As Gen Z navigates the pandemic world, a tuft of fluffy hair perched on one’s head is surely one way to peacock, or perhaps even signal to older generations that the views and ideals of those coming up are unlike those who came before
Many mornings, in Los Angeles, Darrell Jones’ girlfriend helps him curl his hair. Running a flat iron over small sections that have been sprayed with heat protectant, she creates small ringlets, pinning them to his head to set. For a brief moment, he looks as if he’s gearing up to be the envy of the 1930s. After the tendrils cool, Jones, 21, sets them with hair spray and runs his fingers through his locks.
Across the country in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tristan Harrell, 17, creates a similar look with a somewhat modified routine. Harrell starts with wet hair and uses sea salt spray in lieu of heat protectant (although his mother, a salon owner, begs him to choose protectant) before blow drying his tresses forward. Depending on the day, he will either create flipped-up curls with a brush and blow dryer, or use a mini flat iron instead. He too sets the shaggy look with hair spray. The routine takes him about 10 to 15 minutes.
Joshua Rich VII, 19, in Easton, Pennsylvania
Wears the same hairstyle but is luckier when it comes to maintenance. He merely towel dries his hair, and leaves the rest to evaporation, sometimes adding a little sea salt spray for added hold.
“There’s really not much to do,” he said. “My hair is goofy, especially if I just dry it with a towel and leave it.”
All three of these young men wear a hairstyle that’s become prominent among members of Gen Z: soft, fluffy waves or curls that dust the tops of their eyebrows and eyelashes, brushed forward toward the face and voluminous at the top — the simultaneous cousin and antithesis of a pompadour.
Each also has a viral tutorial on how to achieve the look on TikTok, where the style reigns supreme among a younger demographic. (At about 12 million views, Jones’ is currently the most popular.)
“I saw it on TikTok; there’s several guys coming on my ‘For You’ page that have the same hairstyle,” Harrell said in an interview, referring to the landing page where TikTok’s personalized video recommendations populate. When “I started changing my hairstyle, I really did get a boost of confidence because I felt good about the way my hair was working,” he said.
It’s no surprise that the look, which is often simply called “ TikTok hair ”
or “TikTok boy hair,” is so popular. Some of the app’s stars, including Bryce Hall, Noah Beck and Josh Richards, all of whom have followings well into the tens of millions, have worn the tousled and textured cut. (Hall now has a mullet, which is also popular.)
And while the style may seem new, we’ve been here before, in many senses. Recent eras in which no man was safe from the pressure to try a specific hairstyle include the early 2000s, which brought about the resurgence of the pompadour that was seemingly worn by every lead singer of every indie band.
There was, of course, Justin Bieber’s iconic hair swoosh (read: italicized bowl cut) that served as the blueprint for middle-school boys everywhere circa 2009 to 2011. Eventually, and perhaps not coincidentally, as Bieber’s bangs grew shorter and the distance between his hair and eyebrows grew wider, the man bun emerged as the new “it” look (around 2015) — a hairstyle all lusted after but few could execute successfully.
But male hair care and trends stretch back even further, for millenniums. In fact, this specific type of hairdo has been cycled through history many a time, rising from the ashes every few hundred years like a phoenix of panache.