The typical 1930s men’s haircut involved a side-part and a clean taper fade from the ear to the nape of the neck. The top of the hair was longer and styled in a way that would best fit the man’s face shape. Compared to the previous decade, 1930s men’s hairstyles were fuller at the side and softer at the top, with shiny Jazz Age hair being replaced by more matte products in the mid 1930s.
With the lack of structure in men’s 1930s hair, wavy hair became popular — especially among younger men. At the same time, black men began straightening hair with the conk method, although few were dedicated to the painful process. Brush waves or natural with a touch of oil were easier hairstyles.
1930s Slick Back
The traditional 1910s and 1920s long slick-back hairstyle faded slowly in the years of the ’30s. A modified slick back arose among younger men, where the hair was slicked back at an angle, allowing longer sides and a center- or side-part. Gradually, less oil was used, allowing hair to have more lift instead of the plastered down effect.
Side Part and Wave (Classic Cut)
Hard parting (cutting a part into the hair) became the most common hairstyle of the 1930s. Hair was kept short and neat, with only a little length on top that was combed back and to the side at an angle, leaving a slight wave in the center. The sides were tapered down fairly close to the head.
By the mid 1930s, hairstyles maintained the overall shape but was growing longer and fuller with a larger wave, if a man’s natural hair allowed.
Young men blessed with thick hair, curls, waves, and a care-free personality could sport the tousle top. Like the parted hairstyle above, the sides were tapered, but the top was long and free-flowing. Hair parts, if they existed, were undefined and ever changing. Oil kept the hair shiny and low-frizz, with enough hold to keep hairs off the face. An occasional strand would hang down the forehead — or in the case of very curly hair, many strands.
The tousle style was popular with muscular athletes, surfer-swimmers, artists, musicians, and college kids.
Some men who lacked naturally curvy/wavy hair chose to Marcel Wave their hair, just like women did. This resulted were rolling waves that when loosened up, created a head of bouncing curls. Cab Calloway was rumored to marcel wave his hair, which danced around the stage during his enthusiastic performances.
As longer fuller hair became the trendy style of the late 1930s, short tapered sides were also grown longer. The all-around taper cut created a smooth descent from a slightly longer top, tapering gradually to the ears. The sides were combed back with oil. It looked best with naturally curly and wavy hair. A hairline could be parted but was more often not.
The tapered cut was smooth, swirly, and high maintenance. A trim every 2-3 weeks had to be performed to keep the hair from becoming overgrown and shaggy.
For black men, shiny Jazz Age hair and straightening did not disappear with the economic crash in 1929. Hair processing, called ‘the conk’, ‘process,’ or ‘do,’ involved lye to chemically straighten men’s hair. It left hair shiny, limiting the need for oil. It was, however, very painful and expensive.
Many men continued to use hot oil and a metal comb to achieve similar but temporary effects. Straightened hair topped with oil was preserved at night using a pressing cap or hair net.
Another popular style for black men’s hair in the 1930s was the brush wave. Oil was applied to clean hair about 1-2 inches long, and then was brushed from back to front with a boar bristle brush, repeated for several minutes.
The result were narrow waves rolling along the head. The sides were cut short and smooth, leaving only the top brush waved. More brushing led to uniform waves, while less brushing created a maze of waves.
For most black men, fussing with hair oil and chemical straighter was far too much effort. Natural hair cut in any fine to medium length with the top longer and sides shorter was a good clean look. Some men chose to add a side part, cut away with a razor, to echo the other popular 1930s hairstyle worn by straight haired men. Many men added a touch of oil for some shine.
Facial Hair – Mustaches
Clean shaven faces remained the norm, with the exception of mustaches. There were a few shapes worn by men:
- Pencil – Very thin line close to the lip (Picture 3)
- Pyramidal – From nose to lips shaped like a Pyramid (Picture 4)
- Lampshade or Chevron – Full mustache but kept neatly trimmed (Picture 5). Fuller with older men, trim for young men.
- Toothbrush- Rectangle shape centered between lips and nose. Can be wide or very small/square under nose (The Hitler/Charlie Chaplin mustache).
- Other – Various shapes invented by the wearer, mostly thin, with space above lips or under nose.