During the past five to seven years, the high fade has become a ubiquitous hairstyle, dominant even, in big cities like L.A. It's everywhere. Men, women and nongendered people alike have all glommed onto the style. It covers a lot of demographic ground.
Though there are many variations, the high fade is generally characterized by clean lines and an attention to tight grooming, and is relatively quick and easy to achieve. When filmmakers in 50 years want to make a movie about 2015, they'll likely use the high fade as a synechdoche for the social media–addled hellscape of this godawful decade. As hipsterdom became mainstreamed in the early 2010s, the high fade became a popular go-to that was current while alluding heavily to the past.
Seriously, if future generations were judging by photographs alone, they might think we were enjoying another swing revival at the moment.
All of this is to say that the high fade seems to have hit a saturation point. It's everywhere, particularly among urban, left-leaning 20- and 30-somethings.
But the high fade's appropriation by libertarians and blundering “figureheads” of the so-called alt-right (aka white supremacists) like Milo Yabbadapolous and Richard Spencer (aka the “Dapper Nazi,” who will forever be known for getting cracked in the face) signals an attempt by the white supremacists to reclaim this haircut and tie it to its Nazi roots. Or better yet, it's a way for crypto-Nazis to feel like OG Nazis. So the question remains: Will the left turn on the high fade now that these morons are trying to hijack it?
Bambi Saunders — head of education at Rudy's Barbershop — gave me the rundown on where the haircut comes from, how it got so hot in recent times and if the white supremacists can kill it.
The high fade “started out more like a military haircut,” Saunders explains. “A marine would get the 'high and tight.' There are many variations like the high fade or the thin fade. I know when my dad was in boot camp, they would shave everyone's head and that's how they knew that you were in boot camp, because you'd have a bald head. And when you were not in boot camp, when you're an officer, you still had to keep your hair coiffed pretty short. But you could have a little something growing on the top, so that’s where the high and tight came in.”
But the American military fade was a bit different from other military styles in the first half of the 20th century. “So the U.S. military fade is more like high and tight, like almost where the head starts to turn. It’s cropped super short,” she continues. “And then the Hitler Youth cut was more like lots of hair on top and sometimes more hair on that parietal ridge.”
It seems like the Hitler Youth style high fade is more popular than the more understated, U.S. military style high fade. Saunders agrees and adds, “We have a name for it: the Hippler,” a portmanteau of hipster and Hitler, of course.
When pressed for how this Hippler got so popular, Saunders explains: “It was five years ago we started seeing classic styles coming back. Before that it was the faux hawk, you know, like pushed back in the middle — not really a mohawk. Until probably around 2008, 2009, where we’re doing the faux hawk and trying to get in more of the classic hairstyle and classic just being, you know, like ’20s, ’30s, ’40s hairstyles — and then Macklemore hit.”
Yes, against all odds, Macklemore is probably the reason Richard Spencer and everyone you know has a high fade. Saunders admits she “hasn’t seen a trend like that ever in my career, something so popular and how so many people through so many different age groups — like, even old guys are getting a Macklemore or a version of the Macklemore.”
Saunders continues, “So the first Macklemore was shaved all the way up to the part line and then shaved all the way up on the other side like an undercut. And that was more of an extreme style where you were trying to kind of figure out ways to make the Macklemore haircut, like, more wearable for everyone because if you’re in your 50s and have that Macklemore haircut, it looks kind of silly.” It will all look pretty silly in a decade’s time.
So back to the question: Should knowing the white supremacists has a hard-on for the high fade make you think twice on renewing yours next time you get a cut?
Saunders thinks there’s no sign that the high fade’s popularity is slowing down at all. “The high fade,” she says with certainty, “is not going anywhere.” If anything, it might be more popular than ever right now.
I know what you’re probably thinking: This is the classic Michael Bolton conundrum. Why should I change my name if he’s the one who sucks? And you’re right, you shouldn’t necessarily change your haircut because some Nazi-invoking, oversensitive amoeba didn’t get enough attention in eighth grade or whatever. No one should do anything they don't want to do (even if they probably should), and I'm certainly not here to shame anyone for their choice of coif.
But rampant code-switching is everywhere right now and worth at least being aware of. Idiots like Paul Joseph Watson — who, incidentally, doesn't sport a high fade — are desperately trying to claim that “the alt-right is the new counterculture.” Or take, for example, fashwave, where internet Nazis are trying (poorly) to appropriate synthesizers, which have classically been made by and for progressives. Or the atrocious “dapper Nazi” pieces that came out in the L.A. Times and Mother Jones in the wake of the election. Genevieve Burgess makes a strong case for the hypocrisy of the far right cribbing style tips from the left in her piece “The Dapper Nazis Get All Their Best Ideas From People They Hate.” Citing examples like “snowflake” from gay author Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club or the “red pill” in The Matrix, created by two trans women. And it's not just the far right.
The center-left has been spending the last three months nicking tricks from the conservative playbook and indulging in reactionary fantasies as if the left were suddenly drinking the Infowars Kool-Aid. It goes both ways.
Ultimately, though, white supremacists doesn't actually care if it's being hypocritical by appropriating from cultures it claims to hate. Sad dullards like Richard Spencer want to be relevant and part of the conversation more than they care about consistency of ideology. So they'll take the high fade if it helps them pass for decent. And we should clown them for it, despite the lame idea that by calling attention to bad people, we're enabling them, which has been an all-too-common refrain on the left as of late.
Haircuts aren't politics, but it's worth noting that some mouth breathers on the Nazi end of the spectrum are trying to co-opt urban millennial fashion. And whether we're talking “ironic” Pepe Nazis or Nazi Nazis, what they have in common is that they're aggressively uncool. More than anything, they're just lame.
Should we continue dragging these tasteless clowns or should we just let them think they're winning, or whatever? In difficult times like these, sometimes the only relevant question is, “What would Macklemore do?”