Friday 14 December 2018

The seven ages of man's hair

From teenage experimentation through greys and baldness, Bill Linnane traces the most important cuts in any male's life

Little Samson: Kid from Mad Max 2
Little Samson: Kid from Mad Max 2
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

Flogging beauty products to men is a hard sell. We pay so little attention to our physical and mental well-being that you have to feel sorry for Gerard Butler attempting to convince us that moisturiser is actually 'face protector' or for those Lynx ads that try to make us believe that smelling like a bordello will make people want to be around us. One physical attribute that we do care about, however, is our hair. It is inextricably linked to our notions of masculinity and as a result, it gets more attention than our skin, eyes, emotions, relationships, kids, and entire digestive system combined.

Much is made of the 'hair transformation' for women, particularly the 'breakover' but it's no different for men. And there have been plenty of high-profile makeovers in recent weeks, from David Beckham wisely abandoning his new-found mullet to promote a grooming range to Great British Bake Off host Noel Fielding chopping off his goth locks in preparation for becoming a father.

While the styles may change, the stages never really do - behold, the seven ages of man's hair.

Mummy's little Samson

A man's understanding of the power of his hair starts almost at birth. Over the first six months, he grows a long mane, complete with ringlets bound together with formula milk and Liga biscuits. He senses that a big mop of hair is the way to win hearts, failing to realise the reason little boys have long hair is they have heads shaped like half deflated beach balls. It matters not - the idea has taken hold, hair equals power.

Dad's little soldier

The long hair is fine until dad gets sick of explaining to cooing old ladies that his son is in fact a boy, and thus the arguments begin. Dad wants a decent short back and sides that you could set your watch by, mum says she will divorce him if he cuts it, but eventually she has to sleep and junior is whisked away to the barbers for a vital ritual in every man's life - sitting in complete silence while you get a terrible haircut that makes you look like you have ringworm, then telling the barber it's perfect and even leaving a tip. Lesson number one in being a man: bottle up all that disappointment.

The teenage years

The awkward transition from 'haircut' to 'hairstyle'. Back in the 1980s it was crimping. In the Noughties it was straightening. Now it appears to be perms. There is literally no look too silly for the young male in his desperate bid to attract a mate. It is a sad irony of masculinity that at this juncture in our lives, when our hair is at its most fabulously lustrous, we somehow take it completely for granted and try to burn or home-bleach it into oblivion. To misquote Wilde, a decent head of hair is wasted on the young.

Little soldier: River Phoenix
Little soldier: River Phoenix

The template

In your 20s you will decide what your hair will look like for the rest of your life (scalp willing). This will be because you have found your signature look and realise that it helps you attract a mate, or because you are now married and therefore don't need to change any aspect of yourself ever again. Much like North Koreans are only allowed a choice of 15 state approved haircuts, the average Irish male will only have a brief list to choose from: short, long, or the best of both worlds, the mullet.

Long hair is fine for bikers, metallers, craft brewers or IT geniuses, short hair suits corporate raiders, neo-Nazis, or people whose kids keep coming home from creche with head lice. The mullet, or Haircut of the Gods, is almost impossible to pull off without irony, unless you are an actual outback sheep farmer, new age traveller en route to a crusty rave, or rugby and hair legend Shane Byrne. Please note the mun, or man bun, only works for wan twentysomething baristas in espadrilles, and makes anyone who weighs more than seven stone look like a sumo wrestler.

Ch-ch-changes

So you will go to the same barbers for the same interpretation of your vague directions ("a bit more Beckham-ish on the fringe please") for the rest of your life. However, change does come in the form of grey hairs, usually on the temples, where you can either claim they make you look wise and sophisticated like a dilapidated George Clooney, or you can cling to your youth by buying a vat of Grecian 2000 and sticking your head in it whilst singing Cher's 'If I Could Turn Back Time'. The latter option is obviously the more tragic and also crosses that line where we move from caring about our appearance to being slaves to it, unless of course you work for RTE, which seems to operate a terrifying Logan's Run-style employment policy, where you risk getting fired if you show even the slightest signs of ageing. Paul McCartney has been dyeing his hair for years (even reportedly taking to colouring it himself after a row with a stylist), but he seems to have finally put down the bottle and accepted his grey roots - aged 75.

The cry for help

A man suddenly changing his hairstyle is a handy warning system - something is going on. A recent job loss, bitter divorce, or much-younger partner can all lead to a man taking the notion that he should start getting highlights and spiking his hair so his head looks like a Second World War sea mine, but with the overall effect of making him look less like a dapper young blade and more like a sex tourist. Former One Directioner Zayn Malik bleached his hair when he broke up with model Gigi Hadid, but that doesn't mean you want to show up to your divorce hearings looking like Eminem - it's a custody battle, not a rap battle.

Teenage years: Ryan Giggs
Teenage years: Ryan Giggs

Hair today, gone tomorrow

The cruellest aspect of men and their relationship with their locks is that we often lose them, and there is little that can be done about it. Some manage to keep their hair intact until their twilight years, some start losing it in their 20s thanks to a genetic timebomb. There are five stages of grief at losing your hair...

1. Denial: "It's just a widow's peak, everyone in my family has them. Yes, it makes me look like The Count from Sesame Street, but I am definitely not going bald."

2. Anger: Furiously combing the hair forward or across the scalp, desperately trying to encourage the hair to grow over the thinning spots as though it is a herbaceous vine that will somehow take root on the barren wastelands of your massive head.

3. Bargaining: Massaging oils, homeopathic ointments and some sort of electro-convulsive device you bought off the internet that somehow is meant to stimulate regrowth - all of these will ultimately end up in the bin, along with most of your hair.

The template: Shane Byrne
The template: Shane Byrne

4. Depression: Sitting at the computer googling "Marty Whelan before and after" and wondering if you could set up a GoFundMe to raise the thousands needed for a hair transplant. 'No' is the blunt answer, you could not. Sobbing, you realise that this is the end.

5. Acceptance: Also known as 'Prince William Syndrome', this is the point where you go "ah feck it, sher I'll just shave it all off". And so you do, yearning all the while for the days of a more repressed Ireland where men were able to wear an incredibly conspicuous wig without anyone pointing and laughing at them in the street. The only hope now is to grow a mighty beard to create the illusion that all your lovely hair migrated south for the winter, whilst also making you look like you run a fight club in the underground car park of your local Lidl.

Our hair is central to our identity and whether long, short or faux mullet, it is a tracking system for our passage through life, the most visible part of the ageing process. Greying or thinning hair is the ticking of a clock, reminding us that someday we will soon be gone from this earth - perhaps we should just accept our fate and rage, rage against the dyeing of the white.

Going grey: Paul McCartney
Going grey: Paul McCartney
Hair today... Prince William
Hair today... Prince William

Irish Independent

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