A man’s hair has always been an important identifier of success; historically, it would denote class, wealth and masculinity. Now? Not much has changed. And, despite some tweaks to length and texture, nor have the styles.
What looked good on Roman emperors still flatters you. So take a lesson from 2,000 years of follicular history and maybe one day they’ll carve your ‘do in marble.
320 BC: Alexander The Great
Textured & Messy Up Top, Smooth & Clean Down Low
It’s not easy being in charge of the entire Macedonian empire. When you’re considering which Aegean territory to take over next, you don’t want to worry about whether it’s got styling mousse. Mr. The Great’s haircut is easy to maintain, says Alex Glover, master barber at Murdock Liberty. A tousled, shaggy look, it recently resurfaced as this season’s most practical style.
“It’s best worn pushed just off the face, and tucked behind the ears,” says Glove, which allows the natural direction of the growth to frame the face. Enhance the texture by scrunching a sea salt spray through the hair when drying – and then use a matt clay or putty to control the hold.
If your battle uniform is sewn on Savile Row, your own army’s emperor might confuse ‘texture’ for ‘mess’. So only copy Alex’s style if your workplace tends more towards jeans. Wear without a beard or any facial hair, like Alexander himself (he was famous for having the ancient world’s only clean shaven army), or the overall look will appear untamed.
100 BC: Julius Caesar
Classic, Sophisticated & Face-Framing Crop
Caesar’s textured crop is as flattering as it is recognisable. “It’s defined by the hair being trimmed to the same length all over,” says Glover. “This gives a gentle appearance to a man’s face.” And some imperial cheekbones. “The edges should be naturally textured and not too neat.” So make sure your barber doesn’t come over all Brutus with the scissors.
To style, allow to dry naturally then apply a soft finish hair product, such as a styling cream, gum or wax, Glover advises.
This cut is suited to those with finer hair who want to give the illusion of thicker growth – just don’t pair with a toga, no matter how classic your style.
1900: George V
Slick Side-Parting & Well-Groomed Facial Hair
A versatile look not only confined to the higher echelons of turn-of-the-century aristocracy, “King George V had a well-groomed style that would not look out of place in any decade,” says Alan Jones, from the eponymous grooming parlour.
It’s versatile, too. “The side-parting can be worn at different lengths, so is great when in between cuts.” Opt for a tapered back and sides if you want to discard tradition and modernise the cut.
To style, separate the parting using a comb and apply a wax/pomade (slick finish) or matte paste/clay (natural finish). If your hair is particularly unruly, use a hairspray to set the parting in place.
For facial hair fit for a king, run an oil through your beard to condition and then use a wax to bring definition to your moustache.
1950s: Elvis Presley
A little less slick-back action, a little more texture, please: go for a short taper on the neckline, and softer scissored texture on top, to make The King’s a bit more modern.
As there is a natural finish to this style, Jones says it’s ideal to use a base product, like a cream: “Then rough dry the hair with your fingers to get it into place.” Finish with American Crew’s Fiber – but you only need to apply a little bit.
“This look is not for everyone, as it’s a longer, more natural style,” says Jones. “It’s better for someone with thicker hair and a natural wave.” It falls out of place easily as well, so fix with a strong hold hairspray if you find your style falls flat before lunch.
1995: Will Smith
From Grace Jones via the Fresh Prince, the high-top fade rose to prominence via music culture, explains afro specialist Richard Tucker from Ruffians Barbers. “It’s now become an art form that barbers try to perfect, and customers love the precision.”
“It’s a great way to control thick, curly hair,” Tucker says, “but you’ll need to visit your barber every couple of weeks for top ups to keep it looking its best.”
To style, use a bristle brush to keep any fly-away hairs in check, and then scrunch in a pomade to achieve a healthy-looking finish. If you’ve gone for a full-on high-top (rather than a low-top), use a hairspray and afro comb to properly shape. Pat to keep in place.
2015: David Beckham
Textured Falling Quiff
Arguably Becks’ most popular haircut of late, the textured falling quiff from his 2015 H&M campaign shoot makes it onto this list for its contemporary classicism. Or classic contemporaneity. Basically, it will stand the test of time.
An ordinary footballer fade this ain’t. “Clippers shouldn’t be used here,” says Tucker. “The back and sides must be scissored for extra texture and less noticeable contrast.” When styling, take a paste and a pomade, and rub together in your hands.
Apply the products into towel dried hair with your hands, perhaps with a bit of salt spray for extra texture. “Then rake backwards, scrunching, to achieve that falling strand.”
It’s quite a floppy style, so works well with medium to thick hair with a slight natural wave. It’s worn best standing on the sidelines, rather than running about for 90 minutes. Or that volume will quickly collapse into a sweaty mess.