The Male Topknot Takes New York

by Natalie McMullen and Choire Sicha

Back in early 2012, the Times Style section tried to convince us of the coming of the “man bun” to Brooklyn. It was too early and it was really a stretch: For famous cases, they had to rely on tennis players “Alexandr Dolgopolov and Xavier Malisse.” (And Malisse was more prone to wear an actual ponytail.) The man bun, they helpfully defined, is “similar in form to the topknot worn by many women… but it is often worn slightly lower on the head.”

The Daily News gave it a whirl last November, noting that Jake Gyllenhaal was top-knotting at SoulCycle; the Guardian pointed out that the fashionable topknot is not as far-forward on the head as a Sikh topknot.

Accurate! But the topknot is not a winter hairstyle. And now winter is over.

Throughout our terrible winter, the topknot has been growing in power in Los Angeles, and now, finally, with the coming of spring, it is taking New York — a fairly rare trend to move west to east. We sent our photographer Natalie McMullen out to the streets over the last week to assess the extent and spread and variety of the male topknot. “They include European man bun, David Foster Wallace/academic/90s, topknot in progress, and half-up topknot,” she noted. True! SoHo, she noticed, was a topknot epicenter.

The diversity of the topknot is its mystery. The male topknot style runs the gamut from the sloppy — “Oh I’m just late to yoga” — to the predatory — “I’m a supposedly sensitive man in Williamsburg who also knows how to use the pivot and kino on a hapless young woman.” The topknot can be a great display of vanity or an expression of cool nonchalance. Our research shows that it’s particularly attractive to men with slippery white-person hair, but does excellent things for people of all hair types. It can be repellent or sexy, sleazy or mystic. It’s all in the execution. It’s a look so versatile, after all, that women can wear it too. (Yup, there’s even a lady topknot in these photos.) Prepare however you please for the summer of the topknot.

Natalie McMullen is a street photographer, culture critic and food writer. She is an archivist of the resonant, a nerdy polisher of words, and a lifelong scholar on love and relationships. She is currently resident photographer at The Awl.