THE EVER PRESENT SHAVED HEAD IN THE GAY CULTURE — IS IT ALWAYS HOT OR IS IT SOMETIMES NOT?
Blair Lawhead, proprietor of Blair Hair in New York City — specifically, Chelsea, the gay neighborhood of choice since the 1990s — says the shaved-head look is on its way out. But Andrew Brown, a Chicago graphic designer who has closely clipped his hair (almost a shave) for more than 15 years, agrees with his partner that his look is here to stay.
Is this a New York vs. Chicago battle of the heads? Maybe yes, maybe no. Probably it depends on the individual.
Lawhead’s history in New York includes the rise of the shaved head in the mid 1990s. And he believes it has historical roots going back to the 18th century. “Why do you think Mozart and so many others wore powdered wigs and high-collared shirts?” Lawhead asks. “They had syphilis, and this covered up the skin and hair loss problems.”
Mozart’s tale is unverified but widely rumored. But what does that have to do with the popularity of men shaving their heads since the 1990s? Lawhead says it was during the height of the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) pandemic, when fashionable men in New York were undergoing treatment for their HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection with AZT (azidothymidine, also called zidovudine), which preceded the use of more-effective antiviral medications. That medication caused hair loss, even while men infected with AIDS also suffered wasting conditions, seeing their body weight plummet and their appearance become more sickly.
“While sitting in hospital beds looking at bald patches on their heads, they just said, ‘Screw it, I’m shaving this off,’” offers Lawhead. This being the center of fashion, the look took off quickly. It is fair to note that at the same time, macho action movie stars such as Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as basketball legend Michael Jordan, also began to proudly go hairless.
By the time the landmark New York Times Magazine article by Andrew Sullivan, “When AIDS Ends,” ran in 1996, the shaved-head look was uberhip. So too was the use of steroids to combat wasting. The pumped-up Sullivan acknowledges his own use of steroids, then and now, and continues to sport a shaved-head-with-beard look, squarely placing himself in the musclebear subculture. He appears frequently on political talk show panels, presenting a curious mix of gay progressivism, Bush criticism and waning Obama support — in a faded British clip that reveals his U.K. roots.
Now in his late 40s, Sullivan would have a hard time changing his look should he decide baldness isn’t for him. The same can be said of Brown, the man who used to change his look every couple of years, before his hair loss became too difficult for his stylist to work with. Perhaps both reflect the “style” of most of our fathers: Hair loss set in shortly after they got married, or at least by the age of 40. After that, their combs — and perhaps comb-overs — pretty much followed the same path the rest of their days.
Is it your look?
Handsome men can pull off just about any look. Put (insert name of your favorite heartthrob) into a crazy multicolored ’fro wig on Halloween and chances are he will look good even while funkadelic. The rest of us need to give it a bit of thought.
Different hairstylists use different techniques to come up with hair loss mitigation strategies for their clients.
“My favorite moment when meeting with a new client is when something hits me about that person,” says Lawhead. “It’s like looking at art,” he states, explaining how one feature will initially catch his attention. “It can be blue eyes, or a jawline. This is something I learned from my time working in theater. You can see a lot that’s wrong or right from a half block away. The point is to enhance or soften a feature.”
Alex Khadavi, M.D., a plastic surgeon whose work is in hair transplants, says, “The shaved head simply works … with men who have a round, proportionate scalp-to-face ratio.”
But not everyone does, unfortunately. Brian Sterling-Vete, the American chairman of the U.K.-based Head of Hair, notes that “some guys have a wrong-shaped head,” which often includes bumps and squared-off corners, not a nice round globe. It also has to do with body shape and proportions, where “a skinny guy will not look as good as a thicker guy” when his head is bare. “But really, there are so many variables.” Sterling-Vete says he has heard of computer programs that can assess and project what one would look like with a hairless pate.
It seems to us that a guy could simply try the look, accepting the fact that if he doesn’t like it, it may take several weeks or months to grow out. But shaving a head is hardly permanent.
Diamonds are forever. Hairstyles change.
In all likelihood, Sullivan and Brown will stick with what works for them today. But what about the 20-something who began shaving his head to achieve a look popular in his peer group?
“Remember the cyclical nature of style,” says Manhattanite Lawhead. “Hair evolves and changes — we’re already starting to see the return of longer, 1970s style hair.” (Lawhead also thinks the steroid look is fading, with younger men opting for skinny jeans and overall thinner body types.)
“It’s important to make good decisions about your hair. When you are bald, the decision is taken away from you,” he cautions.
To summarize: Where you live, your physical features from head to toe and how old you are all affect your decision to go bald or to instead fight hair loss. In any case, you would be smart to enlist the counsel of professionals.