Ever notice how so many ’90s heartthrobs have the exact same haircut?
You know the one. It’s thick, shiny, messy but not too messy, long but not too long, and almost always parted down the middle. It originated some time in the late ’80s, was ubiquitous all throughout the ’90s, and slowly petered out at the turn of the millennium.
Devon Sawa had the ’do in Casper:
Jonathan Taylor Thomas had it on Home Improvement:
Rider Strong had it on Boy Meets World:
Johnny Whitworth, too, in Empire Records:
And Leonardo DiCaprio, who had it in basically every movie he was in for a decade, but perhaps most notably in Romeo and Juliet and Titanic:
If you were young, cute, and white, you had this haircut, but it was also popular for slightly older actors. Both Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp lookalike Skeet Ulrich had the hair — Depp in Sleepy Hollow, and Ulrich in Scream:
Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise:
Hugh Grant in so many rom-coms, including Notting Hill:
What is it about this haircut that was, and still is, so attractive? Child and adolescent psychiatrist Judith Joseph says that while this haircut is often called a “butt cut,” it’s also known as “hero hair.”
Disney’s male leads of the time had this hair: John Smith from Pocahontas, Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. Disney rival DreamWorks even mocked the hairstyle in Shrek 2 with the introduction of the hero-haired character Prince Charming.
“For many of these young girls that grew up in the ’90s, Disney princes were their first crushes — it was their first experience with having romantic feeling,” says Joseph. “I think that they learned a lot about the type of love and relationship that they hoped to one day achieve by watching these Disney romances play out on the big screen.”
The “hero” part of hero hair doesn’t just reference literal heroes like those Disney princes, though. The hero archetype is a bit broader than that: It describes someone brave, someone who took risks, someone who wasn’t afraid.
“I think that, especially for young girls, this is what they’re told to avoid,” says Joseph. “You’re supposed to play it safe. You’re supposed to behave. These heroes represented a side that these girls were told to hide.”
The music scene of the era reflected this as well: “The ’90s was a time when Kurt Cobain and alternative music came into play. I think that it was considered cool to be different and to question things and to be that type of hero where you are a risk-taker.”
This is probably why the producers of a show like Full House would give hero hair to a character like Uncle Jesse — the guy who drives a motorcycle and was in a band — and not to a dorky dad like Danny Tanner.
And of course, hormones are involved, too. “You can’t have hair like that as a man if you don’t have a lot of testosterone,” says Joseph. “A thick mane on a young man meant that he was fertile. He was capable of reproducing. High testosterone doesn’t just mean thick, beautiful hair. It also means that you probably have muscle tone. You’re probably strong.”
Hollywood has since moved on to more varied styles on more diverse stars, but this hairstyle certainly remains near and dear to those who were pop culture-loving tweens and teens in the ’90s.
Check out these vintage hunks on video: