Figure 1.--Sailor suits were one of the most popular styles for German boys. Note the older boy in the short pants sailor suit whose hair has been shaved in a photograph taken before the First World War.
Even more severe than the crew cut was shaving a boy's head.
This style was common for school age German boys in the late 19th century
and the early 20th century. It appears to have past, however, by the
1930s and the NAZI era. One might have thought that the milatarism of
the NAZIs might have reinspired it, but this was not the case. This
could have reflected the NAZI leadership's desire not to emphasize their clear desire to launch another war.
HBC does not have good chronological information at this time about shaved head styles. It is clearly a 19th century style. Soldiers in the 18th century wore elaborate whigs, this was the common fashion throughout Europe. This did not change until the French Revolution about the turn of the 19th century. HBC is not sure about the chronology. It appears to be a style adopted in Prussia, first by soldiers and then adopted by school boys. Just when this occurred, but it appears to have been well established by the time Prussia forged the German Empire in 1870-71. It was a hair style worn by some boys in the late 19th century, but few details are available. By the early 20th century, school boys in Germany, Japan, Russian and other countries often had their hair shaved, but this had bcome much less common by the 1930s. Only in Japan were shaved heads still commonly. After World War II this style continued for some secondary schools boys into the 1960s.
The shaved hair style appears to have been adopted first in Prussia. It was a raical departure from the elaborate whihs that even soldiers wore in the 18th century. The Prussian influence brought shave heads to other areas of the German Empire after it was formed in 1870-71. Prussian incluence helped popularize the shave head styles in several other countries, mostly notably Russia and Japan. HBC believes that the close cropped hair in some countries was a style required by schools--but has few details at this time. Japanese boys until recently also wore shaved cuts.
I have not seen younger American boys commonly with shaved heads. It did use to be a summer ritual for boys to get short hair cuts. Some of the styles popular in the 1950s like crew cuts were short, but not shaved. HBC notes that short buz cuts have become quite common in the 2000s.
Shaved head styles appear to have been adopted by military schools. I am not sure tonwhat extent that school boys had shaved heads. Some available images do suggest that many school boys did have shaved heads.
HBC has note school children with close cropped hair in the late 19th children. We do not yet know when this style first appeared.
Many German school boys in the late 19th and 20th century had shave heads. After unification in 1870 this was accepted by some of the German states, but not all. Some states objected, such as Bavaria. But the other more militaristic states were quick to adopt the hair styles at the highly respected Prussian schools, if they had not already done so prior to unification. Military schools in the German Empire after 187O may have had little choice, since they were hoping that many of the graduates would go into the military and adopting this style was seen as a good way to fit in! The style was not just worn at military schools. HBC has noted large numbers of German boys with shaved are closely cropped hair. THis strongly suggests that it was a rule enforce by schools. HBC does not, however, have any etails oon this. Shaved heads continured to be a common style through World War I and into the 1920s. I have not noted German boys wearing shaved heads in the 1930s. Despite the military obsesson of the NAZIs, they did not appear tio have been particvularly interested in shaved head hair styles.
The Japanese were stunned by the US forcing them to open their doors to the West in
the 1850s. Thereafter they copied the British Navy style for their navy and the Prussian Army style for their army as part of a larger modernization program. I have noted Japanese school boys wearing shaved heads in the 1920s. It is likely that the style was introduced even earlier. I', not sure about the origins, it could have been introduced at the same time the Japanese adopted the Prussian cadet uniform for school boys. The style persisted in Japan for years. Some secondary school boys shaved their heads into the 1970s.
Polish boys also wore shaved heads. This again was probably the Prussian influencce. Poland did not exist in the 19th century, but had been incorporated into Prussian/German, Austrian, and Russian territories. These were all countries whrere schoolboys often had shaved heads.
Prussia appears to be where the shaved hair styles for European schools boys originated. One HBC contributor reports that the style appeared in the late 1870s and early 1880s in Prussian schools, after Prussia ha helpe fore the German Empire. HBC can not confirm this chronolgy. HBC has little infomation on this. I do not know if the hair style was required by their schools, or was simply what their parents decided. It would appear to be a military-inspired style, but again I have no details. Shaved heads were probably common in military school. I'm less sure about other schools. A HBC contributor reports that in Prussia, children would start school at a later age than here, say 7 years and possibly even 8. Prior to boarding school, mum would decide on the dress; however, in the cadets (military school); the first
day's dress was a reflection of the father and the clothing was important. On the Prussian style, it included shaved heads as the Prussian officers were known for doing. I do not think Father's actually picked out the clothes, but they did approve of the appearance. As such, I assume that the shaved head of the father would often be reflected in the shaved head of the son. Ceratinly the syle seems to be more likely to be a school rule or selected by father rather than mother. This style was adopted for children once entering the school because officers had shaved heads.
Tsar Nicholas I who succeeded Alexander II and preceded Alexander III was enamored of all things Prussian. This may have included shaved heads for the military. Though the reign of this Tsar was in the 1840s and 50s. The influence may have continued with Alexander III who often was photographed in military uniforms. Russian school boys also shaved their heads. I have first noted this style in the early 20th centtury, but Russian boys may have begun shaving their heads in the late 19th century. Again the original influence may have been the Germans. The shaved head style persisted in Russia even after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. I have noted some Russian school boys with shaved heads into the 1950s. I'm unsure as to just which boys had their heads shaved and whether is was a school rule or parents choice.
Shaved heads also had religious connotations. The best known example here is the shaved heads of buddist months. Boys training to be monks have their heads shaved as a symbol of their full devotion to Lord Buddha. There is a shaving ceremony in front of friends and family members. The boy once shaved takes his vows administered by the head abbot and puts away from himself his hair and nails and becomes devoted to Buddha. The new boy
monk is then dressed for life in yellow monk robes which he will wear for the rest of his life.
HBC has no information at this time about what boys thought about their shaved hair cuts. We do not know if they like the style because it was a military look or if it was a style that was fiorce on them by ther schools.
This style is currently cut completely to the sking using a razor (either some form of blade razor or an
electric razor). This should not be confused with hair that is cut using clippers. A crewcut or a buzzcut is not shaved. Too many people tell their barbers that they want part or all of their head shaved, when they actually want a tapered cut or some other clipper cut.
I'm not sure how the German boys' had their hair cut.
Prior to buzz cuts becoming a popular style, one HBC contributor reports that, it was used as a form as punishment by parents
when the boy misbehaved. It was humiliating for the boy to have his head shaved.
Head shaving was also used in schools particularly when an outbreak of hair lice occurred (which was more prevalent then, but still occurs today). Back then, they didn't have the "miracle" over the counter medications we have today, and both boys and girls would be shaved if an infestation broke out.
Before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, African American boys wore mostly "conservative" buzz cuts in better hopes of "fitting in" at white schools.
I am not certain when the
electric clippers were invented (this would help pin point it, since before that, a straight edge razor would have been used for shaved heads. One can only assume that after the introduction of the electric shears that the hair styles became more popular as they were much easier to cut.
Some movies have been made with boys that had shaved heads. I'm not sire about the historical accuracy.
The Danny Kaye movie in 1952 was a big budget Hollywood production detailing the life
of the famed Danish story teller. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the costuming nor do I recall at this time the context of the boy with the shaved head.
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