I’ve rocked a mustache for the better part of 12 years. During that time, I’ve had guys tell me, “Dude! You look like Sam Elliott!”

A flattering comparison. But, until recently, not a wholly accurate one.

For while I sported a Sam Elliott-esque stache, I lacked his long, flowing mane.

For most of my adult life, I rocked a close-cropped side-part hairstyle. It was the dude hairdo to have in the early 2010s when Mad Men and heritage Red Wing boots were all the rage.

A couple of years ago, I was getting tired of my Don Draper hairstyle, decided to embrace my inner 1980’s Sam Elliott, and started growing my hair out. Operation Sam Elliott Hair was on.

The Platonic Ideal of Long Dude Hair: 1980’s Sam Elliott

My first attempt at growing my hair out was in 2018. It started off strong but then got weird. My hair just got really poofy and wide. I looked more like a Chia Head and less like Sam Elliott.

So I aborted the operation and razed my hair back to my standard close-cropped side-part style.

My 2020 attempt at Operation Sam Elliott Hair. Taken right before my mother-in-law buzzed my hair. Mission failed . . . but only temporarily.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, and everything, including barbershops, shut down, I figured it was an excellent time to pick up Operation Sam Elliott Hair again. But like the first time, my resulting bouffant made me look more like a lady who could star in Hairspray than a dude who might conceivably be cast in a Western. At least as an extra.

Abort mission. I had my mother-in-law buzz my unruly mane.

In January 2021, I decided to give Operation Sam Elliott Hair one more try. But this time, I brought in a professional to guide the process to improve my chances of achieving my goal.

In March 2021, I drove two hours up the turnpike to Springfield, MO to pay professional barber Thad Forrester a visit at one of the locations in his chain of Hudson / Hawk barbershops. I first met Thad when we made some hair-related AoM videos together, and he’d given me the best haircut I’d ever had. So I trusted him with my locks. And my yet unfulfilled dream.

I told him of my epic quest to achieve 1980’s Sam Elliott hair and how it always ended with wailing and gnashing of teeth and a pile of hair on the floor after I buzzed it all off.

Thad listened attentively and created a game plan to achieve the Sam Elliott Hair of my dreams. After nine months of working with him, I believe we’ve nearly reached the summit.

Here’s what I learned over the course of the journey about what dudes need to know if they want to grow their hair out.

How to Grow Your Hair Long (When You’re a Dude)

Make sure your hair is a good candidate for wearing long. Just like specific beard styles require specific types of beard growth, particular hairstyles require particular kinds of hair growth.

The long hairstyle is best for guys who have thick hair; thin/fine hair can look stringy and unattractive when worn long.

Long hair also won’t look good on a man who’s losing his hair. “A lot of men who start to thin decide now is the time to let it grow for one last hurrah. My advice . . . don’t,” Thad told me. “The longer the hair gets, the more it pulls down on the hair because of the additional weight, leading to more scalp exposure, which accentuates the hair thinning.”

If your hair is on the thicker side, and you’re not balding, then you’re a good candidate for growing your hair out long. If you