Short back and sides.

If that’s an expression that you’re familiar with, then the odds are you a) grew up in a time when men only frequented barbers b) were raised by a man who falls into the previous category c) have had at least a half decent up bringing. Which more or less guarantees that it’s an expression that everyone reading this piece is familiar with. And yet, it’s an expression that doesn’t get used all that much anymore. As far as expressions go, it languishes in a corner of a disused room covered in only slightly more dust than (did we ever really say them) expressions such as manscaping and metrosexual. But dust be damned – you’re going to hear a lot more of short back and sides in the coming year. Your hair stylist is going to whisk scissors around your head and then do something that they probably haven’t done in a long time: they’ll ask permission to use clippers. Neigh, they’ll beg permission.

And why might that be?

To put none too fine a point on it (and to quote Peter Allen) “everything old is new again.”

The 70s are back for those with American tastes, the 60s are swinging again for those who prefer something from the other side of the Atlantic, and women are again working their way through the 50s though will none too soon start contemplating 1920s fashion for the second time in a few years. As for us guys, we’re already there. Courtesy of Don Draper we got our 60s revival before women did, and now we’re seeing that the 20s have already made their mark on this year’s men’s haircuts – it’s one of those rare occasions where men’s fashion is ahead of women’s.

A 1920s / 1930s men’s hairstyle revival.

There’ll be no shortage of hair cuts now that require a set of clippers, but they won’t all be influenced by the way men wore their hair in the 1920s and 1930s. Here we’re not talking about one specific style, but a variation on a theme: short back, short sides, and length through the top. In its time its had many a name, each related to the subculture indulging in it (in 1980s Scandanavia it was dubbed the synth haircut as a result of its association with synth bands of the era). But in short (not a pun, honestly) the length on top slicked backwards, meaning that the disconnect between the back, sides and top makes this an undercut hairstyle.

james darmody hair

True to the 20s/30s revival (and the media that’s spurring it on), the key look to the undercut revival is that worn by James ‘Jimmy’ Darmody (actor Michael Pitt, photographed at top for Interview magazine) in Boardwalk Empire. Pitt has a pretty good hairline, but for those who are thinning at the temple area there are still options:


What to ask for.

The first thing you have to ask your hair dresser / stylist / barber / drunk friend with a pair of scissors (actually, insist the latter stays the fuck away from you) is whether it’s going to work for your hair. Yes, we recommend this step for all the hair trends we write about, but a haircut that requires short sides and a long top isn’t going to work for every guy out there.

For those whom it is, we’ve again turned to Melbourne stylist Annika Bowen for advice on precisely what you should be asking for.

When it comes to asking for your sides to be cut, you have two main options. The first is to have them cut with scissors over comb. The second is to have the sides cut short with clippers. Annika recommends the latter, with the clippers giving a much better effect – having the clippers on number 2 is preferential for this kind of undercut, however, number 3 will still work for those not wanting to go quite as short.

If you do have a thinner temple akin to the second photo above, you can opt to have the sides trimmed extra short at the front temple area. Specifically you’re after a number 1 cut in front of your ears, with that shortness blended into a number 2 or 3 on the rest of the sides and on the back of your head.

While it has to be left long, you have a few more options when it comes to the top. The key rule to the top is this, however: it has to be long, and more length (within reason) is better.

Unlike most other haircuts for the coming seasons that use clippers, this undercut is one that doesn’t require any blending between the sides and the top. You could, however, opt to have it the top blending with the crown depending on how your hair sits. But in short, take a picture of the style that you prefer when you go to get your haircut.

Final tip: this is a hair cut that’s depends on the sharpness of the outline, so when your hair dresser passes the mirror to the sides and back of your head, double check to see that it is precisely finished, particularly on the back of your neck and around your ears. If it’s not, ask them to touch it up. And if they don’t give you the final once over with a mirror, don’t go back.


What to style it with

Annika recommends but one product for styling the undercut: gel. Specifically a light weight gel that the likes of Label.M, Tigi Catwalk and Bumble and Bumble all make.


What else.

If you’re still undecided about the undercut haircut, then be sure to take in’s men’s hair guide.

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