We need to talk about a haircut. Also about identity, and politics - but first about a haircut.

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: Hipster or Nazi?

Behold, the young city-dwelling men in leftover "I'm With Her" T-shirts. Behold, the young white-nationalism enthusiasts leaving a recent conference in Washington where several of them performed a Nazi salute.

The 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. Before we started seeing the haircut on literal white nationalists.

Of course, we understand that young fashionable people of all political stripes might cluster towards particular hair trends. 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 the US and deport millions of undocumented Latin Americans. They have a leader in a man named Richard Spencer, who wears a high-and-tight. It's Hitler Youth rebranded as Hitler Yuppie.

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.

Apparently soldiers requested it because it eased the wearing and removing of their helmets.

Since its long-ago heyday, it has been claimed by others, who are not at all connected to fascist worldview. The tidy, chic lines became the choice of fashionable young men, gay and straight, because it's both business-like and brash.

This is not the first instance of a trademark coiffure that spans political divides. 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.

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."