The History of the Crew Cut

George Washington ordered his army recruits to get their hair cut in a crew cut when he founded our army. This very short style has been given to boys from the 1940s to present day. The crew cut was also given to millions of military recruits during World War II and Vietnam. After Watergate and Vietnam, most men abandoned this haircut until the end of the past century.

Other Names

The crew cut is known by several names, such as the baldy sour, the buzz, the flattop and the burr. According to Herbert Klug of, the crew cut is a different cut from the flattop. With the crew cut, the man’s hair is cut to the same length (distance) all over the head. The hair at the top of the head is rounded, not flat. Klug says that the crew cut is also called the “butch cut," similar to the haircut a man would get before he enters the military or when he’s already in the military. With the flattop, the sides are shaved close to the head, and the hair on top of the man’s head is allowed to grow longer so that, when it is time to cut it, it can be cut in a flat “plane” (thus, the name “flattop”).

Famous Crew Cuts

Men who were considered American heroes wore the crew cut. Men such as Steve McQueen, Mickey Mantle and John Glenn opted for the crew cut. After the 1960s, this haircut was favored by men such as H.R. Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, Southern bullies and men who were considered part of the establishment. During the turbulent 1960s and even in the 1970s, during and after Watergate, this haircut was no longer associated with heroes or a more innocent time such as the 1950s.


In 1775, before the founding of the United States, when George Washington created the army, he decreed that recruits were supposed to have short hair. In World War II, the term “crew cut” entered our lexicon when the young men who enlisted in the war effort got the short haircut in basic training. The cut was seen as a warrior’s cut.

The army called the crew cut “field sanitation” and said this was the reason for administering such a short haircut. Because soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen lived in such close quarters, there was a need for lice control. This haircut also worked to standardize the appearance of all military recruits. Because all the troops looked the same with this crew cut, it might have seemed to the enemy that men who had been cut down in battle had come back to life, which would have been demoralizing for the enemy.

The 1950s

After the war ended, men who had served in the Pacific and Europe came home and entered the civilian workforce. They kept their crew cuts and, instead of donning army fatigues, they wore the civilian uniform (gray flannel suit). During the 1950s, men didn’t have much latitude in their dress or hairstyles. The crew cut was the style of choice for men who conformed to society’s expectations.


The “crew cut” is a term for any short hairstyle that is tapered on the sides and back of the head. Some crew cuts are also tapered at the top to give a bit more length to the hair at the hairline, so it could be worn combed up and back, parted or forward like bangs.