Wearable IRL? Here's What Happened When We Tried It

Backstage at London Fashion Week SS19, there was one hair trend that trumped all the others. No, not beachy waves, ethereal braids or sleek lengths, but serious slickbacks. At Richard Malone, hairstylist Gareth Bromell referred to the wet look as "sweaty, greasy and a little bit dirty", pinpointing a London girl who’s just been for a run in the height of summer as his muse, while at Victoria Beckham, Guido Palau fashioned models’ hair into a wet-look style that still bore comb marks. Sure, it looks cool and practically effortless, but exactly how wearable is the trend in real life? This is what happened when three R29 staffers gave it a go.
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Sadhbh O'Sullivan, Social Media Assistant
What do Chelsea Fairless from @everyoutfitonsatc, Sarah Paulson and Zac Efron as Link Larkin in Hairspray (the musical!) have in common? No, not that they’re all icons among the lesbian community. They all slick back their hair and have long been my style inspirations, in one way or another. So I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for an excuse to do my hair like this. If anything, I put off doing it because I loved it so much and I was terrified it would look shit and I don’t know if I could take that kind of rejection.
Happily for me, I had to do it "for work" and now I feel like I’ve reached my final form. I’m obsessed with it. Not that I knew what I was doing, mind. I never do anything with my hair and my girlfriend cuts it so I’m a complete novice. My hair is bob length at the moment, about 5cm off my shoulders, so it’s a bit too long to do a full slick to the head, but not long enough to do the Kim K-down-the-back look. I started spraying my slightly-sweaty-from-working-out hair damp before working L'Oréal Professionnel's Tecni ART Mousse, £12.50, through from roots to the ends with my fingers. I blowdried that, before fixing the front part of my head with the Wella Professionals EIMI Pearl Styler Gel, £4.70, then sprayed it with a bunch of hairspray. I wanted it to look verrrry slicked back so I also added a final layer of Shower Shine, £15. The final look? Very stuck to my head, very crunchy, very powerful.
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I’m half kidding when I say I’ve reached my final form, but I’m also half not. I loved it so, so much. It was a bit inconvenient at first – it took me longer than my hair normally does (zero minutes) and I decided against my normal cycle because I didn’t want to accidentally glue my helmet to my head. As a result, I had to get the Tube (horrible horrible) but didn’t notice anyone looking at me more than usual. I think it’s because I just felt so good with it. It felt…right. It sounds almost silly, but it feels like the hair equivalent of what I try and (often fail to) say in my outfits: in control, hard femme, absolutely not catering to the male gaze. I walked with my head held a bit higher all day (and not just to fight the unseemly wind; fuck you, Storm Ali).
I’d definitely do this again. I considered doing it the next day actually, I just ran out of time. Because of the length and thickness of my hair it’s not going to be a daily thing, but I could see this making a monthly appearance. It’s the best beauty thing I’ve tried in a very long time.
Jacqueline Kilikita, Beauty Editor
Okay, it's not exactly high fashion, but I've been obsessed with this vibe since Kim Kardashian took to the red carpet at the VMAs in 2016, hair gelled to the extreme from root to tip, like she'd just stepped out of the shower, raked her fingers through her lengths and said, "I'm ready". You know the look. Unfortunately, when I wash my hair, I look more drowned rat than A-list, so I've never had the balls to give it a proper go. Until now.
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Surprisingly, the look was super easy to create. I cheated a little as I had to film something for R29's Instagram feed in the morning and wet look hair would have been way too much, so when I got back into the office, I made my way to the loos, flicked around five or six handfuls of water into my roots and went in with a dollop of Wella's EIMI Mousse, £3.95, like I spotted the hairstylists backstage at LFW doing. That wasn't enough, so I decided to bring out the big guns and smoothed about a quarter of a tube of L'Oréal Professionnel's Glue, £15, into my roots (a total accident, but I went with it anyway) and the look finally began to take shape. I'd forgotten my comb, so had to use my fingers but it worked! A spritz of Fix Design, £12.50, completed the wet look and I ran a few drops of Pro Blo's Smooth Me Finishing Serum, £25, through the mid-lengths to ends to give my thick, frizz-prone hair a bit of shine.
I'd had my makeup done earlier that day, so I felt less Tintin and more fierce when I walked into the office. I opened my emails to three messages from colleagues telling me I looked "powerful" and our editor Gillian liked it so much, she asked me to do her hair at her desk. I confidently sauntered out to lunch but as I was paying for my cheese and pickle baguette in Pret, the guy serving me scoffed as I swiped my card and asked if I got caught in the rain. As I made my way back into the office, a gust of wind blew my hair from behind but it didn't move an inch because the gel was rock solid by then. However, after a Tube journey and a 30-minute walk to my front door, it resembled a greasy, frizzy and insanely itchy mess and took two washes to come out. Maybe it isn't my thing after all...
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Kara Kia, Editorial Intern
The look I achieved was more 'ramen noodle' than 'slicked back hair'. I have naturally curly 4a hair, which made me very cautious and a bit sceptical of slicking it all the way back, just in case it decided to resist gravity before we got a photo. Instead, I opted for a very on-trend centre parting and slicked it down.
First, I gave my hair a good co-wash using Palmer’s Olive Oil Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner, £5.99, then I used Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Deep Conditioner, £12.99, to really weigh down my hair. I do not recommend leaving in a deep con for 9 hours (unless it is an overnight treatment) but it was for beauty, darling! After applying a generous amount of deep conditioner, I used a wide tooth comb and lightly detangled, combing in a downward motion. I then applied a lot of evo's Gangsta Grip, £21, and raked it from roots to ends with my fingers. Finally, I used evo's Love Touch Shine Spray, £21 (to ward off the crusty look) and left it to air dry for about 20 minutes before finishing with Wella's EIMI Super Set Extra Strong Finishing Spray, £15.70. The entire look took me about 30 mins to create.
It was an exceptionally windy day, which can make my usual fro go a bit crazy, so it was nice having my hair stay put. I sat in for Jackie at a beauty breakfast that morning and when I was heading back to the office, I got stopped by a girl that loved the look so much she said she was going to try it – I think that’s a success. The sleek look made me feel, as kitty girls would say, business executive realness. The only qualm is how stiff my ramen noodle hair was. All the product build-up made my scalp very itchy throughout the day. I honestly think the product clogged my hair follicles and I’m going to need to do a scalp exfoliation to bring my curls back to life. I would definitely try the look again but with much, much less product. Maybe just mousse, some gel for my edges and shine spray on top.
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