The rise and rise of the post-lockdown buzz cut
A new bold and buzzed era is currently underway.
In 2007, the front page of tabloid newspapers were plastered with Britney Spears' freshly shaved head. Paparazzi shots of her so-called “meltdown” — buzzing her own head at a salon after a hairdresser refused and swinging an umbrella into the side of one pap’s car — were spread and dissected by the public. The media portrayed the incident and her new hairstyle as a sign that the star had gone off the rails, despite many years of public scrutiny.
Over a decade later, during the first wave of global pandemic lockdowns, a shaved head became the symbol of people at their breaking point. In what became a bizarre viral internet phenomenon, people took to their hair with clippers — sharing liberating videos in which they shed their long hair on TikTok. Why is it then that, as lockdowns lift in many parts of the world, the buzz cut has emerged as the hairstyle of the moment?
Last July, model Iris Law broke the internet with a shaved head she debuted in British Vogue. She’s since bleached it blonde and kept it short. Almost everyone in the Smith family has joined the buzz cut brigade, with Willow and Jada posting a matching buzz cut moment on Instagram. Jaden has also previously shaved his head on stage. Then there’s the much-discussed Gossip Girl reboot released this year starring Jordan Alexander. Currently rocking a shaved head, the actress plays the rich influencer Julien Calloway, cementing the buzz cut as the hairstyle of the moment for it-girls.
As much as we hate to admit it, when celebrities and influencers get on board with a trend, the world follows. Thus, the buzz cut has gone mainstream. In a short span of time, it has undergone a complete rebrand from being perceived as a sign of crisis to one of fall 2021’s biggest hair trends. This, says 26-year-old photographer Ella Ezeike, might be due to a shift in perspectives and beauty ideals taking place during the pandemic. “I think people are shaving their heads because they're not attached to the superficialities of who they are anymore or what defines them,” she says. “Shaving my head meant being free and escaping the constructs of femininity, it also helped me love my face more.”
This yearning for transformation is perhaps what inspired so many to pick up shavers during lockdowns. For 23-year-old musician Melanie Mehaj, giving herself a buzz cut felt like a “rebirth”. “I was going through a really rough time experiencing a heartbreak and struggling with my worth,” she told i-D. “I base a lot of my problems on how I look. I felt this would be a way for me to rid myself of superficial worries and really focus on my self confidence and inner growth.”
The buzz cut has a long history of being political. In the 50s, the US military required induction cuts to reduce things like the spread of head lice in close quarters, and to prevent the enemy from grabbing a soldier by the hair, according to The Encyclopedia of Hair by Victoria Sherrow. By the 70s, buzz cuts entered the cultural zeitgeist through icons like Annie Lennox and Grace Jones, who famously said shaving her hair led to her first orgasm. Even then, the hairstyle was seen more as part of a counter-cultural movement and as a means to avoid the never-ending costs of keeping up with the era’s prevailing beauty standards. In 2009, Solange shaved her head after expressing that she was fed up with spending money on her hair. Honestly, same.
Today, a buzz cut is a blank canvas for creativity. Hair stylists like Janina Zais have been creating flame patterns and rainbow designs on freshly shaved and bleached heads of hair. Men including Gossip Girl reboot star Evan Mock are rocking pastel pink buzz cuts and leopard print spots — a style previously seen on style provocateur Dennis Rodman, Tyler, the Creator and even on the Versace runway.
For Anna Yum, a 23-year-old based in Brooklyn, who shaved her head last October and again this fall, getting a buzz cut was a way to redefine herself away from her hair. “Growing up, I was always known for having long hair,” she says. “It felt like it was my main trait that defined me and I hated it.” Anna’s Aunt applied a permanent Japanese straightener treatment to her hair when she was eight, which chemically-altered her hair for five years. “I felt pigeonholed and victimed into a societal expectation that frames beauty under whiteness rather than accepting my full bi-racial identity,” she says.
Anna says she was nervous to shave her head at first because she worried how other people would view her. By her second shave, it felt “natural and intuitive”. “I think people are shaving their heads more now post-pandemic because there has been a lot of individual time to self-reflect,” she says. “We live in a society that is constantly plugged in and connected and that in itself is extremely overwhelming to digest.”
While there’s no denying that the shaved head has undergone a rebrand — from being a political statement, to a key moment in Britney’s public downfall, to a sign of pandemic boredom, to one of the key hair trends this year — it’s little surprise that out of a global crisis came the rise of a hairstyle that to so many signals the fresh start we’re all collectively yearning for. As Anna puts it: “Shaving my head made me feel empowered and fearless of expectations to keep up with people and with this pace of life.”