The Local Lens
• Wed, Feb 11, 2015
By Thom Nickels
A Philly.com article from January 5, 2015 focused on the so-called "man bun," which is, essentially, when a man does his hair up in a bun.
If this sounds strange, it’s because it is strange. Not because a man, or woman for that matter, doesn’t have the right to wear their hair anyway they want but because of what the average hair bun has come to symbolize for many.
Let’s consider famous female buns in history.
There’s the ballerina bun, Emily Dickinson’s schoolmarm bun, the Princess Leia French roll bun and the messy hair bun with chopstick antennae. Then there is the top-knot bun, or a bun that sits directly on top of a woman’s head like a corn muffin or an apple.
On most women, buns have a severe and restrained look because the hair is pulled back very tightly on the head. This "pulled back" look exposes the bun wearer’s face to undue scrutiny. Everything is accented, like big noses or large ears, but especially big noses because noses always look bigger when the face is not framed by free flowing hair. Free flowing hair often acts as an aesthetic distraction or enhancement and can beautify even the humblest of faces.
Regarding noses, I’m reminded of what writer/novelist Muriel Spark once wrote. The nose, she said, "is our tether between spirit and substance." She quotes Genesis: "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul," then adds, "The first thing that happened to Adam happened to his nose. Therefore the nose is an emblem at once of our dusty origin and our divine."
Getting back to buns: The majority of women, it seems, wear buns when they don’t have time to "do" their hair; the bun is the end result of a hair emergency. Sometimes a bun can be a work-related necessity. Ballerinas, for instance, do their hair up in buns to avoid getting hair in their faces during performances. Yet this does not mean that they have to keep the bun look while traveling home on Amtrak or Septa.
The advent of the man bun, however, is proof positive that western civilization has not only "ended" but is now in that anarchic post-apocalyptic phase known as the Theater of the Absurd.
Why a man would want to put his hair up in a bun is one of those questions that cannot be answered simply. Is it because he wants lots of eye contact in the street? Or does he want to be known as the pioneer of a new hairstyle?
Most of the man buns I’ve seen have been on male model types who have little to lose by going ugly. In other words, because these men tend to be extremely attractive, they can afford to take gross liberties with their looks.
A balding man with bifocals who struggles with his weight might be advised to stay away from the man bun, because, as is the case with women with top-knot muffin buns, it will only showcase his physical imperfections.
To understand the perversity of the man bun, let’s quickly recap the recent history of male hair.
When long hair first came on the scene, public reaction was not good. In the late 60s, high school students were expelled from school for refusing to cut their hair. Newspaper articles showcased debates on the "ethics" and "morality" of long hair on boys and men.
Long hair was associated with the Beatles and later with radical politics. It was a badge showing sympathy or identification with anti-war demonstrations and the 1960’s counter cultural movements. Animosity against long hair was intense; it bordered on outright hatred. Suburban home-dwellers, truck drivers, World War II vets, policemen and businessmen of every stripe heaped scorn and ridicule on long-hairs. Long-haired hitchhikers were sideswiped off the road, not hired or fired from jobs, or called fags or chicks. Intolerance ruled the airwaves.
Then, suddenly, long hair on men stopped being about politics. Yale-educated political conservatives with long locks began appearing on William F. Buckley’s "Firing Line." Those same truck drivers who used to run hippies off the road were now sporting hippie hairstyles. The same was true for those motorcycle gangs who used to castigate "peacenik" hippies. In the meantime, "dangerous" political radical types contented themselves with the retro-beatnik goatee.
Ira Einhorn, Philadelphia’s Earth Day founder and self-styled New Age guru, copied the long hair and beard styles of Abbie Hoffman and poet Allen Ginsberg. Einhorn, of course, was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, in 1979, and became the target of a massive FBI hunt after he fled to France to escape prosecution.
Charles Manson certainly denigrated the long hair and beard look with his nefarious deeds.\
"The culture of hair is most obvious in the United States," writes French journalist Hadrien Laroche in his book, The Last Genet, about the famous playwright and novelist Jean Genet. Laroche quotes Genet on hippie hair: "Any style would do, apparently: long; medium length; with a fringe; straight; black and greasy; flowing; all over the place, brown and frizzy; blonde and curly…This fashion, carried to extremes and even beyond in England, was born in California and grew out of the American army’s reverses in Vietnam…"
The contemporary man bun is ideology-free. If one were to reduce the man bun to politics it would be the politics cosmetic provocation, something that proclaims, "I’m different," when in fact man bun men are more likely to be far more ordinary than guys walking around with hair styles you don’t notice.
To illustrate my point, picture a man, nothing internal to rebel against, as "normal" as one can be. He would be completely unremarkable from others on the street. The man bun solves this problem by deviating from the established "normal" look.
The man with the Iroquois haircut who hates the anonymity that working as a bank teller brings; or the man who tattoos his neck or forehead because he never made it as an artist and he wants to be noticed somehow, or any way possible.
One good thing about the man bun is that it toys with notions of androgyny, although in a contrived, unattractive French maid kind of way.