Trends are cyclical; hang around long enough and you’ll see the same look again. Curtains was the hairstyle of the 1990s. This middle parted men’s haircut spread far and wide during the last decade of the 20th century, from sixth form common rooms to soap actors and footballers, to clubbers and ‘Madchester’ ravers, all the way to the dizzy heights of Hollywood.
Along with a love of Friends, claw hair clips and baggy jeans, the youth of today are looking to reinvent the nineties look afresh, scouring the internet for items their parents probably wore ‘back in the day’ such as oversized Stüssy T-shirts and Dr. Martens boots.
In the same way that hipsters wear bushy facial hair in the style of the Victorians, the origins of curtains go way back. Art Nouveau illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley, rocked a recognisable curtains hairstyle in 1893, while his peer, Oscar Wilde, wore it longer but also favoured a centre parting.
Almost a century later, renowned hair stylist, Trevor Sorbie updated the look with the ‘Firefly’ in a manual for Vidal Sassoon, which began bubbling away in the background of the New Romantics. The look hit the main stage on acts such as Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays and Blur’s Alex James, with Grunge later adding a dishevelled twist to the story.
Early adopters of 21st century curtains include Timothée Chalamet, TikTok E-boys and K-Pop bands, with Jimin from BTS a core promoter of the look, adding a pink or green dye to make it his own. The trickle down effect is resulting in a steady uptick of clients bringing their barbers various references from the nineties.
“Curtains are definitely a popular look with our younger clients,” says Tim Pateman, session stylist and director of The Lion & The Fox, his salon on Hatton Wall in London’s famous diamond district. “But we’re seeing older clients bringing in old pictures of River Phoenix, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio as references.”
Tim sees the revival of the style as a natural progression from last year’s lockdowns. “A lot of men had to grow their hair out last year, and now they’ve got a bit of length, they want to keep it but they’re not sure how to wear it. At the same time, a lot of the fashion from the nineties is making a come back, so it’s actually a style they’ve seen before and know it can work.”
Actor Cillian Murphy has been snapped sporting curtains, which is the natural conclusion to his grown out Peaky Blinders cut: long on top and razored at the sides. Billie Eilish’s brother and producer, Finneas, has recently endorsed the look on the red carpet, while the trailer for The Batman teases us with hints of Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, with a distinctive side-parted curtains style. The list of notable devotees continues to grow, so, let’s look at the cut in more detail.
Which Hair Types Do Curtains Work For?
Current adoptees of the look are spared the headaches that often made this cut hard work back in the 1990s. Back then, the less fortunate wearers whose hair texture wouldn’t play ball with the style, often ended up with a poufy ‘bell’ or ‘mushroom’ shape and not the sleek drapes seen on Jared Leto or Edward Furlong (aka ‘the kid’ in Terminator 2).
Today, unruly textures that would have been kryptonite can be nixed with ceramic straighteners, or even chemical treatments like a keratin blow dry. Be grateful for two life-changing inventions that weren’t in play a generation ago. Not only that, but styling product innovations and a new-found appreciation for natural texture are both major advantages for people without typically straight hair.
In that sense, it works for a majority of hair types, except very thin hair which lacks volume, or very kinky, afro hair. Curly heads will probably need to cultivate twice the length on the sides depending on the tightness of the curl, so if that’s you, be patient and let it grow.
What To Ask Your Barber For
“You want to keep length at top, taking the back short, while the sides can hover around the ears, depending on the length you want to maintain,” says Tim. “It’s flexible in the sense you can play around with a centre or a side parting, but it needs a break in the fringe. You have to go against blending because you need the disconnect between the top and the sides, but it’s a basic graduation of layers. You can even undercut it as a much stronger statement. Either way, as a style, it can work with shell suits or Savile Row.”
Here are some key examples of the look for inspiration.
There are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to Timothée Chalamet’s hair, and his wondrous locks are a big part of the curtains revival. He wears his wavy, messy and mid-length, as if Edward Scissorhands was in a boyband. To achieve the look you’ll need salt spray, a good hair dryer and a fair bit of patience to grow the hair long enough. As it’s growing, visit the barber every few weeks to keep the hair healthy and shaped.
It tells you something about the ubiquity of the curtains style in the 90s that grunge icon Kurt Cobain had essentially the same haircut as many a boyband member. Of course, Cobain’s look was messier, his straight hair left a little unwashed, a little unbrushed and occasionally dyed. Today, sea salt is the easy way to steal the style, especially if you need to add texture to finer hair.
In many ways, this is the quintessential 90s haircut. Worn by heartthrobs like Leonardo DiCaprio, David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, it was perhaps best exemplified by Jared Leto, who wears a longer version of it even now. To get this one inch-perfect, the curtains should reach your cheekbones at the front and tickle your ear lobes at the side. You’ll need a brush, styling cream and industrial levels of conditioner. Check out Chris Hemsworth for a modern take on the style.
Forget the Peaky Blinders look, we’d argue this is Cillian Murphy’s greatest contribution to good hair. A grown-up, slightly artsy take on curtains, the parting is off-centre and the hair swept long and to the side, sometimes tucked behind the ears. If you have the right hair type, it’s surprisingly low-maintenance cut so long as you condition it properly and add a little cream or salt spray when required. If you’re growing your hair out, you may get to this stage and just stop.
More of a coiffed version of the classic 90s style, this cut was mastered by Mummy star Brendan Fraser but was also seen on the likes of Hugh Grant, Declan Donnelly and early-seasons Chandler from Friends. Brooklyn Beckham and Dylan Sprouse are among those bringing it back today.
The distinguishing features are a strict centre parting, lifted slightly at the front, while the sides are thick but tapered to the ears (or tucked behind them). It’s another natural-looking style that, apart from the right hair type, doesn’t need much more than a little styling cream.
How To Style It
“Product-wise, you want to go for light waxes, creams, grooming aids or pomades – nothing that is too heavy – as these sorts of products tend to work best with this style,” Tim advises.
“The key to this look is to only apply product on a hair wash day, as this will reduce the volume and refine the texture, but don’t apply it day after day because you don’t want to start weighing the hair down with product build-up.”
“Hair like this can often look its best on day two or three, so you can leave it longer between washes just by using dry shampoo to remove the background oil and any greasiness at the roots.”
With curly or wavy textures, Tim recommends using a cream-based curl enhancer to give the coils some definition.
With any hair type, you can, “blow dry if you want more control, or set the style when wet and let it air dry and the curls fall naturally.” Want that grungey, stringy look that DiCaprio and co. perfected all those years ago? “Just add more product and leave it for longer between washes.”