Rock, a hairy history

Isn’t hairstyle the color of rock music? The visual tone by which we can instantly and instinctively identify a group’s musical identity or genre? Often even a characteristic asset of credibility? Here’s an insightful chronology of once controversial coiffures.

The birth of rockabilly and its rise to cultural dominance in the fifties spawned the archetype of rock hair: the pompadour. Its greasy grandeur was a sign of freedom and rebellion to the youth and a vulgar vice to their parents. Thus instantly capturing the essence of rock hair: a logo to each generation gap. For decades to come hair length would be the source of many a parental dispute, starting with the Wings that accompanied the British Mod culture of the sixties as popularized by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and later revived by the Britpop boom of the nineties. It’s hard to imagine, that this now standard student cut, could get you expelled or fired for indecent and vulgar appearance just half a century ago, especially when you consider that it was already a common trait among Victorian gentlemen in the 19th century.

With the Wings barely covering the ears, there were still lots of length (and shock value) to be gained. The sixties saw rock quickly evolve into different directions. Where The Doors progressed it into more psychedelic grounds and The Velvet Underground laid the foundation for punks to come, it was the heavy metal of Black Sabbath that would cause the next shock wave. Walking a way paved by the hippies, this masculine force of power saw the men now wearing their locks like girls down to their shoulders. What a perversity!

As rock music seemingly had reached its peak in loudness and the hairdo simultaneously having maxed out its length, new youths were in search for alternative expressions of radicalism. Where the glam culture of the early 70s took the androgyny of metal hair to new extremes of gender ambiguity, it was not until the British punk explosion that we saw a profoundly new haircut appear into rock culture. Enter the Mohawk. Or more specifically the Liberty spikes. In the Ancient Briton age of millenniums past this hairdo was a warrior badge of honor and manhood, only to be worn by those who had killed an enemy. Now it had become a pejorative symbol of being out of place in society and probably being out of a job, too. A punk profanity that fits well with bands wearing such names as the Sex Pistols. Through punk we also saw a new extreme appear: the skinhead. It was the choice of (no) hair for those who saw violence as a virtue and hatred as their heartbeat. Or at least that was the image it would accompany.

Although psychobilly, hardcore punk, post-punk and goth rock all had their own typical variations on the above, and even though a genre called hair metal dominated the charts in the eighties, we would have to wait till the nineties for another quintessential hair style to make its mark on rock fashion, the dreadlock. Mostly associated with reggae music, it was through death metal, crust punk, grindcore, crossover, grunge and nu-metal that we would now see young white adolescents bringing this new hair texture into the clubs.

The beginning of the 21st century would see armies of depressed, introverted and angst-ridden teens starting to comb their hair forwards, hiding one or both eyes behind a straightened curtain of black dyed emo hair. It is with this trend that our little history comes to an end. We’re curious to see what new hair attitudes will color the future.

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