What is a Crew Cut?

Mary McMahon

In the United States, a crew cut is a haircut usually seen on men, in which the hair is cropped close, with the hair on the top of the head allowed to be slightly longer than the hair along the back and sides. Outside the United States, people may use the term “crew cut” to refer to the style known in the United States as a buzz cut, in which all of the hair on the head is shorn to an equally short length with electric clippers. Both hairstyles are closely associated with the military, where they may be required for male servicemembers.

The crew cut originated with the rowing teams of Yale University, among others.
The crew cut originated with the rowing teams of Yale University, among others.

The origins of the crew cut actually lie in the rowing crews of colleges along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, most notably Yale. According to Yale, the crew cut emerged when one of its rowers went to a barber seeking a short hairstyle which would be easy to manage and aerodynamic, and he walked out with a crew cut. In the 1940s, the United States military adopted the crew cut as the standard for members of the armed services, and the haircut became associated with military service.

In the standard crew cut, no part of the head is totally bald. The hair along the sides and back of the head is cropped very short, often allowing the skin to show through, and it tapers to a longer cut, which is classically longest in the front of the head. In the high and tight variant seen among some members of the military, the sides of the head are shorn totally bald. The flat top, in which the hair on the top of the head is styled to stand up straight, is another common military variant.

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Some people associate the crew cut and the related variations with a respect for authority, since the crew cut is seen on members of the military, law enforcement, and other representatives of authority. The hairstyle was once popular among a wide variety of men, but in the 1960s, some men started rejecting the crew cut and growing their hair long as a symbol of their rebellion against authority.

While this hairstyle is primarily seen among men, some women do wear crew cuts. The cut is sometimes referred to as a “butch cut” when seen on women, in a reference to lesbians who wear crew cuts, although women of other sexual orientations may crop their hair close for practical or aesthetic reasons as well. For women who work in heavy industry, for example, having a short haircut is practical from a safety perspective, and it also reduces the amount of time which needs to be spent on hair maintenance.

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