A history of the modern world in 7 haircuts

Learn how civil rights, war and economic boom and bust shaped the hair on our head in The Barber Book
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Wally’s barber shop after the London Blitz, 1940. As reproduced in The Barber Book. © Getty Images / Hulton Archive / Fox Photos
Wally’s barber shop after the London Blitz, 1940. As reproduced in The Barber Book. © Getty Images / Hulton Archive / Fox Photos

Which European nation invented the undercut? How did the US military revive a Native American hairstyle? And why was the Afro once viewed as a mark of Western sophistication? All is revealed in this short extract from The Barber Book, a fun and instructive guide to the most popular men's hairstyles of the 20th century.

 

A German soldier with an undercut on the Eastern Front, 1942. From The Barber Book. © MONDADORI Portfolio / AkgImages
A German soldier with an undercut on the Eastern Front, 1942. From The Barber Book. © MONDADORI Portfolio / AkgImages

1 The Undercut 

In its native Germany in the late 19th century, 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 haircut took hold with British street gangs and crossed the Atlantic with Scottish and Irish immigrants.

 

A modern crew cut on the streets of London, 2013. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / PYMCA / UIG
A modern crew cut on the streets of London, 2013. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / PYMCA / UIG

2 The Crew Cut

Popular among the rowing teams 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 for the United States Military.

 

A British punk with tattoos, piercings and Mohawk, 1982. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / sspl / Manchester Daily Express
A British punk with tattoos, piercings and Mohawk, 1982. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / sspl / Manchester Daily Express

3 The Mohawk

The Mohawk haircut has its origins among the Native American peoples of the Iroquois League, who lived in large forests in the northeastern US. Fierce Mohawk warriors shaved the sides of their heads, leaving only a brush-like strip of hair at the top, kept stiff with boar grease or resin.

During World War II, the Screaming Eagles (the US paratrooper division sent to Normandy on D Day) adopted the instantly recognizable symbol. Inspired by one Native paratrooper, this group of soldiers broke military rules, transforming their hair into Mohawks and painting their faces with tribal signs.

 

Elvis Presley, 1956. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives
Elvis Presley, 1956. From The Barber Book. © Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives

4 The Rockabilly

Rockabilly hairstyles echo Elvis Presley’s. There is not one specific cut, but the long length, enthusiastic use of brilliantine, and big sculpted or curly quiffs are cornerstones of the look. A banana-shaped volume is completed at the nape by a ‘duck’s arse’ - or DA - a shape apparently invented by Philadelphia barber Joe Cirello in 1940.

 

British Mods in the 1960s, as reproduced in The Barber Book. © pymca / David McEnery / Rex Features
British Mods in the 1960s, as reproduced in The Barber Book. © pymca / David McEnery / Rex Features
 

5 The French Crop or Mod

In a Britain of hand-me-downs and smoky pubs the Mods proposed coffee shops and sartorial precision. To have a properly executed Perry Como or French Crop was no easy task. The barber’s tribulations started when he was asked for a ‘no-product haircut’, meaning a cut that required no use of brilliantine. The Mods shunned hair pomades and oils, opting instead for haircuts with a shape defined by the careful use of razors and tapering.

 

The Barber Book's skinhead illustration, by Matteo Guarnaccia
The Barber Book's skinhead illustration, by Matteo Guarnaccia

6 The Skinhead

Skinheads had been around since the mid 1960s, as an offshoot of the Mods, listening to bands on the ska scene. In the late 1960s, young working-class men who began to organize themselves into pseudo-military gangs adopted their short, severe haircut as a badge of membership.

 

Afro pioneer Jimi Hendrix. As reproduced in The Barber Book. 1967 © Getty Images / Monitor Picture Library /Photoshot
Afro pioneer Jimi Hendrix. As reproduced in The Barber Book. 1967 © Getty Images / Monitor Picture Library /Photoshot

7 The Afro

In the late nineteenth century, African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and other groups from the African diaspora began to use heavy cosmetics to style their hair, weighing down their curls in an attempt to adhere to Caucasian beauty standards. A new black awareness arose in the mid-1960s, promoting ethnic identity as valuable rather than a mark of shame. The Afro celebrates the natural beauty of curly hair. When the style reached Africa in the mid-1970s, the social elite embraced it, wearing it as a sign of modernity and a more Western, progressive look.

 

The Barber Book
The Barber Book
 

Find out more, and learn how and where you can get the look in our new title, The Barber Book.


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