Everywhere, longhaired men are sprouting knots atop their heads. A tradition among samurais and other sects dating back centuries, why is this hairstyle so of the moment again?  

David Beckham wore one on the playing field years ago, as did tennis player Xavier Malisse. We’ve since seen them on Jared Leto, Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, and Russell Brand. A wave of topknots is conquering heads, having taken root in hipster enclaves and spreading to college campuses. Basically a longhair style wherein the hair is tied in a single knot on the crown of the head, the topknot is also known colloquially as the bro bun, hipster bun, dude bun, or just plain mun. It’s often paired with the undercut, which features shaved sides and long hair on top. As trendy as they’ve become, topknots have been gracing men’s heads for centuries, even millennia. But why this sudden resurgence now?

No doubt practicality plays a part for guys who like keeping their locks long, but have to deal with everyday activities like working, eating, cooking, biking, yoga, sports and sweating, especially in summer heat. Emulating what their lady friends have been doing for years – tying their tresses up with an elastic – is a no-brainer. Yet during the 1960s, when long hair was a pervasive statement of the counterculture movement, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a man wearing his hair in a top knot. So there must be more to it than mere practicality. Clearly, top knots make a distinctive style statement. Does this mean it’s merely fashion? Or is there perhaps some implicit symbolism that men identify with?

Probably the topknot’s most traditional association is with the samurai, the military caste in feudal Japan that in the 12th century rose to become the ruling military regime known as the Shogunate. Zen Buddhism was a great influence on the samurai, serving as a philosophical core for their code of behavior, as well as their rituals. The samurai’s distinctive hairstyle was called a chonmage, and was used to hold his helmet steady on his head in battle. The pate was shaved, with the remaining long hair oiled and tied into a queue folded on top of the head. If a samurai gave up his status, to enter the priesthood, for example, he would cut off his topknot as a symbolic gesture. During the Edo period (1603-1868) many traditional Japanese males also wore their hair this way as a status symbol. In more recent times the hairstyle has come to be associated with sumo wrestlers, who maintain it as their own distinguishing status symbol.

However famed the samurai version, the topknot was not exclusive to them. 1st-century figures of Buddha from the Gandhara kingdom depict him with wavy hair set in a bun at crown of the head. Originally worn by Hindu royalty, Prince Siddhartha supposedly cut off his topknot, thereby renouncing his worldly heritage on his path to Buddhahood. In the Buddhist canon it is stated that, “His topknot is like a crown.” The Hindu deity Shiva is also traditionally depicted with a bun atop his long hair. Legend has it that he instituted this for his two sons, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, and Skanda, the god of war. Hindu Brahmins made the topknot customary, and it subsequently became widespread among peoples of Asia. From India to Romania, we find evidence of men wearing topknots though history. Germanic tribal warriors known as the Suebi also tied their hair up this way, as was documented by the Romans.

Today the topknot maintains considerable significance in Thailand, the Thai word for it being chuk. On young members of the royal family, it is called chula or moli. In Thai as well as many other cultures, the cutting of a child’s topknot marks his transition to adolescence. This brings us back to the current phenomenon at hand. Men who are taking on the hairstyle may well be getting in touch with their warrior-side or spiritual side. This would certainly seem the case by the number of martial arts and yoga practitioners who’ve adopted it. It can as easily signify getting in touch with their feminine side, or again, it could just be a practical solution. No matter which, there’s no denying it can look cool and sexy, and sometimes that’s enough. Let’s just say, one knot fits all.