Men’s hairstyles of the 1940s found their roots in the Depression-era styles of the 1930s. The styles further came under the influence of a variety of factors including the golden age of cinema, World War II and jazz music and subculture. Taken together, the hairstyles of the 1940s serve as an aesthetic bridge between the first part of the century, characterized by relatively short, conservative styles, to the latter half, with its increasingly wild and experimental culture and fashion.
World War II created a widespread military influence in American culture during the 1940s, reflected in lifestyle, mode of dress and hairstyles throughout the decade. Fighting men and civilians alike adopted extremely short hairstyles because they were practical, conservative and easily groomed.
Hairstyles with origins in the military climate of the 1940s include the buzz cut, the crew cut and the flat top. A buzz cut was cropped very short around the entirety of the head. Maintaining the style became simplified with the introduction of electric clippers for use at home. The crew cut was a standard military hairdo, cropped extremely short on the sides, with a little extra length on top. The flat top, frequently cut with a razor, incorporated the extremely short sides and back of the crew cut. MEn with flat tops left the hair atop the head 1 or 2 inches longer and trimmed it to look flat and blocky across the crown of the head.
While military styles became a pervasive influence, hairstyles of the 1930s continued to evolve and change in the 1940s. Common styles incorporated short lengths on the sides, and ever-increasing length on the top. Having extremely long hair on the sides and back was controversial, but men frequently grew the hair on the tops of their heads long and slicked it back with pomade. Men also commonly wore their hair with a single side part and swept it along the sides of their heads. The conventional styles of the day centered on a tidy, refined appearance with a nod to cultural icons such as Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra.
Other Popular Styles
The pompadour began to reappear in popular culture during the middle of the 20th century. This style consists of long hair piled high in the front and swept back in a wave along the head. One hairstyle owing its origins to the pompadour is the ducktail, which became increasingly common in the 1930s and 1940s. The ducktail consists of a pompadour front, with the sides slicked back to ridge at the back of the head.
While Joe Cirello, a barber in Philadelphia during the 1940s, claims to have invented the ducktail, it was also an extremely popular style among the Pachucos of Los Angeles at the time. The ducktail increased in popularity and gradually became synonymous with the culture of disaffected youth that gave rise to the greasers and rock and roll.
Facial hair was common but seldom extravagant. Mustaches were the most common type of facial hair worn by men of the time. Motion picture stars such as Clark Gable popularized pencil mustaches.
Beards were far less common and were frequently represented jazz subculture, wherein goatees, moutees, soul patches and Van Dykes became increasingly popular through the end of the decade, through the 1950s. A goatee refers to a tuft of hair worn on the chin, while a moutee is a goatee attached to a mustache via strips of hair along the sides of the mouth. A soul patch consists of facial hair just below the lower lip. A Van Dyke is a goatee combined with a mustache, not necessarily attached. All of these styles represent relative modest beard styles. Full beards would not make a popular resurgence until the attainment of prominence by the countercultural movements of the late 1950s and 1960s.
References and ResourcesCosmetic Beauty: A Long History of Male Grooming
Thinkquest: Hair and Hairstyles Over the Years
"Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History"; Victoria Sherrow; 2006