Why do male recruits get a buzz cut before enlisting in the military?

BTS star Jin has shared his new look ahead of starting mandatory service

The buzz cut in the military dates back to the Roman empire; it also remains an enduring classic fashion style. Getty Images
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As far as hairstyles go, it’s one of the most common in the world, and BTS member Jin is the latest in a long line of stars to get a buzz cut.

The singer, 30, has debuted a new look on Instagram ahead of enlisting for the mandatory military service all able-bodied men must undertake in South Korea.

Jin joked with fans on the Korean app Weverse that his new look was “cuter” than he had anticipated, and BTS’s music performance director Son Sung-deuk, who posted the photo of Jin, took to Instagram to write: “I hope you have a healthy trip and be a precious time in your life.”

South Korea isn’t the only country to give new male military recruits buzz cuts, as the hairstyle is also given to members of the armed forces in Australia, China, Russia, the UK and the US. Originally done to prevent the spread of head lice, it is also an easy style to maintain and promotes uniformity.

From Roman soldiers to Elvis

The shortest hairstyle someone can have without going totally bald, the military buzz cut isn’t new. Dating back to the soldiers of the Roman empire, while Vikings and Celtic warriors of the age wore their hair long, a legionary wore “short hairstyles like those of other men in their society” according to Victoria Sherrow’s The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History.

It wasn’t until the 1800s the buzz cut became the military haircut of choice once more when the French Foreign Legion required all new recruits to be shaven-headed for training.

When one of the most famous enlistees of all time, Elvis Presley, joined the US Army in 1958, the buzz cut had evolved into the “induction cut” allowing a slightly longer length on top. Women were not required to have the cut, but had to keep their hair tied back.

‘The buzz cut is always in style’

The shortness of the military hairstyle has, throughout history, been seen as the antithesis to the countercultural longer styles of 1950s teddy boys and '60s hippies.

Shorn hair outside of the military gained sway with the British working class subculture of skinheads in the 1960s, while one of the hairstyle’s most famous pop culture moments came via Sinead O’Connor whose buzz cut in the 1990 music video for Nothing Compares 2 U remains a defining moment in challenging female beauty standards.

While the buzz cut has always been a staple of certain cultures, in recent years, it has become as popular with women with the likes of Willow Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne all embracing the style.

“The buzz cut is always in style,” says Karl Warner, artistic director at Pastels Salon, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. “It can be super classic or super edgy depending on your personal style. Classic by keeping it your natural colour or edgy by bleaching it, toning it, having crazy colours or by painting or artwork on your buzz cut.”

Updated: December 13, 2022, 12:54 PM