Friday 10 September 2021 10:05 am

Shearing in the right direction: The haircut in a post-Covid world

Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official.

We need to start with a disclaimer, or maybe it’s a caveat; perhaps even an apologia. This column is entirely dedicated to men’s hair. That’s partly because I am, well, a man, and partly (in connection with that) I know little to nothing of the murky and rebarbative world of women’s hairdressing. I know it’s time-consuming and expensive, and that the relationship between coiffeur and client is a complex and uneven one, but I don’t pretend to any greater expertise than that.

Like a lot of men, I suspect, I do not like getting my hair cut. There are many reasons for this. One is that I’m not much good at small talk, and crave the solitude of Enoch Powell when, allegedly, he was asked by the barber in the House of Commons how he wanted his hair cut and replied, in those flinty Black Country tones, “In silence”. If the barber and I can come to a tacit agreement that we will talk no more than is necessary, I regard it as a signal success.

I also dislike the tension. Since I’m not a barber, I have no idea whether what the man or woman cutting my hair is doing is right, and whether it will bring me safely to the shores of acceptability or leave me stranded in a tonsorial netherworld in which people greet you with a stunned and fearful “New haircut?”

However, short of becoming an anchorite and shunning worldly habits such as self-care, I need a haircut from time to time. In fact I had one today, in the deliciously old-school surroundings of Geo. F. Trumper just off Jermyn Street. It is as close to the platonic ideal as you will get: an old-fashioned leather barber’s chair, bottles of sandalwood and Eucris and eau de quinine scent, pots of pomade and bowls of shaving soap. The smartly dressed staff will ask what you want, and, according to your description, will attempt to deliver it. It is, I find, making the best of an inherently stressful experience.

Ah, but the description. That is everything. We have all looked at photographs of our manly idols and thought “I want to look like that”, forgetting for a while that the gap between Cary Grant and yourself is wider than a simple haircut. Many of us will simply say “Just a quick trim” or “Tidy it up a bit”. But in the era of customer centrality and the overriding importance of the experience, there must, I submit, be more to it than that.

A few months ago, I wrote at length of the importance of seizing agency over ourselves: to a greater extent than we imagine, we can make our lives into what we have dreamily imagined they might be. This works on every level from the macro to the micro, and—stay with me here—it applies to haircuts. No, let me be less niminy-piminy and reductive: I mean hair styles. We choose our clothes and our habits carefully, and we should do the same with our hair, rather than asking meekly for a short back and sides.

This is, though, the post-Covid world. Formality, we are told, is out (I must have missed the memo) and our style is changing across the board. Well maybe. But I will try to set out a few guidelines which gentlemen may find helpful.

I will say upfront that I do not like long hair on men. I’m sure it’s fine if you’re an artist or musician, in which case you must do you, but if you work in any kind of business or commerce, I think it is a step too far. It brings with it many stereotypes, not all of them good, and, which is more important, I have rarely seen it look kempt and neat. Maybe those are not attributes you especially seek, but this is my column and I make the rules.

This is not to say that your haircut should all look like that of a first-day recruit to the US Marine Corps. Some prefer shaven heads, or very closely cropped, and that is fine; it is especially appropriate for those suffering from the terror which is male-pattern baldness. The Duke of Cambridge has adopted a very short haircut to divert attention from the fact that, once a genuinely beautiful and golden youth, he is now losing his hair rapidly as middle age approaches. No-one could ever accuse him of looking sloppy or untidy, so if short is your thing, then go ahead.

If, however, Mother Nature has been kind to you and the follicles remain fecund, then put some thought into it. Have a notion of what kind of style you would like, and whether it suits your face shape, colouring and habits of dress. I am—have you noticed?—somewhat old-fashioned, so I do still have a sharp parting (on the right, though this carries no profound message) and my locks kept as best I can in place with wax. When I’m having a Good Hair Day (and don’t let anyone tell you only women have those), I think it looks smart, professional and elegant.

A bit of body is no bad thing, if you want to make a feature of it. Lord Heseltine, once known as Tarzan for his blond extravagance, still maintains a luxuriant sweep of hair as he nears 90, but one might also think of the modern Grants, Hugh and Richard E., or A.C. Grayling, the preposterous man’s Richard Dawkins (himself no tonsorial slouch). Dramatic hair suits dramatic people and you should not be afraid.

One last but essential piece of advice. However much you dislike having your hair cut, submit yourself regularly. No decent style will much outlive a month, whether long or short, and six weeks is beginning to stretch the realms of the well-groomed. Find a barber or hairdresser you like, and try to get into a routine. Pair it with a treat, like a good cocktail afterwards or the purchase of a new pair of shoes.

So there we have it: think about it; find a good salon; get the style right; keep it maintained. Your hair will thank you, the public will thank you, and so will I. A hair cut is a hair enhanced.