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

Military Haircuts for Men (1900s to date)

Here we look at popular military hairstyles for men favoured since the turn of the 20th century. We also look at dress regulations and allowances for religious beliefs. Men in the military are required to have short haircuts as these styles 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. 

Regulations set out the rules, which vary slightly in definition from country to country. Likewise, the different branches of the armed forces have their own individual 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 midpoint 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.

There is enough room, however, in the regulations for some individuality. A 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

This is the haircut you get at boot camp after signing up as a recruit when the whole head is clipper cut without a guard, leaving a 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 by making all recruits equal, encouraging a team spirit.

Army drill sergeants call this cut a “mighty fine”. It is also called 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 the initial training is passed, a military man has earned the right to decide what military haircut to sport.

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]).
A member of the U.S. Naval Academy's incoming Class of 2019 gets his first military haircut on Induction Day.

Burr Cut

This clipper cut is one step up from the induction hairstyle in terms of hair length. 

It is a uniform clipper cut using a guard size of 1 or 2. The hair is cut to the same length all around the head, creating an easy-to-care-for hairstyle.

Butch Cut

A butch cut is a slightly longer clipper cut than the burr cut. It is a uniform clipper cut using a guard size of 3, 4 or 5. 

men's military haircuts butch cut
The butch haircut.

Crew Cut

This is a short and smart classic hairstyle. Here, the top of the hair is faded from front to crown, leaving slightly longer hair in the front that can be styled.

The sides and back are cut to a short uniform length (clipper guard #2-4 depending on the required look) and the nape area is tapered away.

Overall the contour of the head is followed by the clippers, creating a rounded look.

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 hair gradually decreases in length until it disappears completely somewhere at the sides and nape. In other words, the hair is faded to the skin so no hair can be seen.

A fade can be classed as high, medium or low. This tells you where the fade starts from. For example, for a high fade, the hair is cut to skin a couple of inches below the top of the head. A low fade means that the fade starts much lower down the head. 

Various fade haircuts, showing how the fade can start at differing heights.

Flat Top

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

The hair at the edges of the flat top can be cut in two ways – square or rounded. A square finish creates a “boxy flat top”. The rounded off finish creates a softer look and is called a bevelled or rounded flat top.

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

military haircuts for men
German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg in 1914 with splendid moustache and flat top.
military men's hair
(Top): Example of a longer flat top or brush cut. (Bottom): Fine tuning the flat top.

High & Tight

A high and tight is another type of fade haircut, but it has a hard edge between the top hair and the faded sides. 

For this hairstyle, the back and sides are clipper cut above the temples (hence the “high” element of the name) using a guard number 1 or even no guard at all. You could also shave the sides. The closeness of the cut is the “tight” aspect of the haircut’s name. 

The hair on top goes straight around the crown and to the front hairline in an oval shape. This distinctive patch of hair is cut 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”. 

To create this look, the sides are either shaved off or clipped with a number 0. The patch left on top is clipped 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.

military haircuts for men
The Marine on the floor has a high and tight. The top guy has a recon – where the top patch of hair is even smaller in diameter.
men's military hair recon cut

Ivy League - the Short Back & Sides

This is the haircut we always think of as the classic short back and sides and is basically a longer version of the crew cut.

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.

It is a graduated haircut with length on top that is largely scissor-cut. The back and sides are tapered to a shorter length, which is finished with a fade.

Having a little length on top means the hair can be combed and styled in various ways. For example, a pompadour can be created or it can simply be parted and combed back.

Hair product can be used to slick it down 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.

(Left): Private in the British Liberation Army (c.1944-45). (Right): From WWII.
ivy league haircut

Regulation Cut

Regulation is a generic term that simply refers to the short haircuts that adhere to military regulations. For example, it could include any standard haircut like the crew or butch cut.

However, the regulation cut is a specific type of short haircut. In this case, there is a clear definition between the longer hair on top and the sharply-tapered back and sides.

The sides and back are cut very close or shaved so that the scalp is plainly visible – 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 cleanly parted on the side, creating a straight line from front to back.

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

Regulation haircuts. Picture on right was taken during World War II (1939-1945).

Shaved Head

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.

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

Undercut or Bowl

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

For this cut, the back and sides are either shaved or cut really close. The top hair is left longer and overhangs the close-cut sides. Ultimately, there is little or no blending between the two lengths.

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

Exceptions & Allowances

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. Hair is worn under a turban in the same colour as the issued berets, forage caps or other such headwear. They can also keep a beard in keeping with religious practice.

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

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

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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