Long hair on men: What they don’t teach you

Around the year 1990 or thereabouts, I stopped getting haircuts. This followed my cessation of shaving around 1986.

Basically, I did the reverse of what many men did, look one way as a young person, then adopt a “straighter” look post college, as we entered the working world. But then, I’ve always tended to work against the grain, the herd, fashion, or whatever the majority was doing.

Anyway, the beard was actually a simple way to look older. I was all of 21 or 22, had increasingly responsible jobs, and I looked like a high school kid. I wanted a way to look older and be taken more seriously. It more or less worked. I also saved a lot on razors and cut myself less.

After a couple years, my jobs became less traditional. I noticed a few men in the 80s wearing ponytails and I began to wonder about that. I liked the look and decided to go for it.

After awhile, it began to work and it seemed to look good with the beard. So, as we entered the full-fledged 90s dot-com era under Bill Clinton, I began to look like I’d stepped out of Woodstock, circa 1969 (I was actually 5 years old during Woodstock). What I learned along the way is, to look like this, there are certain social realities and grooming challenges.

For instance, when you have long hair, you usually need to keep it tied back in order to look neater and keep it out of your eyes, nose, and mouth (hair is not a good snack). Young women learned this by the time most were able to talk, while I was figuring it out in my late 20s.

What sort of hair ties does one use? Rubber? Nope, pulls too much hair. Colorful plastic clips? Not very masculine. Colored hair ties? Yeah, that worked, but the particular colors were critical.

I mean, nobody ever taught me that matching your hair tie to your shirt was important. Suddenly I had to learn proper accessorizing. Not something they brought up in “Boys’ Life,” I’ll tell you. And they didn’t cover it all those years later in “Rolling Stone,” “Men’s Health,” or any other magazine. And the barrette question just had me totally stumped.

Then there was the whole braiding thing. Does a guy braid long hair? Well, I learned that depended on whether or not he could braid his hair, needed help, or even had enough hair to braid.

Also, how did it look when done? French braid? Regular braid? Exotic? Did you complete the braid with a basic hair tie or something flashier? This whole issue could get very metrosexual, very fast.

I learned several things about braiding hair. First, I couldn’t do it to save my life, while most women could pull it off by age 8. Second, I had to have someone else do it and, even when done right, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it. And finally, it took awhile before I really had enough hair to pull it off.

It looks good on many big, burly long-haired men like certain Native American folks you see in movies and on TV. It looked good on “Game of Thrones.” But did it work for short, Jewish guys? The jury is still out.

Another issue with long hair was the reaction of potential employers and others of a more short-haired variety. During this period, I worked for other people and, whenever I went in for an interview, I had to carefully consider my look based on the job.

The straighter the job, the more I had to trim the beard, tie back the hair, and carefully coordinate the hair-tie color with the suit jacket or tie (or shirt, that’s what went wrong). It was a nightmare.

And deity forbid that I let my hair down. Oy! You could just see the looks on the faces as you shook hands and sat down for the interview.

There would be this forced smile that didn’t reach the eyes and you could almost hear the thoughts. “Does this guy bathe regularly? Is he a commie? Anarchist? Hippie? Y’know, he kind of resembles Jesus….”

On that last one, my wife once informed me that I was getting some very odd glances from older church ladies back before my hair went gray.

By the late ’90s, I was a full-fledged long-haired hippie throwback and happily self-employed. Ironically, it worked even better, as my job was as a computer consultant. People in business had a definite idea of what a techie should look like, and for some reason, long hair played into it (though proper accessorizing was still critical).

I actually once had a new client tell me that, had I shown up in a suit and tie looking all straight, that he would have thrown me out. This also was the era when business casual started to gain steam and suits were replaced by khakis and polo shirts with company logos. I fit right in, though I stuck with jeans.

To actually be in fashion for once in my life was a bit of a shock. I almost opted for a haircut in protest. And I don’t abide khakis.

Since then, I’ve had a couple office gigs that I learned even more from. Not-for-profits are way more comfortable with long hair than corporations (unless you’re a 20-something tech genius who just came up with the next Facebook). Lady bosses much more often prefer long hair then male bosses do (still no idea on that one). And the new generations seem to vacillate between long hair and no hair.

I’ve noticed a trend where some younger guys who begin to lose hair just go totally bald in their 20s. This was unheard of in my youth, when men worked with the comb over, toupees, and Hair Club for Men.

I refer to these youngsters as quitters in the hair game. C’mon guys, there are options to shaving your entire head every morning! Can you spell Rogaine?

I learned a few other things along the way. Once you start to go gray, people start referring to you as distinguished. But this brings up the question of a distinguished hair tie. Leather? Silver? Corduroy to match the patches on your jacket?

Once the beard starts going gray, you start getting senior discounts (even if it is 10 years early). You rarely get asked for proof of age when purchasing alcohol and the church ladies no longer look at you quite as oddly. Finally, I could go out in long flowing robes and not tie my hair back. What a relief!

And you learn that fashion, no matter what the magazines say, is really about what works for you. Fashion seems to go in cycles and what is old becomes new again every five to 10 years.

If you wait long enough, even disco fashion will return. They’ll just call it EDM fashion (electronic dance music, which is a rehash of the rave culture, which harkens back to disco — well you get the idea.)

Thus, I was in fashion for a bit in the 90s, so by my calculations, I should be back in fashion in another five or so years. But I might need more tattoos (I have only one) and maybe a few more piercings (only three at present).

Now, after  more than 20 years of long hair, maybe I’ll have to finally look into braiding lessons. That might be in fashion soon. Unless the hipsters start braiding their beards. Wait, does that means you weave beads in? Tiny barrettes? Artisanal hair ties? Oh man, what next?

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg remains long-haired, bearded, tattooed, pierced, and perfectly happy with that, he says, noting that his employer is too. Of course, he’s still self-employed.