When you think of iconic hairstyles, who comes to mind? Dolly Parton, with her “higher the hair, the closer to God” mantra? Bowie and his ever evolving ’dos, different each era? Amy Winehouse with her towering beehive? Good answers all, but I propose to you that you’re wrong. Step forward, the perennially cheerful singer, the Charlatans frontman, DJ, producer, author and lockdown listening party savior, Tim Burgess and his bowl cut. A haircut so iconic, in fact, that it has recently been turned into an NFT, whatever that actually means. Please don’t explain what this means to me. We’d both get annoyed.
The bowl cut is a British staple that echoes through the ages, since it was first sported by medieval monks and made famous by Henry V in the 15th century (depicted on-screen by another Tim beloved by the indie kids, this time Chalamet.) Couldn’t afford the hairdresser? No problemo—your mum would sit you down, possibly with an elder sibling holding your shoulders to avoid the inevitable squirming as an unqualified adult loomed over you with a blunt pair of scissors used for everything else in the house. The mixing bowl—only usually used on Sundays for mixing the batter for Yorkshire puddings, and maybe the occasional birthday cake—would be unceremoniously dumped over your head and used as a guide as to where to cut. The result would be wonky and socially isolating on the playground, but grown ups would say how cute you looked while also trying to stifle hysterical laughter. What your mother saved in money, you lost in self-esteem.
What your mother saved in money, you lost in self-esteem
However baffling it may seem, the bowl cut has occasionally been fashionable and we are seeing a resurgence again, as the 1990s make their inevitable, and some may argue, unfortunate comeback. No one has been as devoted to this hairstyle as Mr. Burgess—and who are we to argue with the consistency and dedication of a man who Paul Weller described as “a fella who understands the importance of hair.” High praise indeed from the Modfather himself, a man who has strong credentials when it comes to identifying what is and what is not cool. Think of it as the follicular equivalent of Steve Jobs’ boring wardrobe: comforting, familiar and reassuring. You see the blond mop of Tim Burgess and know exactly who is underneath it. It’s so recognisable that a massive signage of it was installed for a while in Manchester to publicize his Tim Peaks coffee venture. Of course, everyone knew who that silhouette belonged to.
Despite brief flirtations with the standard indie boy tousled look in the Britpop era (a look I briefly perfected a few years ago by accidentally growing out a pixie crop, and thereby needing copious amounts of eyeliner to prevent myself from being mistaken for a teenage boy) and a surprising/confusing turn that appeared to be inspired by Edna Mode at the 2010 Q Awards, Tim has sported his bowl cut with pride since the Charlatans first exploded onto the indie scene in 1989. A softer, cheekier look than the harder one of the Gallagher brothers who came afterwards, and not so wild as the longer, Jagger-esque style of his Madchester contemporary Ian Brown, this was a style that said sure, he was a musician but you could probably take him home to meet your mum. A bowl cut has a childlike innocence about it, to match the baby face he has even now as a man in his fifties, despite a former life of hard drugs and partying. Some people just have the genes, I guess?
Originally black, the coiffure has been in its current blonde bombshell incarnation since 2012, an enigma wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in some cheap bleach from Boots (a High Street pharmacy/drug store), chopped by his own fair hands. “Even the best hairdressers won’t do it how I want it,” he admitted to the Guardian in 2016. Although no mention of a bowl, unfortunately.
The longevity of the haircut should not surprise us, though. After all, this is a man whose band has spanned over thirty years and survived being pigeonholed, after being clumsily labeled as both being part of the early ’90s Madchester scene, and then the later Britpop era. (The Charlatans have continued releasing music to the present day, and Burgess’ solo career endures, including a new double LP due out in September 2022.) Why wouldn’t his hair continue to inspire as his music does? Maybe, like Samson, his hair is his superpower and his creativity is at its peak when it’s perfectly rounded. It’s like Mr. Burgess made a decision to truly live the Charlatans song “The Only One I Know” through the medium of hair. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Maybe, like Samson, his hair is his superpower and his creativity is at its peak when it’s perfectly rounded
The mystery—one I promise, dear reader, that I have worked tirelessly to try and solve, as I am the Sherlock Holmes of celebrity hairstyles—is just what inspired the change to blond? To cover up gray hair? Boredom? An homage to Andy Warhol? All are possibilities and the third is the one I’ve seen the most evidence for. But sometimes it looks like it’s inspired by Brian Jones; other times there’s more than a whiff of Debbie Harry, or even Kurt Cobain at his dirtiest blond. And therein lies its genius: this is a hairdo that can do multiple things and still look great. It can be festival sweaty, off-duty under a chic beret, or photoshoot-ready and still look fantastic. Dark roots on shock-white hair? No bother. In fact, it only grows cooler as the roots get darker. On anyone else, it might look unkempt. What is the secret? Probably the same thing that keeps Tim Burgess looking fresh as a daisy despite doing a million different things all at once. Maybe he has a rapidly aging portrait hidden in an attic somewhere, or a fantastic multi-step skincare routine (although I’m sure if you asked him, he’d probably credit the transcendental meditation he found after he got clean).
Let's be honest, weren’t we all channeling a bit of Tim during lockdown? Who among us cannot honestly say that in the absence of hair salons, as we listened along to Tim’s Listening Party, we had a dark moment of the soul in which we gazed longingly at our own mixing bowls and thought, “I could do this. I have scissors! I can order bleach from Amazon! I could be as cool as Tim Burgess.” Some people did it. As demonstrated on social media across the world, they were not as cool as him. They never could be. But I bet he’d be very nice on Twitter about them giving it a go.