This article originally appeared on VICE US.
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You’ve seen it before: Laid long and flat across her forehead, then angled high up to her crown, often streaked with highlights, this decidedly different hairdo seamlessly transforms from a long, sleek front into a short, spiky back. “Unique” women across the United States have been wearing this look for years in order to set themselves apart from the rest of their peers. Popularized by Sharon Osbourne in the early 00s, it is commonly mocked online as the Can I speak to your manager? haircut—but the look is as timeless as any classic, and more interesting than most.
At first glance, one might mistake it for an extreme A-line bob—but upon a closer look, it's more like the rebellious sister to Victoria Beckham's sophisticated style. The Can I speak to your manager? is angled at the front and sides, but then merges into a fully shortened backside of the head, where the longest hair at the crown is still short enough to stick up with a soft-holding gel. Whether it’s the first stop on your journey into stylistic obscurity, or your final, funky destination, this at-times-indescribable aesthetic represents the explosive force of individuality.
When I was young and living in the New England countryside, I found a creative outlet on top of my head. Long before I ever donned a two-tone blond mullet or a black emo-shag with green highlights, I discovered the can I speak to your manager hairstyle. It came to me naturally; I don’t recall having a source of inspiration for the cut. It just seemed like the right way for my hair to be. That says a lot about the style itself—mainly the fact that, like the Sword of Gryffindor, it appears for people in times of need.
It was the haircut of an emotional, entry-level eccentric on her way to becoming a full-blown social outcast. My siblings thought it was funny. One day, they pointed out its similarity to Sharon Osbourne’s hair, and that’s the first time I made the connection myself. I even had a similar, bluish red dye to my hair.
Whether it’s the first stop on your journey into stylistic obscurity, or your final, funky destination, this at-times-indescribable aesthetic represents the explosive force of individuality.
Just think about Sharon Osbourne's family. It’s filled with people on drugs who eat bats and care about radical social issues. Her family personifies a certain kind of weirdness, yet still hews to the normalcy of the nuclear family structure; what other sort of hairstyle should Sharon Osbourne have had in the earliest moments of a new millenium?
As we went careening past the false apocalypse of Y2K into a new era domineered by Steve Jobs and George W. Bush, our nation was at peak identity crisis. Britney Spears was being driven to madness, shaving her own head in a public destruction of that illusionary feminine ideal, as Avril Lavigne watched apathetically with her raccoon eyes. Hot Topic reigned supreme as a new movement in our nation called for the commodification of alternative lifestyles in a desperate attempt to feel close to the kind of emotional authenticity that we denied ourselves as we figured out what came after worshipping the shrine of the blond pop icon. Everything was changing in the United States, and while cool-kids like Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan were pushing legitimately original outfits in the 90s, we needed something that could be suitable for people who were different—but not that different.
Thus came The Osbournes onto reality TV in 2002. And so, out of necessity, a new haircut arose from the ashes of a world that was meant to end in the year 2000. Today, it’s the kind of haircut that makes boring adults cock their heads,and say, “Oh, well, isn’t that different.” It’s the haircut that says: I’m different, but my difference is legible, because it doesn’t invoke counter-cultures that defy our most boring morés, like a punk’s Mohawk does. Without the Can I speak to your manager? haircut, an untold number of people—primarily adult women—would be deprived of an accessible outlet for self-expression that keeps them grounded in this ever-changing nation without forcing them to be silent. They have something to say, maybe to the manager. These are women who know what they think, and are gonna say it—even if they’re wrong. In a world where women’s voices have long been silenced, this style emerges as a simple way to tell the world: I speak my mind, don’t get in my way!
Different, in this context, becomes less about its relativity to the hegemony of haircuts and becomes a standalone descriptor—something in and of itself. That’s all this hairstyle really is: different, in italics. Different is its purpose, its single most descriptive quality. It’s not long, it’s not short, it’s not conservative, it’s not radical, and it’s not cleanly associated with anything other than itself, making it, perhaps, the most different hairdo of all time.
Whatever you want to call it—the Sharon Osbourne, the Can I Speak to Your Manager—the different haircut is unjustly derided as ugly and out of place, when it is actually a socially necessary style object. Even though it is surprising to behold, it is actually the logical conclusion of an A-line bob, if an A-line bob were unrestrained by the pressure of looking normal.
It's the signature style of people who like capris and square, frosted sunglasses; of women who love Dunkin’ and don’t live in the gym; the ones who sometimes need to speak to a manager, and who buy spooky decorations at The Christmas Tree Shop. They don’t fit in, but aren’t exceptional enough to be outcasts—and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is a real cross-section of our nation, and they’re the only people daring enough to wear this hairstyle in public. One day, you’ll see the different haircut all over New York Fashion Week, and when that day comes, you’d do well to remember how it got there.