Also known as a G.I., or government issue, haircut, the standard crew cut is a variation on the buzz cut, a regulation haircut given to servicemen in the U.S. military in which the entire head is sheared, typically with an electric razor. In the crew cut a thick bristle of hair less than an inch long is left at the top of the head. A variation on the crew cut, in which this strip of hair is allowed to grow out and cut in a straight, flat style, is called a flat top. When the top is slightly longer and tousled, it is known as a feather crew or Ivy League cut since it was often worn by students of Ivy League schools, the American universities with the highest academic and social prestige. Outside the United States the term crew cut has a much narrower meaning, denoting a cut that is short all over (about one-fourth inch), perhaps tapered a little at the back and sides. Crew cuts gained a following in Great Britain in the 1950s.
The crew cut did not originate in the military. In fact it first gained popularity on college campuses, where college crew, or rowing, teams adopted the style to differentiate themselves from other undergraduates. The crew cut's association with these elite organizations helped make it the hairstyle of choice for those who respected authority. As self-styled rebels, nonconformists, and antiestablishment types began to adopt longer and longer hairstyles beginning in the 1960s, those who still sported crew cuts were often ridiculed as "squares," in part a reference to their angular haircuts. By the 1990s, however, those cultural divides had largely faded into the past. Short hairstyles made a comeback, led by the buzz cut but also, notably, the crew cut, now seen as a symbol of toughness and an uncompromising personal style.
Cooper, Wendy. Hair, Sex, Society, and Symbolism. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.