The Return of the Strong Sideburn

GC Images / RB/Bauer-Griffin

Image Source: Getty / RB/Bauer-Griffin

There’s no denying that retro hairstyles are making a serious comeback. The recent mullet craze alone serves as strong evidence, but there are other hair trends bubbling up that also seem to indicate a re-modernization of bygone styles. Sideburns, for one, are slowly but surely making their way back into prominence. Most notably, the statement-making look has been seen on Billie Eilish (the alt-pop megastar debuted long, dip-dyed sideburns in a new campaign for Gucci) and the men of Netflix’s Regency-era romantic drama series “Bridgerton.” Sideburns are also a key element in nearly every celebrity mullet, from Miley Cyrus to Rihanna.

But does all this mean that sideburns are having a renaissance? It might be too early to say for sure, but this smattering of sideburn-centered pop culture moments is hard to ignore. The most obvious explanation for the facial hair trend’s reemergence is society’s collective obsession with nostalgia.

“Sideburns have a retro charm, and people often look to the past for fashion inspiration,” stylist Rogerio Cavalcante, the owner of The Second Floor Salon in New York City, tells POPSUGAR. “The revival of sideburns can be seen as a nod to the styles of the 1960s and 1970s, which many find appealing.”

It’s worth noting that other hairstyles from the same period, such as Jane Birkin-inspired curtain bangs and choppy shag haircuts, currently have a chokehold on the trend cycle and don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

While you may associate long sideburns with figures like Elvis Presley or The Beatles, the term originated from Union Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, who was known for his bushy facial hair that extended from his sideburns to his mustache.

Elvis later wore the look in the ’60s and ’70s, which Cavalcante says was “a reflection of the fashion and grooming trends of the time.” With two massive Elvis biopics released in the last couple of years (Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” in 2022 and Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” in 2023), it stands to reason that the star’s signature look – re-created by Austin Butler in “Elvis” and Jacob Elordi in “Priscilla” – is inspiring a renewed interest in the once-polarizing style.

Image Source: Sabrina Lantos / A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection

Sideburns were also prominent in the “greaser” era of the mid-20th century. During this time, Cavalcante explains, sideburns were “considered a fashionable and masculine facial hair style” and “part of the broader greaser or rock ‘n’ roll subculture of the era.”

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men film franchise is another example of dramatic sideburns in pop culture. “Wolverine is known for his signature long sideburns,” Cavalcante says. “They are very popular at Halloween parties, and you can spot Wolverine’s sideburns from far away.”

All of these cultural moments have undoubtedly inspired people to try the trend for themselves. “Celebrities and pop culture figures often play a significant role in popularizing grooming trends,” Cavalcante notes. “When well-known personalities adopt sideburns, it can influence others to do the same.”

From a Civil War general to a muscle-bound mutant superhero, traditional images of masculinity are a common thread throughout the history of sideburns. This could explain why some of today’s most well-known cultural disruptors have been leaning into the trend.

Eilish, known for subverting the expectations (unfairly) heaped upon women pop stars, made long sideburns distinctly her own with an air of grungy elegance in her latest Gucci campaign. Rihanna’s many internet-breaking mullets feed directly into her trademark “IDGAF” attitude, each time proving that yes, she can, in fact, pull off anything.

“Back in the day, people had certain expectations about how women should groom,” Cavalcante says. “But things are changing, and now it’s totally cool for women to rock long sideburns. It’s all about embracing your unique style and breaking free from those old rules.”

It’s totally possible that the recent sideburns surge has something to do with reclaiming a style formerly associated with a certain brand of masculinity. It’s also totally possible that it’s not that deep. Some, like Cavalcante, are still not even convinced that sideburns are trending again. “I have my doubts about whether sideburns are making a comeback or not,” he says. “Personally, I haven’t seen many people with them at all.”

Regardless, the antiquated “rules” about what is considered masculine or feminine are being challenged at greater and greater lengths, often manifesting in aesthetic choices like hairstyles. Whether sideburns become an even bigger trend or not, it’s likely that hair trends in general will continue to break free of previously set boundaries and embrace a playful sense of nostalgia.

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