A good haircut can define a man, but a great haircut can define an entire decade. Sure, a bad haircut can too, but we’re not here to talk about mullets or man buns.
Here we look back at the follicle hall of fame – the haircuts that made history for all the right reasons and have somehow managed to transcend time and stay looking great today (albeit with a few tweaks in the case of frosted tips).
We’ve rounded up some of the most iconic styles from the last 70 years and tapped our friends at London’s leading barbers to advise you on how to get the look for yourself. No time travel needed.
The Ivy League
Forget about gravity-defying pomps and bushy sideburns – the real star hairstyle of the 1950s was the Ivy League. Also known as the Harvard Clip or Princeton, this classic style is a slightly longer version of a military crew cut. The extra length allows the wearer more scope for styling on top – traditionally into a side parting. Think Daniel Craig or Ryan Gosling’s shorter styles.
“In the 1950s and early 1960s, Ivy League universities on the US East Coast still had policies on how students should wear their hair,” explains Joe Pomper, a senior barber at Murdock in Covent Garden. “This style spread throughout the US in popularity and became a standard offering on barber’s boards.”
To recreate the look today, Pomper suggests asking the barber to use a grade five on the back and sides, blending downwards to a three and eventually a two at the nape of the neck. On top, ask for any excess length to be trimmed with scissors to keep everything neat and style using a medium hold and shine product.
The French Crop
Along with his pelvic thrusts, Elvis Presley’s pompadour frequently tops polls of the most defining moments of the swinging sixties. But the decade also gave rise to arguably the coolest subculture not just of the era, but of all time.
The mods popularised many items considered wardrobe staples today (think parka coats, Chelsea boots and slim tailoring), and the group also brought with them their own signature hairstyle: the French crop.
“This is a smart, short style, tapered on the sides and worn forward with a short fringe,” says Soho’s Fish Hairdressing founder Paul Burfoot. “It’s the perfect hair to complement the clean lines of a well-cut whistle [that’s a suit for those of you who aren’t versed in rhyming slang].”
Today, Burfoot achieves the look by giving clients a short back and sides and point cutting on top to add texture. Thinning scissors are then used to remove excess weight and aid movement.
“In terms of styling, the original mods shied away from products, preferring a ‘dry look’. However, a wax is preferable for a more flattering and contemporary finish.”
Long Textured Hair
Aside from bell-bottoms (shudder) and the rise of disco, the 1970s are known for being the decade in which men stopped being ‘men’ – at least as far as their hair was concerned.
Long hair worn with a short beard was the go-to look for the fashion-conscious guys of the time. And the grown-out style has come full circle, being highlighted as one of the key hairstyle trends of 2017.
“The 1970s is a great era to take inspiration from at the moment, as it’s hitting the fashion world everywhere,” says Mikey Pearson, director of Manifesto in Clerkenwell. “We mostly have Gucci to thank for that.”
To get this look, you need to ask the barber to cut in layers, which are great for adding softness and adapting the cut to different face shapes.
“Always remember this rule: long hair must have long layers. It’s all about a visual balance, so you don’t end up with two haircuts in one,” adds Pearson.
It’s difficult to imagine a time when hip-hop and rap music didn’t rule the charts, but in the 1980s it was just getting started.
The flat-top fade symbolised hip-hop’s golden age and was worn proudly by many of the scene’s key players like Big Daddy Kane, Kid ‘n Play, and the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith.
To get it for yourself, you’re going to need to grow the ‘fro out for this one. Joe Mills, owner of Joe and Co. barbers in Soho, suggests starting by asking a barber to create the perfect boxed flat-top: “the higher, the better.”
“This is a free-hand cut and needs to be done by someone who knows their craft,” says Mills. “Don’t let the barber go too tight on the fade around the edges, but they should keep the hairline detailed.” Aside from that, get yourself a wide tooth comb and get shaping.
The Liam Gallagher
Think of the nineties, and your mind probably conjures up images of raves, ecstasy tablets, Brit Pop and The Chuckle Brothers. What a time to be alive.
While curtains and bowl cuts were both immeasurably and inexplicably the haircuts du jour, Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher’s messy textured mop is what stands out as the ultimate style.
“Gallagher was arguably the coolest man of nineties Britain,” says Liam Campbell, a senior barber at Nomad in Shoreditch. “His hair reflected his youthful rock ‘n’ roll attitude perfectly.”
Campbell adds that using photos for reference is key to helping a stylist or barber recreate this cut. “This is because the fringe and sideburns will sit differently on different hair types, but an experienced barber will know what to do.”
The noughties were a particularly regrettable decade in terms of men’s hair trends. We had big fringes, faux-hawks and that unsettling, over-gelled noodle thing on Justin Timberlake’s head.
For all the wrong reasons, frosted tips (à la Reese from Malcolm In The Middle) is the style that defined the decade. But don’t worry – unlike the others on this list, we’re not about to suggest the look make a comeback.
Instead, Denis Robinson, artistic director of Ruffians, points to the current trend for bleaching as a modern alternative.
“A growing number of guys are following the likes of Zayn and bleaching their hair this year. This is a brave move that should only be done by an experienced colourist and is best suited to guys in more creative careers with shorter hair, should it need to be grown or cut out.”
Because heavy bleaching can damage the condition of the hair, Robinson also suggests re-thinking your haircare routine. “There’s no more wash-and-go, you need a separate protein shampoo for strength and a hydrating conditioner for moisture, suppleness and shine.”
Slicked Back, Disconnected Sides + Beard
In the current decade, the biggest trend for hair isn’t limited to what’s on top of the head. Since 2010, every man and his dog has been growing a beard like a badge of honour (ranging in success from bushy chin mane to wispy bum fluff).
“Men moved from salons back to barbershops and [as a result, traditional styles like] the pompadour, quiff and side parting, complete with a full beard, became the go-to look,” explains Nomad’s Liam Campbell.
More recently, hair trends have leaned towards slicked back styles with disconnected sides. For a versatile cut, Campbell suggests the following: “Ask the barber to leave enough length on top to create the desired height and style of quiff. Take the sides in tight, preferably skin faded to add definition with a raw edge.”
For styling, use a pomade for a strong hold and high-shine finish, or a matte paste for a more natural look.