The Man Bun Cannot Be Stopped, Unfortunately

I was relieved to read that authorities have arrested a man they believe to be responsible for all those awful freeway shootings in Phoenix. Now if only we could track down and punish the desperado who’s cursed us with the man bun, justice would truly be served.

Of course, apprehending the guy who invented this offensive hairstyle (it had to have been a man; no woman would be foolish enough to concoct anything so awful as guys yanking their long hair into topknots and twists) wouldn’t stop this unfortunate trend. It’s too late.

Like neck tattoos and curly Salvador Dalí moustaches, man buns are everywhere these days. Briefly the bailiwick of nutjob celebs like Joaquin Phoenix and second-tier rock stars like Hozier and Harry Styles (whose name sounds like a commentary on the man bun), this sad style has gone on to destroy the do’s of dreamy matinee idols like Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaall, and Chris Hemsworth.

Most want to blame this appalling fad on NBA player Joakim Noah, whose elaborate recreation of Katharine Hepburn’s Lion in Winter hairdo made headlines several years ago. Others point to soccer star David Beckham, who began wearing his hair like a samurai nearly a decade before. The NFL’s Clay Matthews and actor Orlando Bloom were among the earliest to gather their long hair into a knot in a desperate and skuzzy plea for paparazzi attention.

Regardless of who’s to blame, this silly updo has evolved into a populist nightmare held in place by a rubber band or a prissy leather tie behind the necks of baristas, courtesy clerks, valets.

When I wore my own hair long — a truth I rarely admit and which I always append with the qualifier “when I was very young, in the '80s, when such things were considerable fashionable” — I did not pin it up or fold it into a Dairy Queen curlicue atop my noggin. I braided it. Maybe I’m splitting hairs (ouch!) when I boast that I braided my hair rather than wearing it, as so many ballplayers and rock gods are today doing, in a cute little knot. My defense then, as now, is that I was not following a trend, I was attempting to create one. (Fortunately, I failed.)

Not so the man bun, which is officially a thing according to a New York Times story railing against the follicle offense earlier this month. The inevitable social media spoofs include a BuzzFeed clip of hot guys with buns Photoshopped on and comedian Derick Watts’ “Stop the Knot” YouTube sketches, in which he and his angry pals chop off strangers’ buns, vigilante style.

There’s nothing new about celebrity males adopting dreadful hairstyles that briefly become faddish among guys everywhere. George Clooney foisted the Caesar cut on us in the ’90s (and most of us who tried it missed the point: that none of us will ever look as good as George Clooney, ever, no matter what we do). Jon Hamm’s greasy, slicked-back Mad Men mop was a blessedly short-lived trend. And then there was that guy from Flock of Seagulls, in the ’80s. The less said about that do, the better.

But why the man bun? At what point did men decide that wearing their hair in a chignon at the nape of their neck made them hot?

I called on my friend Dan Gillihan. I’ve known Dan since the ’60s, so he wasn’t surprised when I texted him to say, “We need to talk about man buns.” Dan owns Savant, a salon in Glendale, and remembers me from 1975, when I had hair so long, he likes to tell people, he couldn’t see my face.

“That’s because I wasn’t wearing it in a bun!” I crowed to Dan.

It turns out there’s nothing all that new about the man bun, according to Dan, who thinks the current version of the hairdo is lazy and unstylish.

“It’s a very old look,” he told me. “It was originally worn by people of high nobility. I remember seeing guys doing this in the ’80s, and thinking, ‘What a cool look!’ But now it’s been brought back by the very wealthy and by pro sports players, because they don't care what other people think. They’re gorgeous, so they can get away with looking messy and undone. But then it becomes a trend, and everyone is doing it.”

I’m hoping that trend will pass soon, that Brad will arrive home from a UNICEF fundraiser to find Angelina wielding a pair of shears and a stern look. Early indications that this unfortunate fad may be on its way out include last week’s Emmy Awards appearance by actor Peter Dinklage, who’s definitely not a Hollywood sex symbol and who turned up at that ceremony in an elaborately messy man bun. Or perhaps the bun recently worn by Olympic skater Johnny Weir will do the trick, because once a gay athlete begins yanking his hair back into a clever little knot, it can’t be long before soccer stud Graham Zusi switches to plaits or maybe a spiral perm.

But first the man bun will, like all horrible fads, have to run through various revisions on its way out the door. We can look forward, I’m sure, to men wearing buns with knitting needles stuck into them, followed by buns accessorized with horn-rimmed eyeglasses to maximize that Sexy Librarian look. Finally, I suppose, men will take to wearing their hair in snoods, after which we will turn to a new and different way to annoy others and chase romance away. And then “looking at men’s buns” can resume its former and frankly more tranquil meaning.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela