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What Is a Side Comb?

By Bryce Clinton
Updated May 17, 2024
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A side comb, sometimes called a decorative comb or French comb, is a type of hair fastener. Its basic shape is similar to a comb used for grooming hair, but it doesn't have a handle, is usually smaller, and has longer teeth. These teeth are often closely spaced, or they are shaped specifically to hold back loose hairs such as bangs or other fringe hair. When in use, side combs are left in the hair as part of the hairstyle. For comfort, their shape is usually curved to fit one's scalp.

In addition to holding back loose hair at the front or side of one's head, a side comb is often used to create an updo, which is a general hairstyle in which long hair is pulled up towards the top of the head rather than allowed to fall freely. The long hair is styled into various buns, twists, and other updo configurations, which are held in place by one or more decorative combs. Side combs are strategically placed to keep the hair held fast and provide an alternative to hair claws, barrettes, or bands.

The effectiveness of a side comb depends on knowing how to create various updos, such as a French twist. For the comb to work well, there has to be a certain amount of tension in the hair before the comb is pushed through it. A side comb works best when used with the right techniques for properly twisting, tucking, and folding hair; however, some side combs are specifically designed to make it easier to hold back hair.

One popular side comb style includes a more open-toothed pattern at the bottom of the comb, which grows tighter in the middle of the comb, then opens up closer to the spine. This open pattern at the bottom makes it initially easier to push the teeth through the twisted hair. Once the comb is through, the tighter middle teeth then grab the hairs and pull them tight. Such a pattern might be called self gripping, or the teeth described as flex teeth.

A side comb is both functional and decorative, and it therefore comes in many styles. Different sizes accommodate different styling needs. Types of combs range from expensive antiques made of precious materials to simple, machine-made combs. Some are works of art while others are made to be as invisible as possible. Handmade side combs are designed to be smooth to prevent hairs from snagging on rough edges.

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