Trends have a way of creeping back into the mainstream decades after their peak. Men’s hairstyles are no exception. The proliferation of classic cuts in the 21st century — some from the 1940s — is a welcome resurgence. Unlike of-the-moment fads, these time-tested ‘dos fill an iconic place in American culture, making them more likely to stand the test of time.
The Military Mold
World War II exerted incalculable influence on the culture of the 1940s, right down to men’s hairstyles. In particular, hair trimmed to military regulations informs this look. For a cut that rings up vintage images of “The Greatest Generation” — and offers a low-maintenance, summer-friendly style, to boot — go with a buzz that leaves just a few inches of hair on top. For authenticity’s sake, the cut should taper to the nape of the neck and be neatly edged. Keep the sideburns trimmed, at about mid-ear level.
High and Tight
Perhaps no masculine hairstyle defines the 1940s as much as the high-and-tight cut, a derivative of the close-cropped military style. This style keeps the back and sides short, but allows for more length on the top. To customize the look, determine how “tight” of a cut you want, meaning how closely you wish to shear the sides and back. A bit more length on the back and sides — from about 1/2 inch to an inch or 2 — creates a more refined and conservative look, reminiscent of the actors of the time. Going shorter on the sides and back, a style referred to as a fade or undercut today, makes for an edgier, but still neat, vibe. Likewise, the degree of the fade — or how the short hair transitions into the longer hair — determines the severity of the cut; the more contrast between the lengths, the more daring the look.
Variations in Wear
You have plenty of options for tow to style your ’40s-inspired high-and-tight look on a day-to-day basis. Go product-free or mess up your locks with a matte-textured styling product for a more modern edge. Style it with pomade to honor the haircut’s roots — pun intended — and for a sleeker, more controlled aesthetic. For a formal look, pile on the pomade and slick the hair straight back, or give it the time-tested side part. For a more casual style, reduce the amount of product and sport a small front quiff, the loose curl characterized by the leading men of the era. Ask your barber to cut the top of your hair at slightly different lengths, if you prefer a more modern look; this gives you a bit more texture if you don’t plan to use lots of product.
Accenting Your Coif
Some men of the 1940s wore a mustache with their sleek cuts. To bring this dapper look into the 21st century, keep the ‘stache thin and trimmed, making a nice clean edge between the hair and the upper lip and allowing some clean space under the nose. Don’t let your facial hair shouldn’t extend past the edges of your mouth. Beards, though rarer, were worn short, kept to about an inch in length per military standards. Pair military-inspired haircuts with muted clothing tones; a pilot jacket or peacoat; slim-leg trousers in tweed or herringbone; and leather accessories to complete the vintage “war hero” look. In general, tweed textures, cardigans, knitwear, earthy hues and fitted vests and suits flatter ’40s men’s ‘dos.
References and ResourcesFashionBeans: The Look: War Hero
WWII Historical Re-Enactment Society Inc.: WWII HRS Authenticity Regulations
Vintage Festival: Get the Look! 1940s Men's Fashion and Hair
Swungover: The Art of Vintage Manliness: The Vintage Haircut
Huff Post Style: Here's the Haircut All Men Should Get
ResourcesSchwarzkopf: Cool Guys Wear Undercuts
GQ: Eight Timeless Men's Hairstyles