Floppy-Haired Fellows Return

A sensitive style first popular 40 years ago appears again

The most striking thing about this year’s Oscars, other than that a female director finally won? The guys’ hair. There was George Clooney, whose longish (for him) do had a distinctly feathered quality in the front. Then there was James Cameron, whose soft, elongated bowl cut channeled ABBA, and was possibly blow-dried. But Mark Boal, the former Village Voice scribe who won Best Original Screenplay for The Hurt Locker, was the real bellwether of what, it struck us with a thunderclap, is a new, or at least new again, tousled trend: “Wow, thank you, Academy,” the young stud muffin said humbly, his floppy, chin-length brown hair swept to one side and tucked behind an ear, his neatly trimmed beard setting off soft, pink lips. He looked less like the freshly minted Hollywood royalty of 2010 than that of 30 years ago. When the camera cut soon after to the young Up In the Air director Jason Reitman, sporting almost the same style, one could be forgiven for mistaking the pair for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas circa Star Wars.

“That guy sort of reminded me of Ron Silver,” said men’s wear designer Billy Reid of Boal, approvingly. He termed the look “easy, but not sloppy.” Reid, who sells buttoned-up, Southern-style suiting out of a cavernous shop in Noho, himself also maintains a neat beard (reined in by an electric trimmer) and side-swept floppy hair, at least lately. He said that men’s hair and beards are becoming “more well kept. They’re paying more attention to it.”

Men’s hair trends—like men themselves—are usually more sluggish than women’s. But men also seem to be experimenting more! Sure, Stumptown baristas still wear mustaches to serve mochas, and full beards are common in yoga studios in Brooklyn and at the bar at Freeman’s, but the Bowie-esque long-on-top, shaved-on-the-sides look is currently in vogue at art openings and on Bedford Avenue, and many of the city’s best barbers—like its interior designers and restaurateurs—say they’re currently in the throes of Mad Men mania.

Now, many are turning to the blow-dryer decade for inspiration. Experts say they have sniffed the beginnings of a Jon Peters revival (he’s the hairstylist–turned–movie mogul and Barbra Streisand ex that partly inspired Shampoo), and that it’s not as low maintenance as it looks.

“A more groomed, shaggy, ’70s feel is something we’ve been venturing into in the salon already,” said Shaun Cottle, an owner of a salon on West 10th Street, which features a picture of Cat Stevens on its website, adding that he himself has “a medium-length blond shag with bangs. … I have the ’70s haircut you’re talking about. It starts at the top of my eyes with the bangs and goes right around my face to the back of my neck.” He described the look, embodied to varying degrees by everyone from Boal and Reitman to Jason Schwartzman and Noah Baumbach to New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey, as “obviously very stylized, and giving a really specific projection, but that projection is, ‘I am organic.’” Indeed, it’s a look that channels hot tubs and guitars, more ’70s porn star than grumpy Unabomber. “I’ve done a couple of really extreme bowl cuts from the ’70s on men,” Cottle said. “No part at all, kind of Peter Berlin in That Boy.”

The style’s key elements are soft, floppy, washed locks, a trimmed beard (if one is worn at all) and a creative, unfussy effect that contrasts with that of the stylized punk hairdos, uncomfortably full beards and strangulating jeans in which New York men have suffered through the past few years. It combines the relaxedness of a recession—very ’70s!—with, perhaps, a dawning optimism. “It’s getting away from the Julian Casablancas, that Williamsburg kind of look,” said Jordan M, a men’s stylist for Bumble & Bumble. “That grown-out, tendrilly, long, Jesus-looking hair that just looks like they haven’t had a hair cut in forever.” Unlike harder-to-pull-off trends like the Bowie do, the updated porn shag can work for anyone. “Just yesterday, someone got in my chair and it was exactly that,” Jordan M. said. “Straight guy, Rolex, works in an art department, and he had the trimmed beard and long shaggy hair, pushed back loosely, probably doesn’t use any product. He basically told me, ‘The more you can make it look like I cut it, the better.’”

The faux–low maintenance of the look eases this transition, in some men, from Paul Bunyan to Kenny Rogers. “You got into a period where everyone was rough and rugged, and soon enough it’s going to be the complete opposite,” predicted Eddy Chai, co-owner of the popular men’s boutique Odin. Chai foresaw a welcome loosening of clothes to accompany the boyish, floppy shift in hair, democratizing men’s dressing back into a straightforward, unironic affair. After all, Boal and Reitman were hardly the best-looking men at the Oscars, but the look, inclusive with an air of historical significance, lent them a flatteringly low-key intellectual edge.

Meanwhile, Jordan M. cautioned that the rounded shape of ’70s hair-and-beard combinations can add an unwanted fullness to the face. “When the hair’s longer on the sides, it doesn’t look like masculine or flattering to me,” he said.

But early adopters of the trend say they’re not after flattery, but comfort. Indeed, Reid, the retro-shagged designer, who said he’d been in a continuous process of growing out and shaving off a Paul Bunyan beard since college, suggested the whole thing might be accidental. “You’re probably seeing a lot of guys saying they want a change, and that’s where they’re at—in the in-between,” he said. “It’s hard just to take the full plunge of cutting [your beard] off and going back to nothing.”

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