Undercutting the Competition

June of 1925 was an exciting time in the life of John Welles. He had graduated from high school with honors and been accepted to the University of Maryland for his pre-med studies. With his Aunt Prudence’s help, John was one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.

undercutting-the-competition-3For the occasion of his graduation party, Prudence guided her nephew on the decision of clothing and haircut. She had her reasons for showing off John to his peers, their parents, and most importantly, John’s own family. While the lanky teen bore the new look well, his appearance and success drove home Prudence’s self-serving point better than she could have predicted, and the results were disastrous.

undercutting-the-competition-2I always pictured John with undercut hair for this scene. The style, popular in Edwardian times, the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, resurfaced in the 2010s. Soccer star David Beckham sports the style as do actors Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Pitt when he portrayed Jimmy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Unfortunately, the style was also favored by the Nazis, but don’t allow that to deter you from considering it.

undercutting-the-competitionThe haircut is defined by long hair on top, parted on either side or down the center, with the back and sides buzzed quite short. Originally, undercut hair was considered a sign of poverty because one could not afford a barber capable of blending the back and sides with the top. The style, popular with working-class men and especially street gangs, was held in place with paraffin wax.

undercutting-the-competition-5Throughout the years, the style enjoyed slight variations. One such disaster was the result of combining undercut hair with a centrally-parted bowl cut, which was favored by fans of new wave, synthpop, and electronic music in the 1980s, and curtained hair, an atrocity worn in the 1990s. In England, some schools banned undercut hair because it was reminiscent of the cut worn by the Hitler Youth.

undercutting-the-competition-4Today, a myriad of products, including wax, pomade, gel, and mousse, exist to keep one’s undercut hair looking slick. There are also tutorials on YouTube for everything from how to cut the style yourself, what to tell a stylist when requesting the undercut, and how to achieve the look you desire for the long top portion. I do have to wonder, though, what the men and boys who originally wore the style, and wouldn’t use anything other than a comb and wax, would think of the inclusion of hair straighteners, hair dryers, and curling irons to the routine of maintaining an undercut.

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