We have heard 2014 proclaimed the year of the beard, November the month of the mustache, winter the season of the lumbersexual. Those people are wrong. The man-bun is in ascendance now, and it is, thankfully, unstoppable.
Disbelieve us all you want. But when you catch a woman (or man) in your life staring at not just a man’s upswept hair but that intimate spot at the nape of a man’s neck, framed by his bun and transformed into a detail on display for us … well, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
A man-bun occupies that erotic space between androgynous and hypermasculine, simultaneously feminine in its length and masculine in it’s devil-may-care updo – because a man-bun is never, ever tightly wound. It’s just about the sexiest thing on the sidewalk. A reappropriation of the hard semi-androgyny of a ballet dancer’s hair and the messy ‘dos of a fashion runway, an iconoclastic moment of genderfuck, it’s a style choice that is both high- and low-maintenance at once. Most of all, the man-bun makes us want to slowly take your hair down and run our fingers through it. And then it makes us want to do something else.
A well-kept man-bun sends all kinds of mixed signals without saying a word – but it definitely invites us to wonder.
Straddling both masculine peacocking and historically feminine hair length, the man-bun wearer knows that he is inviting the heteronormative female gaze – and he doesn’t shy away from the glances of gay and bisexual men. The man-bun signals an adherence to completely messing with people’s heads: with a suit, for instance, it also masterfully debunks stereotypes about long-haired men as slackers, hippies and low-ponytailed metalheads.
Man-buns ruffle feathers – and send hearts aflutter – because they embody a gender subversion without being arrogant or pretentious. When a man sweeps his hair into a bun and walks out the house, he says something – Yeah, this is me, and my face, and most likely my neck – in a manner we’re used to seeing on women with long hair. He flips on his head (quite literally) the idea of an updo as a woman’s look. Short haircuts show off men’s faces as much as a bun, but they don’t (and can’t) compare to the bun’s brashness.
This hairstyle carries along a legacy that stretches from the Japanese samurai chonmage of the 1600s to modern-day interpretations of the simple flick of hair coiled into a manageable knot. But as the man-bun’s power mushroomed in 2014, we’ve seen actors, musicians and sportsmen jump onboard – Leonardo DiCaprio’s mid- to low-range messy bun at this year’s United Nations general assembly’s summit meeting on climate change; actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s low, laidback bun courtside at a basketball game in New York; footballer David Beckham and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, using top knots to keep their hair from obstructing their game; Jared Leto, with slick hair folded into a half-open bun at the Golden Globes; perpetually messy-bunned Joaquin Phoenix. Rapper Ludacris even earns an honourable mention for his earlier efforts with dual afro puffs, when he’d let his ‘fro rest between cornrow braids in the early noughties.
Wearing a man-bun without a hint of irony takes a certain amount of ego: long hair’s picked up a bad rap over the past few decades, mostly due to atrocities committed against humanity by the low ponytail and 1980s hair-metal back-combers. But this is a new era – the twilight of the ponytail, the dawn of the killer bun-and-beard combination. And we are most definitely watching.