There have been many hairstyles designed to turn heads over the years, but perhaps none as consistently successful as the mohawk. It is most often identified as a symbol of the punk subculture of the 80s, but it roots, as we will soon see, run far deeper.
The mohawk, which consists of a shaved head with a strip of hair left running vertically down the center of the scalp is usually considered to have Native-American origins, although a recent archeological discovery in Ireland found a 2,300 year-old body sporting the trendy cut. It is also more specifically associated with the Mahican and Mohawk tribes, hence its name, but it appears that early American explorers may have been misidentifying members of the Wyandot tribe for the Mohawk tribe. Regardless, modern culture began embracing the hairstyle at least as far back as WWII, when members of the 101st Airborne Division shaved their heads into mohawks as a sign of their fierceness and unity.
Young kids occasionally sported the haircut throughout the 50s and 60s, but it wasn’t until the 70s, when it began to symbolize the counter-culture, thanks in no small part to Robert DeNiro wearing one during his portrayal of unbalanced NY cab driver Travis Bickle in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film, Taxi Driver. Picking up on the character’s isolated and angst-filled personality, the underground punk culture embraced the style. Adding their own twist, they grew the strip of hair much longer and, with the help of various hairsprays and gels (even Elmer’s glue), created a prominent fan of hair that was seemingly impervious to the elements. A more menacing variation of the style included creating pointed spikes of hair, that were shellacked until they took on the appearance of a menacing weapon. Another variation included running these spikes horizontally across the scalp, rather than vertically, a style known as liberty spikes.
Everyone’s favorite barroom bouncer, turned film brawler, turned kid-friendly action hero, Mr. T., sported his own variation of the style called the Mandinkan in the film Rocky III and later, in the hit television series, The A-Team.
Although the style certainly looked menacing on this muscle-clad Mr. T., it also brought the look more into the mainstream, at least for a short while. But once its fifteen minutes of fame was over, it retreated right back to the punk subculture, where it remains to this day, popular with men and women alike for its never-failing ability to stand out in a crowd.
Perhaps there are a few old Poloroids around of you sporting a mohawk in your youth, or maybe you never quite had the audacity but still want to share your opinion of this controversial hairstyle. Either way, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section. Just don’t say anything that would make Mr. T. mad, okay?