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I have great hair, or a “great head of hair,” as my maternal grandmother likes to say. I don’t take after the men in my father’s family, where receding hairlines start in the men’s early 20s and wreak follicle havoc on through death; nor do I have hair like the men on my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, where there was never much hair to do much with. But, like a lot of men (especially in the DC area) I suffered from a hair-related illness: I didn’t know how to ask for a good haircut, and too often I settled for bad ones as a result of trusting stylists to discern, perhaps via divination, exactly what I wanted them to do with their shears.
Some of us are especially bad about this. We treat haircuts like a chore, no more aesthetically significant than mowing the yard or picking out new drapes. “Take a little off the top,” we say. “Trim the sides,” we grumble. Or worse, we don’t ask for anything: “I don’t know, just do something with this,” we say as we wave a hand over our heads, as if swatting at swarming bees.
I used to be like that, and I suffered through years of weird and thoughtless haircuts as a result. Bowl cuts. Buzz cuts. Flat tops. Ambiguous messes. The caesar cut (before and after it was cool—not while Justin Timberlake had it). And then one day, I learned to talk about my hair. On an impulse, I asked my stylist how I could make my hair less dry and poofy.
“Do you use dandruff shampoo?” she asked.
My god, I thought. They really are telepathic!
“Yes, yes I do!”
“Well stop,” she said. “Use dandruff shampoo every other day, and then use something a little kinder to your hair on the other days. And condition every time, whether you use regular shampoo or anti-dandruff. And skip a day here and there so that your hair benefits from the scalp’s natural oils.”
And thus an appreciation for my hair was born. My stylist taught me other things, too. About layering (for that brief time when I wanted longish hair); which styles should be rounded in the back and which styles should be squared; why one should always get one’s sideburns trimmed; how to defeat my cowlick; which hair products to use and how to apply them.
So here’s my advice for DC men with hair and hair issues (sorry premature baldies, no list of advice will ease your pain):
1.) End the promiscuity: I’m guessing you don’t go to a different mechanic every time your car/scooter acts up, and I’m hoping you don’t hop from physician to physician for checkups and serious health concerns; in a similar vein, find a stylist or a barber with whom you can communicate and stick with him/her. This may require some trial and error, but eventually you’ll find the right person: someone who knows how to handle layering shears and can ease your deepest fashion anxieties.
2.) Ask questions: Stylists and barbers are licensed professionals, and the good ones know and care about hair. While not actually telepathic, they can answer most of your questions. What will look good, what won’t. If your style needs updating and how to do it without making you look like a trend whore. How much gel is too much (but please don’t call it gel—say “product”). Questions will let them know you appreciate their efforts, and will ultimately lead to a better haircut.
3.) Go regularly: Nobody needs his hair cut every week, but once you’ve hit the one-month mark, you’re pushing it. Go for a trim every 2-3 weeks. Your stylist will have a better idea of what the finished product looked like last time you were in, and you’ll always look good. (The only downside is that your co-workers may not notice that you just got your haircut—trust that this is ultimately a good thing. Unless you’ve made a radical change, “Oh, you got your haircut!” is the edited version of, “Oh, you finally got your greasy/nasty/shaggy hair cut!”
4.) Bring pictures: So you like Alec Baldwin’s top-level executive cut on 30 Rock? Find a television magazine and bring it to your stylist. Your hair might be too light, too thin, or too short to pull off the Jack Donaghy mane, but there’s only one way to find out. While it may appear slightly narcissistic to outsiders, you should also take a picture of your hair after an especially good haircut, which you can then show your stylist if he or she forgets in between sessions how you like it on top.
5.) Spend a few bucks. Your Haircut is your least expensive fashion accessory next to undershirts, but that doesn’t mean it should be cheap. Be willing to pay somewhere between $15 and $30 for a sharp trim. If you’re paying more than that and your hair is shorter than, say Fabio’s, you’re getting ripped off. If you’re paying less than that, you’re not spending enough to ensure a good cut. And if you’re not tipping your stylist at least 20%, you either need to find a new stylist or pull the stick out of your ass.
6.) Hair matters: My last bit of advice is to remember that if fashion matters, hair matters. If you take pride in your wardrobe, take pride in your hair. Bad hair will make expensive clothes look cheap and casual wear scummy. Good hair will make cheap clothes look fashionable and will compensate for fashion no-no’s.
Good luck, gentlemen.