Home » Military Haircuts for Men (1900s to date)

Military Haircuts for Men (1900s to date)

Here we look at the more popular military hairstyles for men that have been favoured since the turn of the 20th century. We also look at some dress regulations and allowances for religious beliefs. Men in the military are required to have short haircuts as they are low maintenance, practical and clean. They also create a professional and unified image. Likewise, the hair won’t get caught in helmets, weapons or an enemy’s hands. 

Military personnel worldwide have to conform to dress standards and personal appearance rules, which includes haircuts. These are set out in regulations, which vary slightly in definition from country to country. Likewise, the different armed forces have their own requirements.

For example, the US Air Force regulations state that men must have haircuts with:

“Tapered appearance on both sides and the back of the head, both with and without headgear. A tapered appearance is one that when viewed from any angle outlines the member’s hair so that it conforms to the shape of the head, curving inward to the natural termination point without eccentric directional flow, twists or spiking.” (Air Force Instruction 36-2903, 2014).

British armed forces come under similar regulations, with much of the final say on haircuts being down to the commanding officers. For example, the Royal Air Force regulations state:

“The hair of the head is to be well cut and trimmed. Sideburns are to be short and well trimmed and are not to extend below a line running through the mid point of the ear. Extreme styles of haircuts and colouring are not permitted. If the hair is dyed or highlighted, the colour chosen is to be natural and in a uniform shade appropriate to the individual. The commanding officer shall be the arbiter upon what is or not an acceptable style or length of cut.” (Royal Air Force, AP 1358, 5th Edition).

These requirements are common throughout many military forces worldwide. Ultimately, it is all about creating a high standard and a united team look that says “professional”.

However, there is enough room in the regulations for some individuality. The haircut is often the only form of individual expression a military man can have within their unit.

“The requirement for hair grooming standards is necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population. Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative.” (US Army dress regulations, AR 670-1.)

Military Haircuts & Styles

Induction Cut

military haircuts for men
A new cadet receives his first haircut at the Cadet Barbershop during R-Day inprocessing. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Vincent Fusco, West Point Directorate of Communications. The U.S. Army [Public domain])

This is the haircut you get at boot camp after signing up as a new recruit.

It is a clipper cut without a guard all over the head, leaving a short stubble-like finish.

The induction cut has both practical and psychological purposes. Firstly, it reduces the possibility of things like head lice in close quarters and the barracks. Secondly, it evens the playing field, making all new recruits equal and encourages a team spirit.

This cut is also known as a “mighty fine” by army drill sergeants, or an “on the floor” or “Army’s no. 1 haircut”. The French Foreign Legion refer to it as a “boule à zéro” (a “zero ball”).

Once someone has passed initial training and has, therefore, earned the right, a military man can decide what military haircut to sport.

Burr Cut

This buzz cut is one up from the induction cut, in terms of hair length. It is a uniform clipper cut with guard number 1 or 2 all over the head, creating a uniform short and easy-to-care for hairstyle.

Butch Cut

A butch cut is a slightly longer buzz cut than the burr cut. It is created by clipper cutting the hair to a uniform length all over the head, using a guard size of 3, 4 or 5. The hair at the ears and neckline can be faded out for a more tapered look around the edges.

Crew Cut

This is a generic term for a short hairstyle that is tapered from the top of the head to the front hairline, creating more length at the front. It is also tapered down at the sides and back. The contour of the head is usually followed by the clippers, creating a rounded look.

The definition of a crew cut can vary slightly from country to country. For example, in the UK, a crew cut may be defined as a one-length haircut all over. However, in the USA, a crew cut is tapered and faded out.

Either way, it was a popular haircut during World War II for military men and was regarded as athletic and patriotic. The crew cut continues to be popular today.

Fade Buzz Cut

The key to a fade haircut is that the sides and nape are clippered very short, even cut without a guard. It then fades upwards, sometimes quite abruptly, towards the crown, where the hair is cut more uniform with a little length.

A fade can be high, medium or low, and this tells you where the fade goes to or ends at. So for example, a high fade goes further up the sides and back of the head than a low fade.

Flat Top

military haircuts for men
German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg in 1914 with splendid moustache and flat top.

This haircut forms a flat surface on the top of the head when the hair is brushed up. In addition, the sides and back of the hair are done with a short taper.

The hair at the edges of the flat top can be cut with a very square look – creating a “boxy flat top”. Alternatively, it can be slightly rounded at the edges, creating a softer look. This is called a “bevelled” or “rounded” flat top.

A longer version of the flat top is called a brush cut. This style can be seen on the character “Iceman” as played by Val Kilmer in the film Top Gun.

High & Tight

military haircuts for men
The Marine on the floor has a high and tight. The top guy has a "recon" – the top patch of hair is much smaller.

The high and tight is another type of fade haircut. It consists of very short back and sides, with a distinct patch of longer hair right on the top of the head.

The sides are clippered above the temples (hence the “high” element of the name) using a guard number 1 or even no guard at all. It is this closeness of the cut to which the “tight” refers to. The sides could also be shaved.

The hair on top goes straight round the crown and to the front hairline in a horseshoe shape. This patch of hair is clippered to one even length, using a guard size from 2 to 5. 

The high and tight started in the 1960s and took off in the 1980s. It is particularly popular with US Marines, once they have earned the right to wear their hair like this, of course.

High & Tight Recon

The “recon” is an extreme high and tight haircut. Here, the close cut is taken even further up the sides and back of the head, creating an even smaller patch of hair on top, known as a “landing strip”. 

The sides are either shaved off or clippered with a number 0. The patch left on top is clippered to an even length, using a guard size from a number 1 to 4. There is no blending or fade between the sides and the top patch of hair.

Ivy League - the Short Back & Sides

military haircuts for men
(Top): Private in the British Liberation Army (c.1944-45). (Bottom): From WWII.

This is the haircut we always think of as the classic short back and sides.

It is known in the USA as an Ivy League, named for its popularity among Ivy League undergraduates of the 1950s who favoured this neat and tidy hairstyle.

Either way, it is a graduated haircut that is largely scissor-cut, where the top hair is left longer and can be styled. The back and sides are tapered to a shorter length, which is finished with a fade.

It is a versatile style, as the longer hair on top can be combed and styled in various ways. For example, a pompadour can be created at the front, or it can simply be parted and combed back.

Hair product can be used to slick it back and keep it in place. In the 1940s, the products used would be things like Brilliantine and other such hair pomades.

It has been a popular style with military men for many decades. Nowadays, the Ivy League may be seen more on higher-ranking officials.

Regulation Cut

military haircuts for men
Regulation haircuts. Bottom picture was taken during World War II (1939-1945)

“Regulation” is a generic term that simply refers to the short haircuts that adhere to the military regulations. It could include any standard haircut like the crew or butch cut, or any variation of them.

However, “regulation cut” also means a specific type of short cut. Here, there is a clear definition between the longer hair on top and the sharply-tapered back and sides.

The sides and back are either clippered very close or shaved, so that the scalp is plainly visible. This area of scalp is known as a whitewall. Furthermore, it is the height of a whitewall that determines whether it is a “low regulation” (short whitewall), a “high regulation” (tall whitewall) or a “medium regulation” (in the middle).

To finish the look, the hair is parted on the side, creating a clean and straight line from front to back.

The regulation cut was a popular haircut with soldiers in the World War I, especially as heavy helmets were worn, often in freezing conditions. 

Shaved Head

Men's military haircuts
US Marine drill instructor shaping up the new recruits.

A shaved head is a powerful symbol – it looks sharp and tough. 

It is often worn in the United States military by those who have to motivate, for example drill instructors. A shaved head may also be preferred by someone who is bald or balding.

Some armed forces do not permit shaved heads in general, stating that the haircut must be no shorter than a certain clipper guard grade.

Undercut or Bowl

German soldier from WW2 (1939-1945) with an undercut.

This haircut was popular with German soldiers during the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

The top of the hair is left quite long, while the back and sides are either shaved or clippered really close. There is little or no blending between the two lengths.

Exceptions & Allowances

Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh (left) and Signaller Simranjit Singh – Sikhs in the British Army in turbans that match the regular headwear colours. ©AP

Some military forces may allow long hair on religious grounds, so long as safety and the ability to perform one’s functions are not affected. Likewise, facial hair may also be allowed, even where not normally acceptable to that regiment.

For example, Sikhs in the British Army or the US Army can keep the long hair required of their religion. Here, they wear their hair under a turban in the same colour as the issued berets, forage caps or other such headwear. They can also keep a beard, again in keeping with religious practice.

The Indian Army regulations state that hair must be short. However, exception is made for the Sikh Regiment.

Rastafarians in the British Royal Air Force can have dreadlocks, so long as they are tidy:

“Male Rastafarian hair is to follow the same general rules for other Service personnel in that it is to be neat and tidy and not of an exaggerated nature. Dreadlocks are to be no longer that the collar and able to be worn with all types of military headdress in such a way that is compatible with the image of the Royal Air Force.” (Royal Air Force AP1358)

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