Since New Zealand was colonised by Europeans, short styles have dominated men’s hair fashions. Some mid-19th-century styles were longer, with hair brushing the collar, but most men have worn their hair short.
The 1950s saw the first major changes in men’s styles. The overwhelmingly dominant style in the mid-20th century was a short back and sides. Some teenagers and young men had adopted crew cuts (short all over), which were first seen on United States’ servicemen stationed in New Zealand in the 1940s. Others copied film and rock-and-roll stars, growing their hair longer. In the 1960s some men styled their hair to match the look of bands such as the Beatles – initially short ‘mod-look’ cuts, and then a longer, more unkempt style. Although these styles were short compared to what was to come, they were seen as radical at the time.
In the 1970s a unisex look arrived with the ‘hippie’ era. Men (and women) rebelled against carefully groomed styles and grew their hair long and straight. An alternative look was the bushy, frizzy style of the ‘Afro’. Longer hair remained fashionable for men through the 1970s and 1980s, but since then men’s hair has typically become shorter. Some men in the 1990s and 2000s took it to the extreme by shaving their heads or getting a ‘number 2’, short-all-over style.
In some parts of New Zealand Friday night was known as ‘hair-cut night’. This was the night when men trimmed their hair to maintain the short-back-and-sides look that was popular through most of the 20th century. The look was immortalised in Peter Cape’s 1958 folksong ‘Down the hall on Saturday night’:
I got a real Kiwi haircut,
Bit off the top and short back and sides.
Beards, sideburns and moustaches were an important and changing part of men’s fashion in the 19th century. New Zealand men followed trends set in Europe and the United Kingdom. Beards were long and lush in the mid-19th century, often worn with full sideburns and sometimes seen as a sign of virility.
As beards became shorter during the century, sideburns and moustaches came into their own. Sideburns could be elaborate – bushy ‘mutton chops’ or flowing ‘Dundrearies’. Moustaches could be neat or droopy, such as the ‘walrus’, or needing frequent maintenance, such as the waxed and moulded ‘handlebar’ moustache.
A clean-shaven look has reigned since about 1900 – a visible sign that a tidy, clean appearance is the marker of ‘modern men’. Changes in technology made the look easy to get and keep: safety razors were developed near the end of the 19th century and electric razors were available from the mid-20th century.
The ‘mo’ rules in November when some Kiwi men – ‘mo bros’ – grow a moustache for the month as a way to raise awareness about prostate cancer and other issues affecting men’s health. ‘Movember’ started in Australia in 1999 and now occurs in several countries. ‘Movember’ has also been credited with the renewed popularity of the beard among some men.
Facial hair came back into vogue with the ‘hippie’ period of the 1970s and, for a time, shaggy beards and moustaches were sported by men bucking what they saw as the conservative look of their fathers. Moustaches especially remained fashionable through the 1980s.
Despite the prevalence of the clean-shaven look, from the 1990s younger New Zealand men have experimented with facial hair as a fashion statement. Beards especially became popular in the early 21st century, worn by sportsmen and musicians. There is even a self-selected national ‘beard’ team, the All Beards, who compete in the biennial World Beard and Moustache Championship.