There’s a good chance that 90 per cent of what’s hanging up in your wardrobe right now was influenced by the military in some way. And the trend extends north of the neckline too.
Many a brilliant hairstyle has its roots planted in the forces and they all share one common trait: these cuts are as timeless as they come. So, if you’re looking for a bomb-proof ‘do, capable of transcending the decades and remaining relevant, then a military cut is definitely something to consider.
Military Grooming Regulations
Being a military man isn’t all about how many chin-ups you can do or how hairy your chest is. Well, it is a little bit, because in addition to all the physical obstacles to navigate on that basic training assault course, recruits need to jump through a few grooming-related hoops too.
The good news for the rest of us is that these strict tonsorial regulations have led to the creation of some of the snappiest haircuts going. But what guidelines do these highly-regimented cuts actually need to adhere to in order to make it out of the barber shop and onto the battlefield?
The Queen’s Regulations for the Army state that: “The hair of the head is to be kept well cut and trimmed, except where authority has been granted otherwise on religious grounds; style and colour (if not natural) is not to be of an exaggerated nature.”
That all sounds pretty straightforward, but in the US, things are a little stricter. Soldiers in the States are required to do all of the above while also ensuring that when the hair is combed it doesn’t fall over the ears or eyebrows. Hair also needs to “present a tapered appearance,” meaning that the back and sides must conform to the curvature of the head.
It’s these strict specifications that have paved the way for many a military mop.
Military Hair And Grooming Through The Ages
Over the course of history, grooming trends in the armed forces have fluctuated just as regularly as they have in the civilian world. Facial hair has grown longer, then shorter, then longer again, then a bit shorter, then medium length, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
With the amount of change that has taken place over the years in the beard and moustache department (N.B. just a turn of phrase, not an actual military division), it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that accepted haircuts have remained more or less the same since the formation of the British Armed Forces all the way back in 1707.
The main thing that has changed is length. American influence saw shorter, closer cropped hairstyles gaining popularity after the Second World War, driving longer styles out.
Regardless of these minor updates the basic foundation of all military haircuts has remained the same: they’re neat, they’re smart, they’re practical, they suit most face shapes and they’re timeless.
Why Are Military Haircuts So Popular?
It’s pretty much impossible to think of a military haircut that can’t be described as classic, and there’s a reason for that. Simply put, these trims are clean and inoffensive. They looked good 100 years ago, they look good today and they’ll continue to look good a century from now.
“The reason for their enduring popularity is that they are simple, strong, masculine and timeless,” says Johnny Shanahan, owner of UK barbering chain Barber Barber. “Ultimately style like this never goes out of fashion.”
The Best Military Haircuts For Men
The benefits of going commando upstairs are clear to see, which means you’re probably thinking about getting one of these time-honoured trims for yourself. Well, before you march yourself down to the barber shop, check out our edit of the best military cuts and how to get them.
When it comes to haircuts, it doesn’t get much less complex than a buzz cut. Super-short, same length all over, clean, no styling required and a great option for guys who are thinning or receding on top.
The buzz cut’s neat look and lack of fuss has made it a popular choice for military men, but it’s a great style for us civvies too.
“[This year] we will see short hair becoming even shorter,” says Ross Parlane, owner of the award-winning Ross Parlane Barbershop in Manchester. “Guys are now fed up of styling and maintaining their hair. They have so much going on and they want a style that’s easy to manage. This is the answer.”
The buzz cut is universally understood by all barbers, but if you want to give your trim a slight edge, Parlane suggests asking yours to take it down with scissors on top first with a nice fade and taking a minute to see how you like it. “This will create more texture and give less of a harsh finish,” he says.
In terms of styling, there’s nothing to worry about at all. Just enjoy the extra 10 minutes in bed each the morning. The only thing you’ll need to do is return to your local barber shop every two weeks or so to keep it looking clean and avoid the dreaded furry tennis ball look.
Favoured by hard-as-nails army dudes including, but not limited to, Guile from Street Fighter and that baddie out of Avatar, the flat top is the haircut of choice for only the most badass of military men. Several subcultures over the years have adopted the style for themselves too, rockabilly being the most obvious.
There’s no getting around the fact that the flat top is a bold look, but if you think you can pull it off then more power to you.
“The main thing about this cut is the straight lines and the square look of it,” says Joe Mills, one of London’s top barbers and self-confessed flat top lover. “There are variations but at its core this is a box cut.”
The flat top is a notoriously tricky cut for barbers to master and there are only a handful of professionals who can pull it off correctly. So, what should you ask for?
“I would be asking for traditional flat top,” says Mills. “But you need to be clear on the length you want to go for. The shorter it is at the front the the shorter it will be on the crown. Also think about how short you want to go around the back and sides – the length here will dictate how sharp and square it can be. Ideally, a grade two or shorter would be best.”
To make sure things are kept looking nice and angular, Mills suggests paying your barber a visit once a month at the least. “Styling-wise, towel dry and apply wax to push the hair into place,” adds Mills “Super easy!”
High And Tight
Close your eyes and visualise a US marine. We’d be willing to put a tenner on this being the exact haircut your subconscious gave him.
The high and tight is the definitive military haircut, worn for its neat, tapered appearance and fuss-free styling. It features a closely clippered back and sides all the way up to a few inches above the temples, with a patch of slightly longer hair on top.
“We’re seeing the high and tight becoming more and more popular these days,” says Parlane. “A nice tight fade going around the head is very important, but it’s also crucial to maintain a square shape within the overall cut.”
Make sure your barber doesn’t go too high, though, as this can make your face look overly round. “No man wants that,” says Parlane. “Ask your barber to maintain a nice tight fade while keeping the square shape overall.”
The crew cut is to men’s haircuts what the Biro is to pens – it’s not the flashiest, it doesn’t have any intriguing details, but it’s the original and it gets the job done.
The style has been popular since at least the mid-18th century and its sharp looks and practicality have made it a firm favourite right to this day. And let’s face it, there aren’t many things in male grooming that can have that said about them (we’re looking at you, lambchop sideburns).
“A classic crew cut has a rough and unfinished look,” explains Nick Barford, senior barber at Nomad London. “It has a short and textured top with a fade from as short as skin to a number 1 on the back and sides. The top is never more than an inch long.”
Like the look of it? Good. But what should you ask your barber for? “Ask for a textured crew cut that is finger length (around an inch) or shorter on top cut with scissors, with a short fade on the sides,” says Barford.
Then it’s just a case of styling and maintenance which, like the cut itself, is pretty straightforward. “The best way to maintain a cut this short is by going to your barber regularly around every two weeks,” suggests Barford. “Depending on your hair density you can use a light paste or heavier clay for a matte textured finish.”
Ivy League/Harvard Clip
Granted, the Ivy League’s name doesn’t exactly scream US Marine Corps. but this preppy style has become a common sight in the forces over the years – most notably during World War II. The look became popular with officers and higher-ranking military personnel, due to its smart and well-presented appearance.
“The Ivy League (aka the Harvard Clip) is similar to a crew cut but the difference lies in the hair being long enough on top to style with a side part, while graduating shorter on the back n sides,” explains Joth Davies, master barber and owner of Savills barbershop.
If you’re keen on this classic, polished style, Davies suggests asking your barber for a short back and sides with medium-length scalp coverage, tapering to the skin in the nape of the neck. “The length on top will vary depending on the thickness and density of the hair,” adds Davies. “But usually about one to two inches in length with the longest at the front graduating to around half an inch shorter at the crown.”
To keep things in shape you should be aiming to visit your barber once a month for a tidy up. For maintenance at home, style with pomade and comb into a side parting or for a looser, more natural finish, use a soft clay or a paste instead.
If you’re looking for a seriously masculine haircut, the butch cut does exactly what it says on the tin. This low-maintenance do is a great option if you like the look of a short buzz cut but don’t quite have the stones to set your clippers to a grade zero.
The best way to think of it is like a shorter version of a crew cut. The hair is buzzed short on the top, but even shorter still on the back and sides where it tapers down the back of the neck. “The best things about this style are that it’s easy to maintain, neat, fuss-free and requires no styling products whatsoever,” says Shanahan.
When it comes to visiting your barber to get the snip, Shanahan says it couldn’t be easier to get what you want. “Ask for a high and tight, zero at the sides and between a one and a three on top.”
To keep things looking crisp and fresh, make sure to visit your barber every two weeks for a spot of maintenance. Other than that, you can just leave it alone and get on with being hard as nails.