2014 was unquestionably the year of the man-bun.

jared leto man bun
Actor Jared Leto sporting a man-bun to the 2014 Academy Awards.

First, it made the rounds in Hollywood, gracing the heads of everyone from Jared Leto and Leonardo DiCaprio to Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix, to name just a few. Now it can be found everywhere from NBA courts and Wall Street offices to concert venues and suburban coffee shops.

Industry experts are conflicted over the man-bun’s staying power, but its quick infiltration of the mainstream aesthetic indicates that the “mun” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.*

Not surprisingly, the mun is especially popular among Millennials, and absolutely perplexing among their parents,’ professors,’ and employers’ generations. Part of the appeal can likely be attributed to its feather-ruffling effect and the unique way it plays into gender stereotypes.

The Guardian’s Tshepo Mokoena and Megan Carpentier describe it best:

“A man-bun occupies that erotic space between androgynous and hypermasculine, simultaneously feminine in its length and masculine in its devil-may-care updo.”

The mun is a subtle gender subversion and, when done well, is ironic and statement-making without being pretentious or overly-affected.

Oda Nobuyoshi sporting a Meiji-era man-bun.

Also of interest is the mun’s historical significance, particularly the sillhouette’s association with ancient East Asian cultures. Man-buns can be found perched atop the heads of the 3rd Century BC Chinese Terracotta Warriors, Meiji-era samurai, and of course, Buddha images and statues dating to the 6th and 7th centuries BC and beyond.

Zach Kahler, a 20-year-old Midwestern college student, is a new mun devotee, as he started growing his hair out this past year. Zach’s choice was a stylistic one, and he credits his decision to the fact that it would likely be socially unacceptable once he moves into a career after college.

Zach has a slightly different take on the mun in its relation to gender stereotypes. He says, “It is in opposition to the American, conservative, traditional look, but men have had long hair throughout most other historical periods. So I wouldn’t say it’s contradicting gender roles, just bringing past ones back.”

A member of his college’s student government, Zach says his look certainly isn’t the norm, but he doesn’t see it affecting his professional or peer interactions in a negative way.

Jake Allen
Jake Allen, millennial mun-wearer.

Jake Allen, a college student from Minnesota, has been wearing his hair in a bun for the past year. His choice is mostly one of convenience, but he also appreciates the aesthetic of a mun independent of its utility.

The surprise factor of the mun is something Jake especially enjoys, because he feels like it sets him apart from his peers.

“I feel like people notice and remember me,” Jake says. “Even though it’s trendy right now, it’s still something that the vast majority of people don’t have. People recognize and remember me.”

Jake goes on to describe the way that his mun is a sort of physical manifestation of the way his personality challenges traditional expectations of masculinity:

“My personality contradicts those [traditional gender stereotypes], so I’m okay with doing that physically as well…People see someone who has long hair and they think, even if that guy’s really weird and I don’t like him at all, I can at least respect that he’s willing to do something unique and different.”

As the man-bun becomes increasingly mainstream, only time will tell if it stays relevant.


* Still not convinced? Check out the “man-bun” tag on tumblr here.

Photos courtesy of Rocket News 24, Elite Daily, and MTV.