A Telling History of the Topknot—From Samurai to Man Buns

An evolution of the high bun

By Diana Nguyen Oct 12, 2015 5:30 PMTags
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The topknot is many things; an easy option on a bad hair day, a signature look of the street-style star or what the zeitgeist is now calling the man bun. But few really know the long and storied past of what essentially is a lazy bun. The true origin of it is unknown, but the hairstyle was surely created before Jared Leto and stems across many cultures. So the next time you're feeling trendy in the hairstyle du jour, remember this ‘do has roots.

The Māori, indigenous Polynesian people, migrated to New Zealand between 1250 and 1300 CE. The Māori would use oils from berries and wooden or bone combs to style their hair, but only men of a certain high status would wear a tikitiki, or what's equivalent to a modern-day topknot.

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During the Joseon Dynasty in Korea, married men put their hair in a sangtu—or a knot at the top of their heads. To keep their hair from falling, a pin (called a donggot) held it together while a headband was worn on the forehead. Men even had hats specifically made with space for their buns.

In Japan, during the Edo Period, the traditional haircut was called the chonmage, which meant the top of the head was nearly all shaven except for a cluster of hair tied up in a knot. Originally, samurai used this hairstyle to keep their helmet in place.

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Fast forward to the 20th century, past ballerina buns and Victorian-era chignons, to when Audrey Hepburn wore what was considered an eccentric bun to a movie gala in Paris. Even with the very high hair, bangs and curled sides, the star could do no wrong.

In the time of very big beehives and voluminous pin curls, Aretha Franklin showed us how to respect a classic ‘do.

Gwen Stefani has always been a trendsetter, but her No Doubt days proved to be incredibly innovative. Why wear one topknot when you can wear six or seven a top your head? 

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On a red carpet like the Met Gala, old Hollywood waves and intricate updos are expected—but when Kate Bosworth showed up in a braided high bun (styled by E! Style Collective's Laini Reeves), we realized less is more.

Love or hate it, but the man bun is a legitimate trend today. You can thank celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hemsworth and Jared Leto for popularizing the hairstyle, which is worn more like a topknot than actual bun.

Recently, the ‘do was seen on many a street-style star and celeb this New York Fashion Week. With different iterations, like the half-up topknot, you can wear the hair trend with any outfit. So whether you started wearing it two weeks ago or two years ago, you can't deny this trend stands the test of time.