Barbershop of Horrors: 5 Hairstyle Origins


If you've ever looked at someone's haircut and wondered who could have possibly thought that was a good idea, this one's for you.

1. Mohawks

The Style: Originally sported by warriors of various Native American tribes, the hairstyle was adopted by a squad of the U.S. Army's bad-to-the-bone 101st Airborne Division during World War II, before being commandeered by punk rockers in the 1970s.

The Story: Up until a few years ago, no one would have questioned the mohawk's roots. However, in 2003, an Irish peat harvester made a discovery that would change the hairstyle's history forever—a 2,300-year-old corpse, remarkably well preserved by the unique chemistry of a peat bog, sporting a bonafide 'hawk.

The Shocker: The ancient Irish punker, dubbed Clonycavan Man, had gel in his hair, which archaeologists determined was made from vegetable oil mixed with a resin from southwestern France or Spain. Imported hair product? Today, scientists are still working hard to determine whether Clony was a prehistoric punker or just an Iron Age metrosexual.

2. Pompadours

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The Story: The Marquise de Pompadour was King Louis XV's über-fashionable mistress, and her elaborately teased, upswept hair was imitated by high-society women throughout the country. While 20th-century pompadours were considerably tinier than those of its namesake's, the modern version claims one definitive advantage: technology. Where today's science has yielded hair wax, putty, glue, and paste to cement them into place, pomps of yore depended on beef tallow, bear grease, and other artery-cloggers.

The Shocker: Not surprisingly, slathering one's hair with animal remains tended to attract animals (insects and other nasties), which occasionally turned the original pompadour into, quite literally, a rats' nest.

3. Beehives

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The Story: There's more to those 18th-century bouffant styles than meets the eye. Whereas the modern beehive is nicknamed "the B-52" for its uncanny resemblance to the B-52 bomber's distinctive nose, Marie Antoinette and her gal pals stowed actual warships in their hair—or at least miniature replicas of them.

The Shocker: Like precursors to the Cracker Jack box, these 18th-century 'dos served as treasure troves, housing exotic prizes like tiny caged birds, cupid dolls, and other bulky curios. Of course, not every hairdo was a winner. When millions of hungry peasants revolutionized France, the over-the-top hairstyle quickly fell out of fashion—landing in that little basket just below the guillotine.

4. Queues

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The Story: The Manchu sported the queue, a shaved-in-front, ponytail-in-the-back haircut, and forced the Han Chinese to do the same. The effect? Quite a lot of protest.

The Shocker: While much of China eventually submitted to the do-or-die trend, many thousands bravely chose to keep their hair—and lose their heads. So what was the big deal with getting a little shave? Aside from the queue not being such a flattering cut (even compared to, say, the mullet), it also happened to be against the religion of millions of long-haired Confucian Chinese, who believe that one's skin and hair are sacred.

5. Mullets

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The Story: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which inducted "mullet" into its venerable lexicon in 2001, the word (as it refers to a hairstyle) was "apparently coined, and certainly popularized, by U.S. hip-hop group the Beastie Boys" in their 1995 song "Mullet Head."

The Shocker: Since making it into the OED, ridicule of the bemulleted has grown increasingly vocal and, judging from a random sampling of anti-mullet Web sites, rather virulent. The mullet is the one haircut Americans love to hate—and give funny names to. To list a few: The Tennessee Top Hat, The Kentucky Waterfall, and The Camaro Crash Helmet. Our personal favorite, however, is The Missouri Compromise, which manages to reference both the haircut's "business in the front, party in the back" policy, as well as the shameful Compromise of 1820, which regulated slavery in developing U.S. territories.

[This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. If you're in a subscribing mood, here are the details.]