A few hours before I set out to write this story, I had a hair appointment scheduled.
The stylist listened patiently as I described what I wanted. And when it was his turn to talk, he asked, casually, “Would you consider trying a new part?” He lifted a sheet of my hair from where it has sat since approximately 2005 and flicked it across my head. And just like that, a line of exposed flesh ran down the center of my scalp. It was the iconic, the long-bullied, the recently redeemed, the literally polarizing middle part.
The middle part is not only back, but it’s ploughing a straight line down the generations—hearty Gen X on one side, fearless Gen Z on the other, and Millennials caught in between, anxiously playing with our hair.
“Someone needs to write an article about TikTok teen’s obsession with hating on the side part,” feminist writer Jessica Valenti tweeted on October 21. Being in the business of writing about cultural trends, and also wondering if the teens think I look stupid, I leapt into action—meaning I opened TikTok, for work purposes.
And here is what I found: middle part after middle part after middle part. A woman with a center part and choppy blue hair dances to a message about trauma and self-healing. A college student with hair falling evenly on either side of a perfect middle part raps about the pain of online modules. A 20-year-old with a sleek center part and tight coils poses next to her astrological signs. It didn’t matter the genre of video, just so long as a Gen Z woman was in it, there too was a middle part.
The center part was a staple of the 1920s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. And then it was not—the side part’s domination was ruthless. In the 2000s, taking half of your hair and slipping it over the side of your head showed that you were sexy, easygoing, and mysterious. You were a beach goddess like Lauren Conrad, a cool Disney Channel teen, or maybe wanting to look a little emo (not to be confused with E-girl). The understanding was that a side part balanced your face and made your hair look more full. Literally every celebrity—and by virtue, every teen and 20-something—had one, typically paired with a sharp set of side bangs that often obscured one eye, pirate-like.
And now it’s over. At least if Gen Z has anything to say about it.
“When it’s side-parted it feels a bit like…2013?” says Phoebe Langwell, a 19-year-old TikToker in Portland with over 400,000 followers whose comedy features sketches about a hot, closeted bully with a heart of gold (and a center part). “I don’t mean to sound rude, but side parts ruled for so long that it feels like an early 2000s staple.”
“I believe middle parts give a more professional or styled look that gives the impression that you gave effort into doing your hair,” says Yudy, a 16-year-old TikToker whose account, which is followed by 700,000 people, promotes her pet duck, Aflac. She’s been parting her hair in the middle for three years, she says, likely influenced by celebrity middle parts.
Mona, a 19-year-old TikToker from Atlanta, parts her hair on the side. But she says she sees people with middle parts as “more confident and more outgoing.” People who wear side parts, she says, seem more “intellectual and introverted.”
Style is cyclical—every trend is a time traveler from the past that resurfaces seemingly out of nowhere and establishes itself so fully that we can hardly remember when it was new and weird. The same people who grew up fearing center parts and are now being encouraged to cherish them were also told to pluck their eyebrows thin and apply streaky orange faux tanner, both styles that are now considered not just unpopular, but cursed.
“When I was growing up, it was a crime to have a center part,” said TikTok user Marissa Viviann in a late-July video tagged “#90s kids” and “#over25.” “TikTok has me questioning my core values.”
Center parts are to popular girls on TikTok what Juicy velour tracksuits were to popular girls in the cafeteria 15 years ago. The most followed person on TikTok, Charli D’Amelio, has a center part so severe it looks like an NFL chalk line. So do Addison Rae and Loren Gray, the third and fourth most followed women TikTokers (Emma Chamberlain, number two, does occasional side parts).
You can see a slight difference on Instagram, which has an older demographic. Think Insta-girls like Hailey Bieber and O.G. influencers like Marianna Hewitt. There, the top five women with the most followers—Ariana Grande, Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, and Beyoncé—are famous enough that we’ve seen all of them in every kind of part. But in the past year, all of them, even staunch side-bangs holdout Ariana, have started opting for center parts more regularly.
Santi Vazquez, a stylist at the Ilo Collective salon near Los Angeles, credits celebrities like Kardashian and Jenner for bringing the center part to its current heights of popularity. Drawing a straight line pointing down your face and still looking symmetrical is a sign of “social status,” he says. “It says, ‘Look how perfect I am.’ But don’t be fooled—they use makeup to contour to make their faces look even more symmetrical.” And don't forget, filters and injectables too.
While center parts provide a dramatic frame for symmetrical features, they’re not just an opportunity to flex, according to Vazquez. “Something I like to tell people is that not only does it give you a really great look, but if your hair’s a little bit thinner on one side, a middle part can make it look a bit fuller.” He also likes to add highlights on a center part. “When you take that symmetry and then go from left to right, all of a sudden you have a dimensional color—it’s super versatile.”
That takes us to late this summer, when parting discourse came to a head (sorry) on TikTok with the #MiddlePartChallenge, a trend that can be traced back to @Lady-Gleep, 23-year-old Glorianna Restrepo.
“Prove me wrong, but I don’t think there is a single person who looks better with a side part than they do a middle part,” she says, entreating TikTokers to try parting their hair in the center. She was willing, she said to be proven wrong. “But I think the middle part is just far more supreme,” she concluded. The #MiddlePartChallenge now has 18.6 million views. Search TikTok for “middle part” and you’ll find #middlehairpart, #sidepartmiddlepart, #fuckthemiddlepart, #middlepartgang, #middlepartflop, #middlepartwtf, and #middlepartcheck with millions of combined views.
Restrepo, who only occasionally wears a center part herself, admitted to Glamour that she doesn’t actually believe her extreme statement, but she wanted people to feel motivated to prove her wrong. “I just wanted to challenge people to try something new, really. I don’t think any parts look better than any other,” she says. Nobody should be left out of the fun, she argues.
“The claim that ‘everyone looks better with a center part’ is so, so overwhelmingly false,” says Noelle, a 25-year-old on TikTok who has worn a side part since 201 and thinks side parts have an “edgier vibe.” Face it, she argues: “I think side parts look nicer on people for the most part.”
Jesse Lynn who at 24 is just between Gen Z and Millennial, happily admits that her choice to start parting her hair in the center was influenced by TikTok. “I’ve always parted my hair to the side and never thought too much about it,” she says. “I definitely didn’t think I could pull off a center part. Seeing people with faces of all different shapes and sizes rock the center part and look amazing inspired me to try it out. I’m pretty much exclusively a center-part gal now. I feel confident and chic and cool!”
Under Valenti’s tweet about TikTok parts, one teen responded that her generation might associate side parts with Republicans, and center with Democrats. This, you can imagine, riled up commenters on Twitter, where both hair discourse and political discourse are often fraught. (“I refuse to surrender the side part,” commented one user.)
But further investigation seems to dispute the correlation: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tends to part her hair in the center, but so does Ivanka Trump. Kellyanne Conway and Melania Trump part their hair on the side, but Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama do too. Being a member of Gen Z seems like a better indicator—Joe Biden’s granddaughters often wear center parts, as does Tiffany Trump. If anything symbolizes how part politics are as influenced by personal style as they are by age, think of this: Meghan Markle, 38, wears a center part, Kate Middleton, 39, wears a side part.
So if there’s any other parting wisdom I can give you, it’s this: If your hairstyle was popular in high school, you will live long enough to see teens making fun of it on the internet. Trends are fickle; no one should get too smug.
“The next big thing is going to be a severe, severe side part,” says Vazquez. “I guarantee you.”
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour