The New York Times published a long-form article on Thursday exploring the relationship between TikTok’s trendiest male hairstyle and its unexpected inspiration… Alexander the Great.
Yes, you heard that right: it seems that Alexander the Great is still conquering the world, only this time it’s the world of men’s hairstyles! The article takes a deep dive into the curly mane that every guy– from mega famous to hopeful fan– is trying to replicate.
The style involves curling one’s mid-length hair and pushing it all to the front. The method of achieving the curls depends on how naturally wavy your hair is in the first place: some guys just tousle their hair with their fingers while blow drying in the morning, others have resorted to using flat iron hair straighteners to twist their locks into perfect hand made ringlets.
The hairstyle first re-emerged on the massively popular video sharing platform Tik Tok, where the app’s most ubiquitous and charismatic stars can be seen sporting it daily, from Noah Beck to Josh Richards. The style became so in-demand that a subgenre of videos began cropping up on the app, of men giving tutorials to on the best and easiest ways to achieve the style.
Historians say that TikTok’s favorite male hairstyle has all the key elements of Alexander the Great’s
But the article notes that this style is not a contemporary invention born of the imagination of Gen Z– it has the key markers of a hairstyle that was the standard for ancient men, especially Alexander the Great. Art Historian Katherine Schwab told the newspaper that the lynchpin of the style–coming one’s hair to the front of the head–is one that comes directly from ancient Greece and Rome, and that the emphasis on textured curls was crucial for the men of antiquity as well. Schwab is an expert in ancient hairstyles, having curated an exhibition in 2015 called “Hair in the Classical World.”
“Most famously, Alexander the Great had very much thick hair, tousled, and it still came from the crown,” said Schwab. “I think that attention to the hair now for the men, and going to this, I would say, this extreme, has a parallel in antiquity. It’s not new.”
Marice Rose, who works with Schwab at Fairfield Univesrity and helped curate “Hair in the Classical World,” told the Times that the style has another crucial reference– the first Roman emperor Augustus. Rose says that many interpret Augustus’s style as being directly lifted from Alexander the Great’s, and that Augustus hoped that it would inspire people to perceive him as part of a lineage of rulers:
“There are plenty of historical, sociological and anthropological studies showing that hair’s styling and arrangement have been — and continue to be — used to communicate information about a person’s individual and social identity throughout history, worldwide,” Rose told the paper.
“I don’t think the TikTokers have the same propagandistic goals as the Roman emperors!” she said, but that “our culture has also become extremely visually oriented with the smartphone putting cameras and viewing devices in everyone’s pockets, and people recording and curating their every experience for visual consumption by others. Now, it’s not just the rich and powerful who can create portraits.”
Commenters on the article were less inclined to read meaning into the trend, despite the expert’s insights. Leaving messages that ranged from the amused to the bitterly dismissive, it seemed like most commenters used the piece as an opportunity to mourn their lack of locks:
“As a middle-aged guy, the best advice I can give these teens is to take lots of photos so that one day they can show their kids what they once looked like with hair,” read the piece’s top comment.
“Thank you for this hard-hitting expose,” another commenter wrote sarcastically.
Despite the reader’s disagreements, one person found inspiration in the article, noting that it showed how the cycling of trends jumps across time:
“To the young people doing this. Enjoy yourself. Wear your hair however you like. If you look in the mirror and it makes you happy, great. To any folks my age.No one cares what we think about fashion. Fashion is for the young. And I wish a long happy life to the current fashion trendsetters. In fifteen years you will find your choices ridiculed by the following generation. Add another twenty years and you may witness your choices in a revival.”