Women: Buzz cut is beautiful

“Ever since I shaved my head, I really bloomed,” said Alana Derksen, of Toronto.
“Ever since I shaved my head, I really bloomed,” said Alana Derksen, of Toronto. The New York Times

A generation of young women is discovering a new way to get buzzed — no illicit substances required. Instead, all that’s needed is a good pair of clippers and some nerve.

“It’s given me this confidence I never had,” said Alana Derksen, a 22-year-old Toronto resident, whose buzz cut frequently draws admiring comments from her more than 21,000 Instagram followers.

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.

Models like Ruth Bell, whose career took off after she got buzzed for an Alexander McQueen campaign last year, have helped popularize 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.

“Before, it was more punk,” said Tamy Glauser, 31, whose nearly 10-year-old buzz cut predates her modeling 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 Ghesquière’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.

“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 fashion culture magazine i-D.

Said Glauser, “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. You realize there’s no right or wrong.”

Even for women who take up the clippers for completely unrelated reasons, the experience can prompt realizations 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.)

Before taking the plunge, Andrea Donoghue, who owns a salon in New York City, 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.