Boys' Crew Cuts

Figure 1.--Crew cuts were very popular with American boys during the 1950s. Here is an advertisement from a Scouting magazine for products to dress a crew cut.

Short hair styles seemed very popular in the 1950s following World War II when many future fathers had their hair cut short during military service. The name probanly reflects its prevalence in the U.S. Navy during the War. It as one of the most popular shirt hair styles. It was particularly popular with outdoors, sports oriented boys in the 1950s and 60s. As far as we know, this was essentially an American style. The hair on the top of the head is cut relatively short, graduated in length from the longest hair at the front hairline to the shortest at the back of the crown. The hair on the sides and back of the head is tapered short. Other names for this style of taper include tight cut and fade. It is similar to a buzz cut, but with a little slightly longer hair left at the front.


I'm not sure where the term crew cut came from. Perhaps it was the short hair crew members on a naval vessel had to wear. That is, however, just a guess on my part. We have one unconfirmed report that it derived from the shoirt hair cuts given rowers on old naval vessels. Short cuts prevented hair from getting in their ways. I am not sure precisely how the hair was cut. While it was undoubtedly short, that does not mean that it was styled like the crew cuts American boys wore in the 1950s-60s.

While I am not sure about the derivation of the name, almost surely World War II was the cause of the sudden popularity of the crew cut in the late 1940s. One HBC contributor provides this account: As a World War II vet and drafted into the Army, we received GI hair cuts. From this many of us maintained the short cut, but modified it into a crew cut. In the Army and when we were not in combat we usually got haircuts once a week. It was easier to maintain your hair when it is short. Even in combat time, there someone with a hand clipper which did the job. When the war was over, many of us went back to college under the GI bill and many of us kept the crew cuts in college. As father's of the baby boomers we kept up this tradition of short hair for our sons. I know I used an electric clipper for my son and knew my friends did the same. This was from the 1950s into the early 1960s when the long hair and Beetles brought on the long hair. My son went through that fad and now he has short hair again as well his son. What comes around, comes back around.


The 1930s

Few American boys wore real short hair cuts like crew cuts in the 1930s.

The 1940s

Boys with short crew cuts became increasingly common in the late 1940s. GIs coming home from World War II had gotten used to short hair and considered it an ideal style for their sons. I'm not sure what the mothers thought about this.

The 1950s

Short hair with a fringe at the front became popular with boys in the 1950s at the same time that coon-skin caps appeared. The style was popular among many boys at it required little care.

The 1960s

Once it became an established style, however, and parents became insisting on it in the 1960s, boys becan to insist on longer hair which with Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and other rock stars was becoming more popular. Outside the United States, the term crewcut has a much narrower meaning than inside the U.S. The non-U.S. definition is a cut that is short all over (about 1/4 inch), perhaps tapered a little at the back and sides. Inside the U.S. Within the U.S., crewcut is used more broadly to refer to a range of short haircuts. In general the U.S. definition refers to a cut that is tapered at the back and sides but may be up to one inch on top. A good example is foot ball olayer Dave Willard in 1962. Crew cuts contunued popular with atheletes.

Some boys modified the crew cut slightly and had their hair styles as a "flattop".

The 1990s

Interestingly short hair rather like a crew cut, but without the front fringe became popular in the late 1990s.

School Dress Codes

Crew cuts were a well accepted hair style in the 1950s and 60s. While long hair was fowned on, the crew cut was well accepted. There ere limits on long hair, but none on how short the hair could bde cut.

HBC notes that as part of the late 1990s revival of the crew cut that schools in the late 1990s sets limits on how short the hair could be cut. One school tells students that hair: "Must be maintained in a natural style, neat, clean and combed and away from the eyes. No unnatural tints, ONE COLOR ONLY. No extreme multi-layered cuts, ridges, steps, sculpturing, or hair made to stick out, etc. No Mohawks. No spikes. No shaved heads. No shaved sides. Hair should be maintained at moderate length - not to go below the top of shirt collar. No pony tails of any length or style. Haircuts must include tapering. Moderate sideburns only. Hair blended from short sides to longer on top is allowed, but generally the sides may not be shorter than a #2. For those who want longer hair on top, the #3 sides may not be shorter than a #2. Exaggerated styles are not allowed. Single length crew cuts may not be less than a #2. Single length crew cuts with longer hair up front are not allowed. Steps or layers must be subtle and may not be extreme. The bottom may not be shorter than a #2. If top drapes down covering the shorter sides, the sides may not be shorter than a #2, the appearance must be conservative, and some tapering must be evident. Long hair may not go past the top of the shirt collar, must be tapered, and must be neat, clean, combed and kept away from the face. The long, single length page boy cut is not allowed. On a trial bassi, sides may be a .5 on the clipper IF there is a subtle blend/fade to shortly cropped hair on top of the head. No abrupt shifts." [Source: Providence High School, California, 1999-2000]


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Created: March 5, 1998
Last updated: 1:43 AM 7/25/2019