Last week, the New York Times published an analysis of man bun hairstyles in the United States. The verdict? The state of the man bun is strong.
So what are man buns, and what do they mean? Where did they come from? And most importantly, why, just...why? Though it's impossible to exhaust the limits of 2015's most luscious and enigmatic hairstyle, we can catch you up on the man bun basics.
1) What is a man bun?
This question is harder to answer than you might think.
That's because the man bun is a surprisingly versatile hairstyle that incorporates many different elements. It's easiest to say what a man bun must include: hair from the top of the head, tied, and not hanging freely down (as it might in a ponytail).
But after that, just about anything goes. As the graphic below shows, dramatically different looks are still, technically, all man buns:
Lots of variables can affect a man bun's appearance, including:
- The size of the bun. This depends on raw materials. If a man has a lot of hair to work with, he's likely to have a large bun that includes a lot of hair. If not, he's more likely to have a "nubbin" of hair that will stick up or out and not appear as a full bun (this style is occasionally called a "top knot").
- The position of the knot. The bun or nubbin can appear on top of the head or toward the back, greatly affecting the look of the bun. If a man bun travels too far back on the head, it is called a "pony bun."
- The hair on the side of the head. A full man bun uses the same base materials as a pony tail — a large amount of hair, on all sides, pulled back and put into a bun. However, just as particularly long hair isn't required for a man bun, side hair isn't required. Often, man bun wearers will shave the sides of their heads or closely clip the sides (a style called an "undercut").
2) So when did these things become popular?
Largely within the past couple of years. Google Trends is one useful gauge, showing a few pops of man bun curiosity in 2013, a surge of interest in 2014, and then an unabated rise through 2015.
That's a good proxy for public interest, but it's by no means the first time the phrase showed up. Man buns showed up in New York Times trend pieces as early as January 2012, and one of the first Tweets about the man bun came in 2011:
So the man bun has existed throughout history, but it's safe to say the bun really came into its own after 2012.
3) Did celebrities make the man bun a hit hairstyle?
That's debatable. Early man bun journalism often pointed to bunned celebrities, who no doubt influenced its popularity. Notable evangelists included Jared Leto, Joakim Noah, Chris Hemsworth, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Orlando Bloom.
But others credit lower-profile sources of inspiration, including Brooklyn bartenders and other garden-variety hipsters. As with all fashion, tracing the exact lines of influence can be difficult.
4) What about historical sources? Didn't samurai have man buns?
Not exactly. This is certainly a widespread perception, likely influenced by John Belushi's portrayal of a samurai in Saturday Night Live skits.
But photographs and woodcuts of actual Japanese samurai show far more varied hairstyles. A few samurai wore a bun-like shape, but many others displayed the chonmage, which involved shaving the front of the head:
In any case, today's man buns aren't really a throwback to samurai fashion. Most of today's man buns tend to be paired with a trendy shirt, a beard, cool pants, or some other fashionable accessory. A man bun is more than the bun itself — its part of a broader lifestyle statement.
5) Can I have a music break? Preferably with a man singing the word "man bun" in falsetto?
As man buns have become famous, they've taken over pop culture. Like any trend, they inspire parodies. But a host of factors have made the man bun great for spreading quickly: it has a catchy name, it's emerged in an era of increasing internet influence over the culture at large, and, most importantly, everybody has an opinion about it.
6) So why did normal people start growing man buns?
Is there a unified theory of man bun?
Let's look at the previous trendy haircut. That haircut is called the "high and tight," or, less-sensitively, the "Hitler Youth" (so-called because of its similarity to the popular 1930s German haircut). Still in vogue in many places, it involves growing the top long and shaving or closely clipping the sides, as shown by Macklemore (one of many celebrities who wears the style):
Man buns, especially undercut man buns, are an easy extension of that look. Grow out your hair a little more, and you suddenly have enough to make a top knot. Truly popular men's haircuts often appear on a timeline — a new trend succeeds when it's easily adaptable from an old one. After all, the "high and tight" followed a Mad Men inspired trend of slicked back hair and close-cut sides.
Just as helpfully, the cut also works on different types of hair: biracial NBA player Joakim Noah was one of the first big stars to wear it, and many black men have modified the man bun for their hair type using braids or dreadlocks in the bun (with variation on the sides that's similar to all other man bun wearers).
Curly-headed man buns are common too, though they can require slightly longer hair. The accessibility of man buns means that anyone with the current cool haircut can wear them surprisingly quickly.
7) What does the man bun really mean?
The man bun is arguably a symbol of something new and daring in an age when it's harder than ever to buck the status quo. Short neat hair has been "in" ever since Mad Men brought it back, and the man bun is a fresh transgression.
Alternatively, you could see the man bun as the latest in a series of gender redefinitions, since men are wearing what's traditionally seen as a female style. That's nothing new. From the fashionistas of the 18th century, to long-haired hippies, to the early 2000s "metrosexuals," men's fashion trends have often been interpreted as pushing the boundaries of traditional masculinity.
So when will the man bun die? Nobody can predict that. Maybe the 1990s Caesar cut will come back into style — right now, that would be a radical act. But then again, so would a rat tail, or a mullet, or bleached tips.
What's certain is that as long as the man bun is bold, it will be beautiful.
8) Should I grow a man bun?
You must be the bun you wish to see in the world.