The History of Men's Hair

The History of Men’s Hair

‘Hair is a form of cultural shorthand’ according to Giulia Pivetta, Editor of The Barber Book, it’s something we use to reflect our personality in a direct way.

It’s hard to argue. Every age has given birth to a new style tribe, each of which has had its own philosophy, its own fashion and – you’ve guessed it – its own haircut. From the Crew Cut to the Mop Top, we’ve sifted through the archives to examine each of these iconic styles, changing our minds about our favourite cut roughly 17 times in the process. Join us in this journey through time and space and hair by taking a look through our edited history of men’s hair.

Men's hair styles: crew cut

Popular among the rowing team or ‘crews’ of the Ivy League colleges from the 1930s, the Crew Cut gained mainstream appeal during World War II as the cut of choice in the United States military. Millions of young recruits were enlisted and promptly given this particularly short haircut. For a modern take on the style, look no further that Ryan Reynolds and the fresh cut he unveiled whilst promoting his latest film, Deadpool.


Men's hair styles: the Brylcreem look

In the history of men’s haircare, Brylcreem is an icon of Western culture: one of the earliest and best-known branded products. Byrlcreem was used to create the classic haircuts of the 1940s…and David Beckham’s look circa 1998.


The History of Men's Hair: The Undercut

In its native land – the German Empire – the Undercut was commonly known as ‘der Inselhaarschnitt’ (the island cut), because the long lock of hair sitting on top of the shaved head looked like a small patch of land surrounded by water. The hairstyle also took root with street gangs such as Birminham’s Peaky Blinders and crossed the Atlantic with Scottish and Irish working-class emigrants on their way to the United States.


The History of Men's Hair: The Mohawk

The haircut has its origins among the Native American peoples of the Iroquois League who lived in the large forests of the northeastern United States, taking its name from the Mohawks. Real history aside, our favourite representation of this hairstyle is De Niro in Taxi Driver (who also scores extra points for his excellent field jacket).


The History of Men's Hair: The Ivy League

This cut is synonymous with 1950s American elegance, and a look that also takes in penny loafers, Argyle socks, tartan jackets and button down collar shirts. Short on the back and sides, the hair is left slightly longer at the top and upper sides – just like JFK’s iconic cut.


The History of Men's Hair: The Rockabilly

Rockabilly is the lovechild of rock ‘n’ roll and the country music of the southeastern United States, the unholy union of rock and hillbilly. The style is one-part Elvis to two-parts Tennessee bumpkin: tattoos, bowling shirts, horn-rimmed glasses and a mane of greased-back hair.


The History of Men's Hair: The Teddy Boy

In the context of the class-conscious 1950s, the Teddy Boys’ aim was to shock public decency and defy social conventions. Inspired by the elegant tailoring of the early 1900s, their neo-Edwardian style led the press to give them a common nickname for Edward: ‘Teddy’. Alex Turner’s nostalgic interpretation sits proudly at the top of our list of favourite men’s hair trends.


The History of Men's Hair: The Teddy Boy

When The Beatles landed in New York in 1964 for their first US tour, they took the country by storm. Paul McCartney is on record as attributing this in part to their iconic hairstyle. Despite some scathing reviews – ‘four British lads who sing when they are not busy running away from barbers’ read the Associated Press report – the impact of the loveable Mop Tops was immediate.


The History of Men's Hair: The Skinhead

A hardcore version of the Mods, the Skins saw themselves as defending British values from the threat of widespread consumerism by holding up old-fashioned, patriotic working-class pride against middle-class hedonism. To get the skinhead hairstyle just, well, erm…just shave your head. Your style inspo for this look? Woody from This is England (the film, not the series when he ended up all beardy with a haircut like a Geography teacher).

About The Barber Book
The nice guys at Phaidon lent us a copy so we could write this blog post. What they don’t know is that we enjoyed it so much that we’re not going to give it back to them. It’s a great read, containing loads more haircuts than we’ve highlighted above – it’d make an ace gift for any man that’s into his grooming, or, if you’re fancy enough to have a coffee table, buy it for yourself and just leave it on display. Buy The Barber Book (£14.95) on

Illustration credit: Matteo Guarnaccia
Image credits:
Model sporting the modern Undercut with a beard - © Corbis Images / Westend61 / Rainer Holz
A member of the Polecats fixing his Rockabilly style, c. 1981 - © Corbis Images / Mike Laye
Text credit:
Some of the above excerpts were taken directly from The Barber Book. The other bits are just us. 

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