When did you last think about the man bun? Like custard, it came in many flavours: a stumpy, thumb-sized ponytail on the occipital region; the top knot (fast track to going bald, sorry); jazzed up with an undercut. Some of you are recovering bro bun dons; others avoided the mun like shit on the street – but all, it has to be said, have been affected.
See, this haircut in its many variations is the defining (straight-haired) men's style of the decade. Primarily, that’s because, for a good few years, the ‘bun was ev-er-ry-where – perched on Leo DiCaprio’s head in 2013, in Boohoo Man adverts in 2016, spreading through the decade like a bad case of scalp rash. Eventually, it became the go-to style for Real Madrid’s first team and the five guys in your office who eventually lumped the length off and dyed their buzz cut blonde.
It followed on from the short-back-and-sides plus volume on top cut you might know as the Macklemore or Hitler Youth. In a way, the bun was the moment men decided to let go. After all, to get the look, you initially have to let your hair do its thing. “I liked the hairstyle and I’m lazy so I just didn’t cut my hair for a while,” says Liam, 25, who had one for five years. “It kept growing until it was in my face – so I put it up.”
The man bun seemed to shake off long hair's previous association with huffing bongs and watching Dazed and Confused on a loop, probably on VHS. Instead, the bun appeared to represent a man in touch with his feminine side – someone heartily kicking back against ideas that hair long enough to loop into an elastic band was 'girly'. But that's not the reality. Take a look beneath the tousled strands atop his head, and the man bun aesthetic choice more likely meant the man bun man liked fancy shampoo and watched YouTube styling tutorials. This was no opposition to gender norms. It was, for some, an aesthetic choice and for others a bid to imitate the early adopters and set themselves apart from 'regular' guys.
The early adopters gave off an image of carefree rebellion. This was a man who worked in a speakeasy bar. This was a man who “transgressed” by wearing an All Saints leather jacket and white t-shirt, usually with holes in for added rugged appeal. “One of the regular bar jobs I took was for Medication, which is for [Liverpool club] Cream’s night,” says Brendan, 27, who had a man bun for three years. “And I remember seeing it cropping up there, with guys in skin tight jeans and huge trainers, spending far too much time in the gym.”
Look to the famous men who rushed to get the style and you’ll land on several archetypal male heartthrobs, all attached to varying lengths of lock – Jason Momoa (long haired hottie), Justin Bieber (weird Victorian ghost freak) and Bradley Cooper (Lord Farquad’s taller cousin). The celebs helped catapult the trend into the mainstream, bringing the cut away from the artisanal coffee shops of Brooklyn, Berlin and Shoreditch (ie: its street style origins), and into the living room of that man who bought his clothes from River Island and showed them off in the “VIP” booth at the local Oceana. After its introduction in 2012, primarily via Chris Hemsworth, the bun seemed to peak in 2015, appearing in ASOS adverts and on football pitches. What may have initially been perceived as edgy turned commonplace – seen throughout the western world’s chain bars.
The increased visibility meant more and more men were getting involved. Take Ben, age 40, who got his bun when he was 36. “I’d basically come out of a relationship and then I was able to do all of the things I wasn’t able to do while I was in that relationship,” he explains, “like get comic book tattoos, grow my beard longer and grow my hair so I could put it in a top knot.”
He continues: “The next girl I met had a thing for vikings and Jason Mamoa, so it seemed like a good fit.”
Eventually, though, the tight-haired influx inverted upon itself. For some, like Ben, responsibilities arose, making the style seem silly – “I would probably still have one if I didn’t have a job. But I’ve got bills, man.” The same goes for Liam, who chopped off his knot when he embarked on the post-university job search, inadvertently citing how the general public may have viewed the haircut as immature or unprofessional.
You know when you look back on photos of your parents when they were younger, and everything looks dated? That’s what’s going to happen with the top knot. Like white-people-with cornrows before it, the man bun has culminated as the butt of a joke, able to pinpoint a very specific type of person, at a particular point in their young life.
The way the hairstyle communicates a desire to be different and edgy, while then ending up the same as literally everyone else sporting the same look, also speaks to the tone of the decade. It has been one where the alternative has turned into the norm, where brands want to be your friend and something as deplorable as Brewdog exists. It is the 2010s mullet.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.