You have seen it. It is short on the sides and long on the top. It is clean and stylish, with a military sheen. It's been popular among young people for several years. But now this haircut is making us ask ourselves, as we pass certain people on the street: hipster or Nazi?
Behold, the young city-dwelling men leaving their SoulCycle classes in leftover "I'm With Her" T-shirts.
Behold, the young white-nationalism enthusiasts leaving a recent conference in Washington, D.C., where several of them performed a Nazi salute.
The same haircut. The exact same haircut.
The haircut has been known, colloquially, as the "Hitler Youth." That nickname started back when it seemed we could be a bit cavalier and jokey with such terminology. Back before we started seeing the haircut on literal white nationalists.
Of course, we understand that young fashionable people of all political stripes might cluster toward particular hair trends, and this cut has been around for awhile. Over the past few weeks, though, the style - which is also referred to as an "under cut," "high-and-tight" or "side fade" - has assumed a certain ... sociopolitical burden.
Promoters of white nationalism - or the "alt-right," as some call it, a movement that seeks to form a whites-only state - are coming out of the woodwork now. They say they have been emboldened by Donald Trump's various calls to ban Muslim immigration into this country and deport millions of undocumented Latin Americans. They have a leader in a man named Richard Spencer, who wears a high-and-tight along with his three-piece Brooks Brothers suits. It's Hitler Youth rebranded as Hitler Yuppie.
"I posted on Facebook yesterday that it's probably time to think about getting rid of my haircut," says Joseph Phelan, a community organizer and anti-racism activist who lives in Brooklyn and acquired the haircut several years ago at an old-fashioned barber shop. Phelan read a profile on Spencer, and was dismayed to learn his haircut is fondly if ironically referred to by many wearers as a "fashy." Short for "fascist."
Phelan is torn. On the one hand, he thinks it's useful for white nationalists to sport a costume of sorts, so that they might be recognized by the rest of the population. On the other hand, "I really wish they would get off my haircut, and get off my people."
The style has its origins in Victorian England, when it was worn by young hooligans known as "scuttlers," but is most commonly affiliated with the Nazi youth movement of the 1930s and '40s. Adolf Hitler had a version of it - with a floppy, greasy forelock - and so did his close associate Heinrich Himmler, and so did any young man in a Hitler Youth recruitment poster. Apparently soldiers requested it because it eased the wearing and removing of their helmets. Flash forward 70-plus years and here is a whole bunch of those haircuts together at the recent conference of Spencer's National Policy Institute, worn by fellows who feel their whiteness has been infringed upon by the "cultural Marxism" of the Americas.
There's an issue with these men wearing this haircut: Since its long-ago heyday, it has been claimed by others, who are not at all connected to fascist worldview. Beginning around 2010 or 2011, it became the haircut of Macklemore, the white rapper. It became the haircut of several cast members of "Glee," as well as David Beckham.
The tidy, chic lines that appealed to the Nazis became the choice of fashionable young men, gay and straight, because it's both business-like and brash. Celebrities sent their high-and-tights around the globe, spawning a generation of imitators and an obligatory trend piece from the New York Times, which noted in 2011 that it had become the preferred cut for the well-coiffed, well-clad, crunchy cosmopolitan.
This is not the first instance of a trademark coiffure that spans political divides. Angry racist skinheads and earnest, lefty straight-edge punks have looked similar for decades. Bushy beards can either signify an artisanal pickler or arsenal-holding survivalist. In this instance, what's ironic is that the dudes in white nationalism circles are sporting a hairstyle that's already been repurposed in the 21st century by young people whose ethos is radical safe-space inclusiveness, not ethnophobic separatism with eugenic undertones.
And it's probably no coincidence.
"We call them 'nipsters' - neo-Nazi hipsters," says Long Nguyen, the co-founder of style magazine Flaunt. "It's really important for them to make inroads into young people's culture, in order to expand their base. It's a lot easier to do that when they're stealing the look of a familiar hipster style."
Nguyen says he first noticed this trend in Germany about a decade ago, where young white nationalists were dressing as hipsters, but also as metal heads and hip-hop aficionados. "It's a little scary."
Until a few weeks ago, you saw a man with that haircut and assumed he might be a good person to hit on, or to buy small-batch beer from, or to ask the whereabouts of the nearest bicycle shop. Now you see him and wonder if he feels deeply oppressed by the forces of multiculturalism. It is too confusing for everyone.
Thus, it's our recommendation that white nationalists find a different hairstyle, to distinguish themselves from the hordes of poly-ethnic progressives of U Street and Brooklyn. Here are six suggestions:
- The bowl cut. No one really wears it anymore, except Ken Burns, so it's all yours. Plus, it'll keep you warmer in the winter, and during summers in the Bavarian Alps.
- The silver fox. A couple years ago, dark-haired narcissists on Instagram began dying their locks white, silver, gray or platinum, for a stunning contrast with their facial hair. Celebrities like One Direction's Zayn Malik followed. That trend is now so passe that it's ripe for making white supremacy even whiter.
- The double man bun. We really just want to create a taboo around this look.
- The Rachel. Remember how every teenage girl in the '90s wanted to look like Jennifer Aniston on "Friends"? Wearing this haircut will make you stand out, but in a softly self-deprecating, aw-geez way.
- The Trump. The president-elect remains the only practitioner of this hairstyle, which has been described many different ways. Perhaps it's time your scalp throws its support behind the man you see as your hero.
- A really long, single, matted dreadlock wrapped several times around your head into a lice-ridden mass that smells like goat. Stylists always say haircuts should reflect your personality.