Scroll To Top

#TBT: A Museum of Mid-Century Hair

#TBT: A Museum of Mid-Century Hair


From Mad Men to mop tops. After all, you don't want to look like a hippie, do you?


When I was a little boy I had to go to my grandfather's barbershop to get my hair cut. I had two choices: "flat-top" and "butch." There was a large illustrated hairstyle chart on the wall with both the tlat-top and the nutch pictured. Both the men pictured for those hairdos were dreamy, collegiate-military types. Happy Caucasian men with college degrees and a new car. Maybe a nice sport coat. I wanted both to be them and wanted them at the same time, although what I wanted them for, exactly, was still kind of vague in my young buzz-cut head.

There was also a hairdo called "the wide part" that depicted a vital-looking middle-aged man totally bald on top. Being an overly literal kid, the humor was lost on me, like looking at the cartoons in my parents' New Yorker magazines.

I would hang out in the barbershop for hours and read the 20-year-old National Geographics while men would come and go until it was time for me to return home to dinner. The men would forget I was there, and sometimes the conversation would turn salty. I loved the ritual intimacy of the cape and the talc, and then a complete brushing off of clothing. Ever since then, the traditional barbershop and that relationship of two men -- like mutual grooming among primates -- has been a happy and somewhat sacred scene for me.

Of course, in 1964, when I was 10, a major rift happened with my love affair with the barbershop. The Beatles came to town. I begged my grandfather to let me grow my hair out of a butch, to stop using the heavy hairdressing stick known as Butch Wax. He finally relented and let me grow my hair out, making little trims here and there as it filled in. But he struck a sweetly sad deal with me: "Don't tell anyone your grandfather cuts your hair." He was being funny, of course, but as usual, the humor was lost on me.

See here, and on the following pages, a personal tonsorial museum of images ranging from the silly to the romantic to the frankly hot (Elvis!)

Lookyourbestx633_0 I had the junior flat-top.

CURRENT CHOICES: A selection of hair styles from the last century

Serial_killer_hairchartx633_0 Hair for the modern serial killer. Please note bi-level on bottom right.

Capellix633_0 I also wanted to be suave. Perhaps lanolin was the answer.

Modern_hairstylingx633_0 Hard to picture someone making a film called White Hair, but this would be good source material.

Officialx633_0OK, these are offical -- got it, bub? No deviations allowed.

Kidnplayx633_0 Highly collectable signage from a black hair care place. Incidentally, I use Sportin' Waves. It's the only thing that holds my hair down. I can't find Butch Wax anymore...

Genuine_mancutx633_0The semiology is complex here: The Hat Killer vs the Genuine Man Cut?

Italian_hairchart02x633_0 The guy with the Golondrina won't stop looking at me.

Italian_hairchartx633_0 Not sure what a "Polaco" is, but he is sending me secret messages with his mustache.

Hairchart_ringox633_0 You too can be a celebrity look-alike!

ADVERTSING: Conformity sells!

60secworkoutx633_0Physical fitness has somewhat grown in concept since the Vitalis "60-second workout."

56vitalishairtonicx633_0 Someone please inform Rod Stewart of this important development.

Dear_diaryx633_0Really? Girls give it up for Kreml? I think the hottentot hair looks pretty great.

Kreml_adx633_0Once again, I sported Hobo Hair for most of the '80s.


MILITARY: Hair goes to war

5th-cavalry-at-grant-park-1915x633_0 The 5th Cavalry at Grant Park, 1915

A-haircut-on-the-russian-front-world-war-iix633_0 A haircut on the Russian Front, WWII

Hair-cut-for-a-german-soldier-world-war-iix633_0 Mutual grooming among German soldiers, WWII

Induction_hairx633_0 The military method: make everyone look alike.

Pinup_barberx633_0 If you put enough pinups on the wall, you'll hardly notice than another man is running his hands through your hair and caressing your neck.

Shaving-with-an-axe-1930sx633_0 There is an Axe body wash joke in here somewhere. You figure it out.

Soldier_haircutx633_0 But Jed, you just cut my hair a couple days ago. Why you always trying to get my shirt off?

War_torn_haircutx633_0 Because even in war-torn Europe, you want to look your best.

Elvisx633_0 Elvis avoided the draft for a while due to filmmaking obligations. Then on March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was finally inducted, starting his day as the King of Rock and Roll, but ending it as a lowly buck private in the United States Army, according to the History Channel.

HAIR EPHEMERA: Notable moments in hair history

Georges-barbershop-portland-1940x633_0 George and his longtime partner, Vern, remained bachelors all their lives. They saved money by living together in the apartment upstairs.

John-lennon-getting-his-hair-cut-1966x633_0 You think it was easy for John to maintain that careless look? Two pros with razors whittle away on Lennon's mop top.

Merkinsx633_0 'They are so life-like, you will have to remind yourself they can be removed."

Stretch_wigx633_0 The newest, nowest look, for when a turban just won't do.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Christopher Harrity

Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.
Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.