Derksen had wanted to shave her head for years but refrained out of fear of how her “conservative” family would react. Then, late one night last summer during a tense trip home, she finally gave in to the impulse, cutting off her hair in her parents’ bathroom and using a Bic razor to finish the job.
Now, she said, she’s so used to her bald head, which she maintains with electric clippers, she has nightmares about her hair growing back. Even her parents have come around on the shorn ‘do.
“At first they thought there was something wrong with me,” she said. “Now they love it.”
Regardless of parental approval, it seems more and more women are taking up the clippers to make a statement – sartorial or otherwise.
“I’ve definitely noticed this trend on the streets recently,” said Andrea Donoghue, who owns Laurel, a private studio in New York City’s East Village. “I think it’s a trickle down from what’s been happening in fashion lately.”
Models like Ruth Bell, whose career took off after she got buzzed for an Alexander McQueen campaign last year, have helped popularise the style. High fashion has always had an appreciation for a shaved head, but this time even mall-store brands like Zara and Forever 21 embraced Bell.
“A client of mine recently came in with a picture of Ruth from a Zara campaign,” Donoghue recalled.
“Before, it was more punk,” said Tamy Glauser, 31, whose nearly 10-year-old buzz cut predates her modelling career. “Now, people are starting to think maybe a shaved head is actually really chic and elegant. It’s not just for skinheads.”
Glauser has walked the runway for Louis Vuitton for the last five seasons, and credits the designer Nicolas Ghesquiere’s stamp of approval for helping to change the fashion industry’s view on bald women.
Fashion has always had a symbiotic (some may say parasitic) relationship to subculture. So while the buzz cut is more visible than ever within the fashion community, the trend is undeniably rooted in the street.
Take i-D’s recent Futurewise issue: One of its four covers features a buzz cut on the model Lina Hoss, but inside the issue, which was envisioned as “a global portrait of youth, opinion and style in 2016,” you can spot many more on the teenagers street-cast by the publication.
“Individuality and androgyny are certainly not a new thing in fashion, but the trend has swung back around due to a larger gender conversation,” said Alastair McKimm, the fashion director at i-D.
As awareness of the transgender community dawns in the United States, and as the English language grapples with new gender pronouns, millennials (sometimes called the gender-fluid generation) are placing greater importance on expressing their identity through clothing, makeup – and, yes, hair.
“A girl with a buzz cut is like Jaden Smith wearing a skirt,” Glauser said, referring to Will Smith’s son, who has publicly challenged gender norms through fashion. Glauser says that people often make assumptions about sexual orientation based on appearances, “but the two have nothing to do with each other.”
“I think it’s good for society to see people going against what we’ve all been taught is the way we’re supposed to dress for our sex and our orientation,” she said. “You realise there’s no right or wrong.”
Even for women who take up the clippers for completely unrelated reasons, the experience can prompt realisations about gender norms.
“The first time, it was an impulsive decision,” said Mackenzie Jones, 20, who has kept a shaved head since she was 15, when a bad breakup inspired the act. “But when I look back now, I think I did it – without knowing it at the time – because it was the ultimate rejection of the male gaze.”
Besides the obvious convenience and the aesthetic appeal, Jones said, she has stuck to the shorn style because, particularly when she was younger, it helped filter out potential suitors who weren’t “on my level.” (Plenty of guys, she adds, are into the look.)
Dressing for one’s self, not one’s paramour, has been a theme in fashion for several seasons now, with the rise of athleisure and the growing importance placed on personal comfort. Unsurprisingly, those values have spread from our clothes to our hair.
“Women are moving away from that long, pretty bohemian vibe that was happening for so long and starting to take more risks,” Donoghue said. “They’re not afraid to not look pretty.”
Before taking the plunge, Donoghue recommends that first-time buzzers visit a salon to get a professional’s opinion. “Some head shapes are better for the style than others,” she said.
For those with unfortunately shaped heads, there is still hope: Donoghue said there are slight variations on the cut, like a “subtle fade,” in which the hair “hugs the nape and hairline a little tighter and then gradually fades into a round shape,” which tends to be more flattering.
Flat-headed or not, what Donoghue can’t prepare clients for is the ensuing feeling of exposure – and liberation.
“A lot of women are very attached to their hair,” Jones said. “When I was in a bad relationship, my hair was like this mask. Once it’s all gone, you don’t have anything left to change. You have to look yourself in the face and deal with it. It’s really transformative.”
Which is why, regardless of how mainstream it becomes, the buzz cut will always be more than just a hairdo.