Perhaps no modern fashion trend has been as controversial as that of men growing their hair long. Beginning with the beatniks and hippies—names given to those who rejected the established customs of society in the 1950s and 1960s—and spreading quickly throughout society, long hair on men represented a rebellion against the clean-cut image that had prevailed during previous decades. Hippies often wore their hair down to their shoulders and longer as a sign of protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War (1954–75) and to set themselves apart from the mainstream society. The popular Broadway musical Hair (1968) dramatized the importance of long hair to the anticonformist feelings of the youth of the 1960s. Jeff Poniewaz's poem "Why Young Men Wore Their Hair Long in the Sixties" in Viet Nam Generation illustrates the principals that many men felt lay behind their decision to grow their hair: "Because the first thing they do in/a prison an insane asylum or the Marines/is shear off all your hair exactly like sheep."
Many people, especially older people, saw the increasing length of men's hair as a challenge to the conservative values of patriotism, religion, and masculinity. Some people got aggressively angry and threatened or attacked men with long hair. Many schools and businesses made rules about the acceptable length of men's and boys'
As the political significance of long hair faded after the 1960s and 1970s, the acceptable length for men's hair became much more flexible and long hair passed from political statement to fashion statement. By the twenty-first century men were able to wear their hair in a variety of different lengths, from shaved bald to below the shoulders. Still, long hair retained some symbolic resistance to dominant cultural styles.
Brown, Joe David. The Hippies. Richmond, VA: Time, 1967.
Poniewaz, Jeff. "Why Young Men Wore Their Hair Long in the Sixties." Viet Nam Generation (March 1994).
Simpson, T. "Real Men, Short Hair." Intellectual Digest (November 1973): 76–78.