In November, just four days after the presidential election, a somewhat unusual post appeared on the neo-Nazi news site Daily Stormer. The writer, Andrew Anglin, called on white people to make New Balance clothing their uniform. The idea was inspired by a New Balance executive’s statement that he was “optimistic about Donald Trump.”
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“This will be fantastic,” Anglin told his followers. “We will be able to recognize one another by our sportswear.”
Despite Anglin’s urging, this proposed repurposing of the New Balance label as a neo-Nazi label did not take off. But Anglin’s post still made it clear that the American so-called alt-right - or “alternative right” - is eager to find new identifying signs that will distinguish it from the mainstream. No more shaved heads, tattoos and military boots, but rather fashion symbols that will enhance the movement’s appeal and legitimacy among the American public at large.
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer said in a 2013 interview with Salon, “We have to look good,” explaining that middle-class folks won’t want to be part of something that is “crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid.”
Spencer himself always wears three-piece Brooks Brothers suits, and an expensive gold watch and cufflinks. And the charismatic leader also adopted an iconic hairstyle: short on the sides and long on top. The look was very popular around the start of this decade, first with hipsters from Brooklyn and later among fans of David Beckham and Brad Pitt, with whom it had come to be identified.
Lately, especially after a video of Spencer being punched in the head went viral, more and more white supremacists have been adopting the hairstyle, known as the “fashy” (for “fashionable fascist”). The Washington Post reported in December that a conspicuous number of attendees at a neo-Nazi convention in the capital were sporting the fashy, and that some were also giving the straight-armed salute.
Over the past months, the hairstyle has become associated with dedicated members of right-wing American movements, as well as with others who just identify with their ideology. So strongly associated, in fact, that a lot of other people are becoming wary of those sporting the look. For example, in an article published last weekend on the Refinery 29 women’s fashion website, several women said they always “swipe left” on Tinder whenever someone with that hairstyle turns up, so as to avoid a potential date with a far-rightist.
“I’m literally so afraid of every man on Tinder now,” said Brooklyn-based writer Allison Davis. “I never know now if it’s a white guy who’s trying a little too hard to be hip, or an actual neo-Nazi,” she confessed.
The alt-right’s appropriation of the hairstyle has also impacted men who hitherto were fond of the look and didn’t associate it with political views of any sort. Dan H., also of Brooklyn, who preferred not to give his full name, told the site that he’d been getting his hair cut that way for five years, but lately he’d started getting comments from people who pointed out its fascist connotations. He described running into a woman he’d dated a few years before, who asked him, “Did you get a haircut? You look like a neo-Nazi.” Dan says that until then, he didn’t realize what kind of vibe it was giving off.
The hairstyle first appeared in England in the Victorian age. Then, too, it was associated with young hooligans, called Scuttlers. The Scuttlers belonged to gangs found predominantly in and around the poorer sections of Manchester. They used the hairstyle, plus accessories such as colorful scarves, to set themselves apart. The hairstyle remained associated with hooligans until the 1930s and 1940s, when it was adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany. The Washington Post article said German soldiers of the time requested that haircut to make it easier to don and remove their helmets. The fact that many Nazi posters and other propaganda from the period feature young men with the fashy hairstyle surely doesn’t detract from the appeal it holds for Spencer and others like him.
The Washington Post article took a humorous look at the evolution the hairstyle has undergone in the past months, from hipster affectation to neo-fascist show of power: “Until a few weeks ago, you saw a man with that haircut and assumed he might be a good person to hit on, or to buy small-batch beer from, or to ask the whereabouts of the nearest bicycle shop. Now you see him and wonder if he’s trying to deport half the nation.”
How can one avoid such confusion? Heidi Beirich, who monitors hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told New York Magazine, “The guys in the suits are the ones we have to worry about.” And she warns, “Beneath the benign-looking guy and the benign-sounding name, the purpose of the [alt-right] National Policy Institute is to push the idea that all men are created unequal.”