Men: Short back and sides, sir?

The Barber Book charts the history of the most influential men’s hairstyles — and these four have stood the test of time

Hair is a cultural shorthand, a mirror that reflects individual, collective and stylistic histories. It reminds us of our animal nature — some societies even consider hair the source of man’s vital force. It is a part of the body that can be modified, a perfect testbed for personal experimentation.

Before the 1950s, men kept hair short or under a hat, or wore the regulation haircut of the armed forces. But as the postwar economy boomed, the male archetype was challenged: rock’n’roll was born, and 1950s teenagers found their idol in a greasily quiffed Elvis Presley, a new kind of man who did not hide his narcissism. Subcultures proliferated. Bikers, surfers, hot rodders, beatniks, teddy boys, rockabillies — all offered new ways to escape, and wear hair. Amid the social unrest of the 1960s, hair provided a medium to represent change; by the 1970s, attitudes to hair ranged from skinheads to hippies. Men had reclaimed the power of their hair.

Enter the barber-shop renaissance, where the rituals of male bonding and grooming blossom again. The barber serves as confidant and confessor, a master of elegance in whose hands men place their trust as well as their hair. Here, without rush or fuss, a man can spend guilt-free time on himself in the company of his peers, and indulge in a journey of olfactory and emotional dimensions, of lotions and potions, talcum powder and hot towels. No wonder they choose to chop and change.

The haircuts

Slick back

A hairstyle that admits no flaws, the slick back is a highly effective weapon of seduction. It has been a symbol of masculine elegance since the 1910s, as sported by the Hollywood idol Rudolph Valentino and, latterly, Leo DiCaprio. It’s kept in place with layers of brilliantine, and to ensure it remains smooth 24 hours a day, it’s advised you wear a hairnet in bed.


In trying to hide what was considered a deformity in ancient Rome, the follically challenged Julius Caesar used to comb what hair he had left towards his forehead. Over two millennia, the Caesar has projected an image of power, via George Clooney and Russell Crowe in the 1990s, and Clooney again in Hail, Caesar! And, er, George Osborne.


Introduced by London teenagers in the early 1960s, who proposed sartorial precision and all things new, smart and ultramodern, its present-day ambassadors include the Modfather, Paul Weller, and Liam Gallagher. The style is fixed with hairspray, and the look completed with a rollneck, a short jacket, drainpipes, winkle-pickers, an oversized parka and nonchalance.


Originally the style of the Prussian army, it was the choice of British sportsmen at the turn of the 20th century, and then the Nazis and the US army. Modern-day fans include Zayn Malik, Brad Pitt and David Beckham. Complete the look with stubble or a beard and head-to-toe hipster compliance.