Growing out your hair used to mean risking comparisons to ‘90s-era Van Damme or Seagal. But in this century, you’re starting to see some of the biggest stars—DiCaprio, Bloom, Manganiello, Pitt—rocking serious mops that don’t look out of place (or date). And it’s not just because of their armies of stylists.

“With just a bit of maintenance, long hair can convey instant warmth and sexiness,” says Vaughn Acord, founder of V76 by Vaughn and a master barber who’s done haircuts for Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney. “It doesn’t have to be messy and unkempt.”

Embrace these styling principles to start winning the long game.

1. Avoid a Hairy Situation
Before you begin, take stock of your locks. Not everyone can grow out their mane-nor should they.

Very coarse hair? Be forewarned: “It’ll only get bigger and bushier,” says Boswell Scot, owner of Best Barber in New York City. (See: Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro.)

And if your hair is thinning or receding in front, don’t even bother trying. A longer style just draws attention to those fading follicles. So if that’s you, opt for a shorter, tighter cut.

2. Don’t Get All Snippy
For many men, the biggest challenge is being patient with their pate. Hair grows about half an inch per month, says Scot.

Making the transition from a cropped cut to something she’ll want to run her fingers through will take about a year.

Yes, there will be hot, humid summer days when you’ll be tempted to hack it all off, so keep a bandana handy.

“There’s no quick, easy way,” says Acord, “but the end result makes the wait worthwhile.”

3. Give Yourself a Head Start
Because the hair on top of your head grows slower than the hair on the sides, timing is crucial if you want to avoid bad hair days, says Scot.

To maintain a better shape, wait until you have at least 4 inches on top; then start growing out your sides. As your hair becomes longer on top, just style it back:

While it’s damp, use a nickel-sized amount of a leave-in conditioner such as V76’s

4. See the Maintenance Man
You may have less face time with your barber, but pay the guy a visit every two to three months to keep your neck, hairline, sideburns, and facial hair from overtaking your face, says Acord.

Products that have hold, such as texturizing and styling creams, can also keep hair out of the way without clumping.