The Dream of the 90s is Alive, But Needs to Die Again: On Hairstyles That Make You Look Sticky

Shannyn Sossamon: The Girl That Made Me Think the Chelsea Cut Might be an OK Idea.


It’s no new thing for trends from previous decades to claw their way out of their proverbial graves in search of new brains to prey on. With the cultural context that originally gave birth to them long gone, decade-specific trends reemerge as empty shells of their former selves and with the purification process well under way, they wrap their ugly little fingers around the throats of those with short cultural memories everywhere. For some reason, when any given decade “IS BACK” what comes back always seems to be the worst, the ugliest, and the the most mainstream of what it originally had to offer. Remember when the ’80s were “BACK?” We got neon, a variety of weird shiny materials, those stupid slatted sunglasses that I loved when I was in 3rd grade, and cheap bangles. Or in the early ’90s when the ’60s and ’70s were BACK simultaneously and everyone was wearing Hot Topic versions of “Flower Power” and weird velure track suits that smelled like puberty and looked like bad porno.

Well, NOW the ’90s ARE BACK. They’ve been back for quite some time actually. But while the ’90s era slacker/grunge look has been prowling around for a couple of years, the unfortunate hairstyles thankfully avoided resurrection. Until now. And god help us all.

Before we begin, let me be clear: I can’t stand styles that make people look unwashed. I’ve been like this since I was a little kid. I was a tomboy, played outside constantly, and wasn’t afraid of much, but I couldn’t stand getting sticky or having dirt under my fingernails and I didn’t like seeing evidence of stickiness on others, even my baby brother. When he was a toddler, if my brother got food around his mouth, I would alert my parents immediately. “Mom, he’s sticky!!” As an adult, it’s a pet peeve I haven’t been able to shake even as I’ve had friends of varying punk rock persuasions (early twenties) to hobo “chic” (early- to mid-twenties). That said, ALL OF THE FOLLOWING HAIRSTYLES MAKE YOU LOOK STICKY [note: these are only white people hairstyles since I’ve only been seeing sticky stylings on white people]


This girl is clearly confused about where 3/4 of her hair went.


Ok, let’s have a chit chat about a hairstyle so pointlessly complicated, it has its own hyphenated identity construct. It is the undercut-ponyhawk-sidetail. That’s it up there. I like to call it the lawnmower, because it looks like a crazed landscaper went Edward Scissorhands on your scalp. Here’s how a website outlining great short hairstyles for 2012 described it:

Even for men, the undercut will fit almost anyone. This may also be one of the oldest and classiest hairstyle around. Having an undercut hairstyle can also give you plenty of options to change your appearance. You can sweep your hair to the right, left or on top and change how you look every time.


I saw this hairstyle in Whole Foods just this past weekend on someone in their late 30s who was dressed like a “normal” and couldn’t figure out what the wearer was trying to communicate about themselves. I assumed they’d had a hair accident. And that they were sticky.

The thing about the undercut is that it used to be used to convey an allegiance with some sort of anti-establishment subculture…punk, goth, rock n’ roll, etc. When it’s used properly, it can look ok and make sense with the wearer’s look. Sort of. Personally, I’m still not a fan, but at least it makes sense, which makes it seem less unwashed.

At least this undercut is styled in keeping with a subculture.


Oh hey! You know what never makes sense ever? Manic Panic. That’s right, I said MANIC PANIC, the hair dye for people who want to highlight skin inconsistencies.


Oh Jesus. It's like Rainbow Bright grew up, fell in with the wrong crowd, and ended up in her own documentary about Meth in Lowell, MA. Hair Crazy is right.


Of all of the worst ’90s trends, I cannot imagine why anyone wanted to raise Manic Panic from the grave. Just to prove that Kool Aid colored hair doesn’t look good on anyone, here are some pictures of people who would otherwise look like one of the living:


A model. What goes better with all beige, than hair the color of hopelessness?


Oh look! Katy Perry. At least I think it's Katy Perry... it's hard to tell with the glare coming off of the dead smurf on her head.


Another model. Looking like she was salvaged from the ashes of hellfire.


I know. That was harrowing. I’m sorry. Sometimes you have to take drastic measures to prove a point. Speaking of drastic measures, I’ve noticed that some people don’t think that manic panic is extreme enough and have been combining it with one of the worst hairstyles ever invented. The Chelsea.


Oh dear. Oh dear. Get this girl a lollipop necklace before she dehydrates.




I will say, even I had a version of the Chelsea at one point. And I regret it. I don’t regret much in my life, but I regret that hairstyle. I blame Hackers.


A short Chelsea circa Hackers in 1995.


Here’s a natural Chelsea:

Again, at least it's in the right style context overall.


The other frankenhair roving the world of late is like a side shave thing with otherwise long hair. Its sticky factor comes in a close second place to the undercut-ponyhawk-sidetail.

Oh no. Don't meet my eyes.


Uh huh. What? Why? WHYYYYYYYYYY-YUH??


And finally, the worst hairstyle to crawl out of the grave and onto people who don’t seem in any other way aesthetically affiliated with punk rock is the mohawk-rattail. For some reason, only people in black hoodies with weird white stains all over them are drawn to this cut-ish. WHAT ARE THE STAINS, PEOPLE?


Why is this at the local bakery all the time? The girl in this picture is obviously punk. The various rattails in the bakery seem randomly attached to just whomever.


Usually, this would be the part of the rant wherein I would begin to feel self-conscious about sounding like a prematurely old fuddy-duddy, but I’ve been seeing these gross throwbacks to a schlumpy time on people my own age or older, more than people in their early twenties. I realize that style is a deeply personal thing, and I respect that. Most of the time. Sort of. But what’s the problem, people? The’90s could not have been your gilded age, stylistically speaking! Even the ’80s throwback, which I thought was as bad as it would get, had more oomph than this.  This is oomph-less! I feel like I’m surrounded by the walking undead and unwashed. It’s depressing! Stop being depressing! Thus concludes my rant about ugly ’90s-era hairstyles. At least nobody brought back the “Rachel.”


About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.


  1. I am so with you on stickiness! (When I was a kid, I wrapped napkins around my utensils when eating waffles with syrup. I didn’t have a lot of fine motor control, but I had standards.) In my opinion, the worst, stickiest hairstyle currently making a comeback is the wet look: I mean, I guess she looks washed, in a literal sense, but ick.

  2. Kat

    This post makes me sad. I, too, grew up abhorring The Sticky, but now, at age 33 and living in the boring state of Utah (in the nonboring metro area of Salt Lake City), am sporting an undercut hairstyle. And I love it. It’s on the short side all around and isn’t as extreme as some of these examples, and I’m figuring out what I want to do next, but in the meantime, it’s been a fun experiment. I love all of these crazy hairstyles. I love the experimentalism and confidence they require. I won’t be sad to see them go, but I hope what replaces them won’t be boring.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      Oh my goodness, Kat! Don’t be sad. It’s not like any of these hairstyles are actually inherently bad ideas…except maybe that side head shave thing, which I haven’t seen anyone pull off even celebrities who are styled like little puppies. I think a lot of these cuts are being done by folks as a response to “boring.” In some sort of rebellious way. But you can totally be rebellious and the opposite of your dull fellow citizens without going full on 90s-era middle finger. It’s all in the styling.

      Like this:

      Or This:

      Or the haircut that I’m currently doing [or trying to do, except that I haven’t found a good stylist]:

      But I have my own specific style philosophy that is a lot about figuring out a way to age semi-gracefully while also not looking like the sea of yawn-fests out there. I’m less interested in outright rebellion, so much as I am in finding various styles and haircuts that complement my style, personality, and interests. I assume that if I do that, I will inherently stand out from the masses.

      If you like your hair and it makes you feel confident, then who gives a crap what I think? I’m just Michael. I’m a Taurus on the cusp of Gemini, man! I like sensible cohesion with accents of experimentation. You’re Kat! That’s more important for Kat.

      • Kat

        Okay. Nicely put. Things are extra weird in SLC–there are violently different cultures here that are smooshed up together in the weirdest ways. People’s style here is a big statement. Or at least it feels that way. When I hang out with my brother in NYC where he lives, personal style is a very different beast.

  3. Cathy

    Regarding your fuddy-duddyness: last weekend I muttered out loud “fucking New York hipsters don’t know what they’re talking about.” And I meant it. I am old.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      We are all old. And it’s so much better than when we were not old.

      • Kat

        This is truth. Thirty-three years have been good to me. It’s weird hanging out at parties and meeting twenty-one year olds and feeling like I can relate to their experiences, but they are completely mystified by mine. Still, I wouldn’t give up my age for anything.

  4. Kat

    What’s interesting to me is the way that my hair, when I’ve gotten a very different hair cut, changes the rest of my style. I’ll plumb the depths of my closet in new ways. My hair changes my sartorial style in unexpected ways.

  5. Jen

    I do wear weird haircuts for the purpose of rebellion. It costs me 25 to 30 dollars (Canadian) to get my hair cut, even just a trim, even just a repeat of my last haircut. It’s crazy. I know hair dressers go to school and practice but it’s not rocket science. I’d probably have a normal haircut if it weren’t for the expense. Men don’t get charged so much for haircuts because they are smart enough to refuse to pay that much. So I do it myself, or let myself be a guinea pig for my artistically bent friends. My next adventure will be a chelsea. I have clippers and scissors at home and I’m not afraid to use them.

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