Our love/hate relationship with hair

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

The Boston Big Beards, I see, won the World Series. I spent last week at a Trappist monastery in Iowa, which is about as far away from things as you can get, so I didn't hear the results till I returned home.

In fact, everything seemed to have changed when I got home — the color of the leaves on the trees, for instance, and the clocks. The sun now sets an hour earlier. So I had to adjust. And I'm just beginning to get my mind re-engaged with mainstream culture.

Fashion, for instance. The triumph of the Boston Beards is not necessarily good news from a fashion standpoint. I was surprised when, earlier this year, it became obvious that beards were back in fashion. Big beards. Raggedy beards. Santa Claus-style beards. The kind of beards I've only seen on some of the monks at New Melleray Abbey.

When I was old enough to grow a beard, way back in the 1970s, it was still an act of rebellion, a counter-cultural statement. But the hair on top was much longer than the beards.

In the Reagan '80s, everyone cleaned up as part of the general Yuppification program. Beards, if any still sported them, were meticulously manicured to reflect the more buttoned-down era.

Then a wave of irrationality swept in as the hair on top started to thin. In the '90s, Baby Boomers were sophisticated enough to stop hiding their baldness with comb-overs (Donald Trump being the laughable exception) and the only thing worse than a comb-over — the dreaded, dead-giveaway hair piece, which sits like a dead mammal on someone's head, fooling no one.

Instead, following the lead of Michael Jordan, men tried to hide their baldness … by going balder! They shaved their heads. Granted, some cropped their remaining hair extremely short in lieu of shaving it, which kept them from looking like extras from some futuristic film set, but more like some of the other monks at New Melleray.

With the peculiar reappearance of the "big beard" — the likes of which we haven't seen since, what, the Civil War? — an extra layer of irrationality has been added: Big beards paired with shaved heads, the follicular equivalent of men in cold weather who wear heavy coats … with shorts!

Of course, men's shorts have gotten longer whereas women's shorts have been getting progressively shorter. I approve on both counts.

Not that women are any more rational about hair. They've been known to submit to treatments that involve "ripping" excess hair from their eyebrows and upper lips. According to the film 40-Year-Old Virgin, men also do this if they think their chests and backs have grown too hairy.

Human beings are funny creatures. We alternately worship hair … and despise it.

With facial hair, however, men have grown much more tolerant of diversity. The 2- or 3-day stubble shadow remains popular, as is the goatee, which, happily, replaced the moustache, simply by extending it. Chin fuzz (I'm sure a more fashionable term exists) highlight the chin for those who perhaps feel it needs greater prominence.

The full beard never went completely out of style, but now the fuller, and in some cases fullest, beard is in vogue. The Boston Red Sox team photo probably should be taken wearing Civil War uniforms, using daguerreotype photography. Watching this team play was like entering a time warp.

But super-beards have been cascading from jaws since before the season started. This is a mystery best solved by an anthropologist.

In addition to our unexpected return to the golden age of big beards, men have also revived the hat and the cap (non-baseball variety), which is a welcome development. The end of the baseball-cap era (and, hopefully, the sports jersey) is long overdue. Over a certain age, men wear baseball caps bill forward. Under a certain age, they wear them backward. The "age" seems more a reflection of self-image than chronology. After a certain chronological age, however, no matter how young you feel, men should not wear baseball caps. It robs us of our hard-earned (or hard-yearned) dignity.

A lot of men, young and not-so-young, have adopted more traditional hats and flat caps — another throwback trend. As a cap-wearing, pocket-watch-carrying throwback for several decades, I approve, even though I'm now just one of a crowd.

Fortunately, I don't expect the watch fob to catch on again anytime soon.

So the Big Beards are the World Champs, and people love a winner. Therefore, male fans, for a while anyway, will likely associate long beards with power and flatter these athletes with imitation.

But beard growers and Boston fans, beware. Sampson's hair was the secret to his strength, but you remember what happened. Ever since, men have been wary of women bearing shears.

Sampson was a classic example of the tenuous nature of power.

Hair today, gone tomorrow.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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