Men’s Hairstyles Through the Decades
The history of hirsute evolution of men's hairstyles is as varied, surprising and unexpected as one can possibly imagine and the variations played on the simple trio of essential styling of short, medium or long cuts, have been endless.
Unsurprisingly, men ’s hairstyles are a fascinating reflection of the society as well as era in which they evolved and have been hugely influenced by a panoply of cultural phenomena, such as iconic fashion trends, celebrity appearances, architecture, television, theatre and the big screen. Much like the choice of sartorial style, the choice of haircut speaks volumes of who we are and various styles have been worn not only to express ones personality, but also to often express cultural rebellion. While some men’s hairstyles remain thankfully locked in the time capsules of their popularity, others have great longevity and re-emerge from time to time, veering wildly between brutal and utilitarian, baroque and ostentatious, to be re-imagined, re-invented and re-purposed for the new generations.
A quick tour through the last fifty years of men’s hairstyles is a fascinating journey of discovery, a tale of changing social norms, wild imaginings and a tribute to the enduring power of hair styling products.
Emerging from the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s, the 1970s were very much a continuation of the preceding decade’s spirit of experimentation and adventure. It was a hirsute decade: hair was long and plentiful, beards were luxuriant, moustaches were long and droopy, sideburns were thick and prominent, sometimes extending into bushy mutton chops.
Long hair was fashionable, a badge of protest and individuality, an unambiguous rejection of the older generation’s conservative, conformist short-back-and-sides. But the shaggy and unkempt hairstyles of the 1960s were tamed by more styled looks. The ultimate 1970s hairstyle was the mullet, pioneered by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust cut of 1972. This perennial style, with its short layers on the top and side and long hair at the back, was to prove surprisingly resilient, reappearing in many forms in subsequent decades. For those who eschewed the wilder extremes of the mullet, a layered shaggy cut was de rigueur: think Robert Redford, John Travolta or George Best.
As a new decade dawned, it ushered in a new set of values: Thatcherism, unbridled capitalism, strident competitiveness and ambition. Slogans of ‘Greed is good’ as well as Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987), with his long slicked back hair and confident swagger, epitomised the new era. To imitate this bold, slicked-back look, an application of Truefitt & Hill’s Brillantine Pomade is a fool proof way of achieving this styling.
1980s saw hairstyles became more sculptured with shorter and more obviously styled hair. Rappers and hip hop stars pioneered the flat top style with shaved sides and back - a striking cut that needed the painstaking attention of a barber with the skills of a topiarist. At the other end of the maintenance spectrum, the buzz cut - where the hair is clipped all over to within an inch of the scalp, became a much-adopted style, especially after it was sported by a macho Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986). For those who preferred more luxuriant tresses, perms and David Hasselhoff-esque ‘big hair’ were perennially popular.
The hairstyles of the 1990s were modern, cool and clearly influenced by pop culture and Hollywood icons such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Hairstyles were created to emphasise and frame the face, capitalising on boyish good looks during an era when the term ‘metrosexual’ was coined (1994) and a meticulous attention to grooming and appearance was becoming imperative.
The so-called ‘curtains’ style is pure 1990s; the hair on the top of the head was left long and styled with a central parting, emphasised by a short cut on the sides and back. The hair, which requires a light styling product such as Truefitt & Hill’s Circassian Cream, frames the face, and was made popular by Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, sported a longish bob, with a long, messy fringe, which was worn tousled and pushed back.
Musicians such as Noel Gallagher popularised the sculptured bowl cut - a thick low-cut fringe, which extended over the ears, transitioning into a longer length at the back.
Meanwhile George Clooney appeared in ER complete with a stethoscope and a fine example of the ‘Caesar’ haircut - a rough approximation of the Roman emperor’s hairstyle, where the rigour of closely cut short hair was alleviated by the tendrils of a slightly longer, forehead-clinging, fringe.
The 1990s was also the era of spiky hair, where gel was generously deployed to create stiff hedgehog spikes of hair, often dyed in a rainbow of colours and frosted blonde at the tips to give the whole head a strikingly astonishing appearance.
A new millennium, new hairstyles…The emphasis in the early years of the 21st century was on relaxed ease and low maintenance. Hair, long on top, was carefully cut and layered, and even razored around the edges, to give it a deconstructed look - the so-called shag.
The classic ‘taper’ cut, owes much to the enduring popularity of ‘Mad Men’ and Don Draper’s suave allure. A neat side parting, with the hair cut short on the sides and neck, epitomised this success driven, Madison Avenue executive. A liberal applications of a styling product such Truefitt & Hill’s Euchrisma Clay, to keep hair neatly in place, will go a long way to emulate this iconically chic look.
At the more extreme end of the styling spectrum, the ‘Faux Hawk, was a kind of toned-down, and less alarming, Mohawk (the spiked extravaganza of the punk era). Hair was grown longer down the middle of the head and marshalled, with the aid of hair gel, into a low-key central spike, with a medium-length sides and back. Cast your mind back to David Beckham’s appearance in the 2002 World Cup.
Many of the preceding trends have been reimagined and reworked over the last ten years. Modern bowl cuts and mop cuts, with long hair on top, have been brought into the 21st century by using strong undercuts and very short, or shaved, backs and sides. The style can be enhanced by a product like Truefitt & Hill’s Mellifore Fibre, which will give the hair a natural, medium hold, while keeping it pliable. The impact of the style is focused on the strong contrast of the shaved sides and more luxuriant hair on the top. Cillian Murphy sported a dramatic version of the style in the popular TV show Peaky Blinders.
While the retro styling owed much to the savagely barbered look that was sported by many men at the turn of the 20th century, a very marked contrast can be found in the man buns, ponytails and Samurai-style top knots that are now being seen as the very essence of hipster style – long hair is back in vogue, and the fashion wheel once again turns a full circle.