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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A detailed history of '90s butt cuts unearths links to Disney princes, gender theory

Illustration for article titled A detailed history of '90s butt cuts unearths links to Disney princes, gender theory
Photo: Mick Hutson (Getty Images)

Back in the ‘90s, a 13-year old boy wasn’t truly cool unless he had a single pierced ear, a pet snake he fed mice to in front of his friends, or that floppy, center-parted ‘do referred to as a “butt cut.” These first two lifestyle choices required the help of parents, but there was nothing stopping any young go-getter from holding up a photo of Devon Sawa at the barber and improving himself with a bold makeover. And so, the butt cut became ubiquitous.


Inspired by the ‘90s-set comedy of Pen15, which, of course, features plenty of characters rocking this style, Mel Magazine’s Quinn Myers set out to explore how the look came to be. Myers finds that the butt cut—“so nicknamed for the shape it turns the top of the wearer’s head”—likely stemmed from the look of Disney princes of the era, linking to a piece from Racked that introduced this theory. The idea is that movie and TV producers wanted their male leads to channel the sexual dynamism of, uh, Aladdin and Prince Eric into their own casts, thereby attracting a generation that grew up with crushes on these cartoons.

Myers takes this thesis to its logical next step, casting further back in history to see where Disney animators might have gotten their inspiration. He interviews Rachel Gibson—an expert in the history of hairstyles—and learns that Disney likely drew on fairy tales and retrograde gender theory to create a look that balanced the need to be long enough to show a man’s virility but not so long that he’d read as traditionally feminine.

As Gibson says, “[The butt cut] shows that you’re manly, you’re a bad boy who doesn’t have a clean-cut job where you need to look traditionally smart and groomed—you don’t play by the rules of a short back and sides, you’re rebelling.” Thus, we have the tough-as-nails butt cut ambassadors Nick Carter, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa, and Rider Strong.

This is only one aspect of Myers’ history. Read the entire article for more valuable information, such as alternate theories regarding the style’s evolution from the mushroom cut, and, most frighteningly, a prediction that the butt cut may be set for a modern resurgence.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.