Why men no longer stand for going bald and are opting for hair restoration
Prince William has become the standard-bearer for baldness, but he is one of the few public figures of his generation to embrace thinning locks
What a hair-raising figure Britain's Prince William cut last week as he brought his family on a state visit to Poland.
Stepping onto a red carpet at Warsaw airport, his wife, Kate Middleton, looked as if she'd just walked out of a Hello! magazine photo-shoot while their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, were picture-postcard adorable in short pants and summer frock.
William, however, appeared prematurely worn. This had less to do with the burdens of office than with the fact his thinning widow's peak - for so long his signature - has blossomed into an endless acreage of pasty pate. In the unforgiving Central European light, it appeared as if someone had poured white latex all over the royal noggin. How striking to witness a famous person stand so unselfconsciously before the cameras.
This was doubly a shock because, in our current golden age of male vanity, it's increasingly rare to see a bald celebrity - especially one so youthful (though he's been around forever, William is just 35). Wherever you gaze, celebs are modelling springy heads of follicle astroturf.
"I could have just left it and got on with things, but with TV today, everything is in high definition, and people notice every little thing," said Louis Walsh (pictured), who, in 2011, underwent a hair restoration operation after some gentle gibing from X Factor co-host Simon Cowell. "And if you're getting on, and you're on TV with a lot of young people, you have to look after yourself. So I thought 'I don't want a bald spot! I'm going to get this sorted."
He isn't alone. From Elton John to actor James Nesbitt, the megabucks set have been tending to their thinning thatches for decades ("Several years ago, I began losing my hair, and like a lot of men it was a major concern to me, in fact it was practically an obsession," said Nesbitt). Yet today it feels a lush mop has become universally important - leaving Prince William very much an outlier. It's almost as if he is consciously embracing a lack of locks and in the process embracing an unspoken taboo.
Consider, by contrast, Wayne Rooney. In the '80s, every soccer team featured a baldie or two. However, also in 2011 Rooney proudly shared on social media photos of his restored hairline (a procedure rumoured to have cost £40,000).
"Just to confirm…I have had a hair transplant," he told his 12 million Twitter followers. "I was going bald at 25 - why not?"
Why not indeed? One tempting conclusion is that this is a generational shift, with thinning Wills very much out of step with his peers. Those of a certain age will recall that friend in college or at work whose hair loss became noticeable in at a comparatively early age.
The standard response in this dim and distant past - i.e. the '90 and early 2000s - was to figuratively wave a fist at the heavens and curse your luck. Baldness, like height and shoe-size, was just one of those attributes genetically uploaded into your mainframe - why fight it?
How far we have come. In the world of celebrity, youth and hair-loss are today perceived as mutually exclusive. More and more that's the situation in the real world also.
Back in the day, hair-loss clinics carried around them the whiff of snake-oil sales. That is no longer the case, with respected medical practices popping up in all of the country's major urban centres.
Moreover, it would be inaccurate to claim this was simply an issue only among Millennials - who it is fashionable to decry as narcissistic and self-indulgent. With hair-loss studios booming around Ireland, a significant chunk of the clientèle will naturally belong to an older demographic. Across the board we're ALL hung up about our hair - and prepared to do something about it. "When lads start losing their hair, the greatest worry is that they are going to have the mick taken out of them by their peers," says Galway trichologist Deborah Whelan.
"It's more about what the lads think than what the ladies think. It's the peers they worry about. The response of females is of much less concern. A generation ago nobody would have cared."
That a lush head of hair is bound up in men's sense of confidence is confirmed by research. A study in Psychology Today found 51pc of men would rather lose their minds than their hair.
Tellingly, women were spectacularly un-flustered by the issue, with only 13pc saying they would be upset if their significant other thinned seriously (52pc of men believed women considered baldness a turn-off).
Meanwhile, an Irish study last week confirmed that one in five men in their 20s experience "significant baldness" and that nine out of ten men in this category cite hair-loss as their number one insecurity.
"I've been working as a trichologist for 35 years - the difference in the last five years is very significant," says Whelan. "A decade ago no man would have mentioned hair-loss to friend.
"Now they assess each other for everything and might casually bringing it up in conversation. 'Look, you are losing your hair - maybe you should do something about it'.
"They will say it in a casual, having-the-craic kind of way. But that wouldn't have happened in the past. So there is undoubtedly a shift in perceptions."
Still, some things haven't changed. I canvassed a number of men with thinning hair for opinions - none were prepared to speak on the record (or even off the record for that matter).
One told me that there was a point past which they would probably do something about it (if not quite going so far as a transplant.) Another, however, shrugged the issue off.
"If my hair goes, it goes - I'll shave my head and just carry on. Why get hung up on something you can't control?"
The biggest bridge to cross is admitting you are sufficiently concerned about your hair to seek help.
Applying an over-the-counter solution such as Rogaine each night is one thing, but sitting down for a consultation with a hair restoration expert, and perhaps going so far as to pay several thousand euro for a procedure, is another matter entirely.
William, it is tempting to conclude, is happy with the state of his pate. How many young men in his position would feel likewise?