The Military Side Swept Hairstyle with Taper Haircut

The classic side swept style with taper and the military

The military has been an excellent source of great classic hairstyles for men. A buzz cut, which is a common hairstyle name in the military for very short hair, is more of an umbrella term for many hairstyles such as the crew cut, the undercut and the Ivy League. Thus, as a barber, I’m a fan of going through history textbooks and films from the First World War and Second World War and noticing the military haircuts of those eras and how they related to the civilian population.

Many times, the haircuts and hairstyles used during big wars became popular among civilians as military males returned from the war once it was over. Such a trend wasn’t just limited to men’s hairstyles, other trends such as riding motorbikes or wearing leather jackets were sparked by the big wars (most notable, World War II) as civilians were quick to pick up on those rare (until then) clothing and grooming elements of military males once the war had ended.

The slicked side swept hairstyle with a taper haircut

One military hairstyle that was very popular during the Second World War was the side swept hairstyle with a taper haircut. This particular haircut shape could be, in fact, be addressed as “the” classic haircut for men. The side swept with taper cut was used most commonly by high-ranking military officials in the United States as well as in Europe. A sergeant with his hair slicked to the side in a side part with the rest of his hair tapered was indeed a common sight during World War Two.

A photograph of a military sergeant with a slicked side part hairstyle and a short formal haircut sitting on a chair while talking about the Hiroshima bomb

The hair length for the side swept hairstyle is 3 to 5 inches of hair on the top of the head, while the sides and back of the head are tapered with scissors and a hair clipper to a short taper haircut. This haircut format was known at the time as a convertible haircut since one could go from a side swept style to a slicked back hairstyle in a minute by simply slicking his hair with a comb.

A picture of a military haircut styled with a slicked side swept on a military sergeant

For the side swept hairstyle with a taper, the main men’s hair product to use is pomade. The side swept is what I call a “pomade hairstyle” since the side swept only requires pomade to style it. Likewise, the slicked back hairstyle is also a pomade hairstyle, and, as far as classic hairstyles for men go, I’d labeled both the side swept and the slick back as the two main pomade hairstyles. Other pomade hairstyles include the pompadour, the duck’s ass and the quiff, but such hairstyles are out of the scope of this article.

Popularity of the side swept hairstyle during the 1930s and 1940s

The side swept was indeed a popular hairstyle in the 1930s, the decade that saw the Second World War starting. Already by the early 1930s, the side swept was a popular male hairstyle and referred to nowadays as the Gatsby hairstyle due to the side swept being worn by none other than the Great Gatsby who was portrayed by Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio in the movies “The Great Gatsby” in 1974 and 2013 respectively.

A great photograph of Robert Redford with a 1930s side swept hairstyle for the movie The Great Gatsby

The popularity of the side swept had actually started in the late 1920s and early 1920s, but by the 1930s the side swept was a common hairstyle to be seen in public. When the Second World War began, high-ranking officials adopted the side swept hairstyle as their main hairstyle, since this hairstyle was very convenient and easy to style. High-ranking officials do very little fighting on the battle scenes, so the side swept allowed high-ranking officials to exude an authoritative presence.

Once the Second World War was over in the mid-1940s, the side swept’s popularity as a formal hairstyle skyrocketed and it became an iconic hairstyle up until the 1960s and during the Golden Era of Hollywood in the 1950s.

All in all, there’s much history to the side swept hairstyle and much of it is unfortunately owed to the Second World War. However, the side swept is a great example to illustrate how functional hairstyles used in the military have been adopted by mainstream society in the past and in the present!

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