If long, shaggy hairstyles are all carefully coiffed peacockery and close shorn buzz cuts are bold in their scalp-baring daring then crew cuts occupy a middle point on the hair spectrum. And, as a result they don’t command nearly enough of the respect they deserve.
Sure, crew cut hairstyles are traditional, tidy and haven’t got the same look-at-me star-wattage as other hairstyle trends, but what they lack in showiness they make up in slickness and practicality. With a crew cut atop of your crown you’ll still be able to leave the house in reasonable time and won’t need to restyle it five times a day, either.
In short, it’s the ideal hairstyle for men who want to look their best without battling with their barnet on the regular.
What Is A Crew Cut?
The terms “crew cut” and “buzz cut” are often used interchangeably, but for anyone asking for the latter from their barber and expecting the former is in for a shock. “Unlike the buzz cut, the crew cut is tapered in the back and sides (sometimes with a fade) and there’s more length left on top.” says Callum McDonald, a barber at Ruffians.
Whereas the buzz cut most often requires clippering the hair to its shortest all over the head, crew cuts retain visible length on the top of the head and vary in length on the sides of the head. So, the buzz cut is basically bald, whereas a crew cut is cropped but not so closely shorn.
How Did The Crew Cut Get Popular?
If you were in any doubt that the crew cut was one of the most convenient cuts for men, then consider this heroic hairstyle’s (figurative) roots. “It’s thought that the term crew cut was coined to describe the hairstyles worn by members of US Ivy League university rowing teams around the turn of the last century,” says McDonald.
It wasn’t just a frat boy whim that gave this hairstyle traction, but also its fuss-free finish. “The style was favoured because it’s short and tidy: ideal for keeping hair from being blown into the face of the rower.”
Soon enough, army recruits enlisted too. “The style grew massively in popularity when the look was adopted by the US Army in the 1930s,” says McDonald. “Again it was prized for its ease of maintenance.”
The crew just isn’t just a practical, it wins the popular vote too. Thanks to the style’s length all hair types can apply, in the process levelling the playing field between those with shiny lustrous locks, unmanageable curls and fine thread like strands.
Key Crew Cut Hairstyles And How To Get Them
The Classic Crew Cut
The crew cut may have originally been recruited by pragmatic rowers and recruits, but now you’re more likely to see the style doing the rounds on the heads of leading men during Hollywood’s awards season. It’s classic, neat and goes a long way in helping style-conscious stars keep off dreaded worst-dressed lists.
“In essence this is a classic textured shape,” says Luke Benson, creative director at Luke Benson Hair. “If you like a clipper finish to the sides ask for something no shorter than a grade three, if a softer or more textured finish is desired ask for a square layered shape achieved with scissors. Length at the top should blend into the sides nicely with the length gradually increasing towards the front hairline so it can either be worn as a quiff or down and choppy.”
With length on the top and sides comes some responsibility to perform (minimal) styling wizardry. “A dry, textured pomade is perfect for this style, but if you’re after something more obviously groomed use a product that has an element of shine as a finish. Less is more on this look so don’t be too fussy in how your style it,” says Benson.
The Textured Crew Cut
Whereas the OG crew cut was all about keeping it neat (no doubt with the aid of a truck load of pomade), it’s the 21st century now and you’re (probably) not on an Ivy League sports team, so you can afford to muss the style up a bit. This is where the textured crew cut comes in: it’s essentially the classic crew cut but undone.
A textured crew cut leaves the hair a little longer than usual on top and your barber should use scissors to give more texture,” says McDonald. “Otherwise, the cut is still the same as a classic crew cut: tapered at the back and sides with a fade with some length left on top. Jake Gyllenhaal wears this look extremely well.”
The key to nailing it lies in the product you use, says McDonald. “A sea salt spray will create more texture and definition on the top of your head and offer a hold that lasts all day.” Use your hands to mess things up at bit and you’re golden.
The Crew Cut Fade
The crew cut fade has a cohort of celebrity fans with impeccable follicular credentials: Ryan Reynolds, Zac Efron, Tom Hardy, Brad Pitt and even David Beckham himself have adopted the cut in recent years. So, not only is this take on the crew cut utilitarian, it’s cool AF too.
“The crew cut fade keeps the lengthier, textured top of a classic crew cut but has a low to mid fade on the back and sides,” says Stel Nicolaou, educator in barbering at Aveda. “Ask your barber to keep the fade mid or low with most of the weight around the back and sides while maintaining most of the top length to keep the cut modern and rugged.”
Styling this trending take on the crew cut requires a different tack depending on your natural hair type. “If your hair is straight maintain the style with a texturising wax such as thickening paste. Wavier styles should go for a texture spray for added grip while those after something slicker should opt for pomade to achieve for a high-shine finish,” says Nicolaou.
The Short Crew Cut
Crew cuts don’t necessarily have to go down the conservative route – in fact, they can skate perilously close to the buzz cut by going super short on the sides and (almost) obliterating that length on top. The result is a hairstyle which sits comfortably between the severity of a buzz cut and the smartness of a crew cut: pretty short, but it’s not going to kill your chances of getting a ‘proper’ job.
“The faded sides of a short crew cut are the most important thing here: the fade has to be done well! It can’t be too severe and show the difference in grade lengths,” says Benson. “The hair should fade from a zero to your desired length. This should be a grade two or three while the length on top should be cropped super short at fingers width: enough to give a texture but long enough not to appear shaved.”
Once you’ve made sure that you’ve swerved the dreaded line fade, the rest is thankfully plain sailing. “Minimal effort and product will be needed at this length. Just towel dry or give your hair a quick blast with the dryer then add a matte paste to take any fluffiness away.”
The Side Swept Crew Cut
If Take Ivy is your style bible, then by extension, the side swept crew cut should be your modus operandi. The side swept crew cut goes full retro by throwing the style back to the chino and penny loafer wearing preps of the middle of last century. Fortunately though, adopting this collegiate cool style requires no straight As.
“For the side swept crew cut, the back and sides of the hair should be faded high, resulting in removal of all of the weight from that area,” says Nicolaou. “So, ask your barber for short, sharp back and sides with top length maintained so that it can be put in a side parting. More texture can be added into this style if needed by using scissors to slice into the top length of the hair.”
To ensure that the style stays modern and doesn’t go full university pastiche, stay away from any styling products which promise turbo shine. “Maintain the style with matt based product applied through the hair using your fingertips, manipulating to create a textured finish: Ryan Reynolds does this look very well.”