What is an Undercut?

A. McCollam

In the world of hairstyles, an undercut is a haircut in which under sections of hair are cut short or shaved with a longer top layer left resting above. An undercut is usually achieved by holding the top hairs away from the head. All of the hair on the sides and back that grows underneath are then cut or shaved.

Musical performer Rihanna has been known to wear a version of the undercut haircut.
Musical performer Rihanna has been known to wear a version of the undercut haircut.

The undercut is a unisex hairstyle that has been in and out of fashion for many years, with increased popularity during the 1970s and 1980s. Generally, the undercut, or variations of the style, more commonly has been known as a bowl cut. This term emerged during the Great Depression because the look was often achieved by placing a bowl on a person’s head. Then, all of the hair that fell below the rim of the down-turned bowl was cut or shaved away.

Moe Howard of the Three Stooges sported a famous example of the standard bowl cut. The mop-top style popularized by The Beatles in the 1960s is also a classic example of an undercut style. In addition to being known as a bowl cut, an undercut has been called a beach cut, mushroom cut, or pot haircut.

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Undercutting may also refer more specifically to a hair-cutting technique than to a style, wherein chopping or shaving the under layers of hair can create variations on other styles. For example, a bob haircut can be undercut to create what is known as a wedge cut. A prime example of this hairstyle was made famous by figure skater Dorothy Hamill in the 1970s. Similarly, women with thick or coarse hair sometimes opt to undercut their normal style in order to thin out their hair and reduce its weight. Undercutting another style can make thick or heavy hair more manageable.

The hairstyle has also come to refer to a modern punk-inspired hair trend in which one area of hair is visibly shaved while the rest of the hair sports a totally different style. Model Alice Dellal has been credited as having begun this trendy variation of the style. In 2008, Dellal wore her long hair parted to one side, with the other side shaved around and above her ears. Singer Rihanna similarly adopted the trend in 2009.

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