MADELEINE BRAND, host:
It was hard not to stare and utter a few oh-my-Gods when we came across a picture in yesterday's LA Times of music producer Phil Spector. At least we thought it was him. Hard to tell underneath all that hair, a giant frosted Afro making Spector look like a--well, like a wizened dandelion. And then we thought, `Oh, no. Could this possibly be the new thing for men, the latest in LA hair fashion?' Style writer Kate Hahn says, `Relax. Spraying and teasing is not where it's at this season.'
Long hair for men is in this summer, but not the pin-straight hippie look, the trucker shag or even the repeatedly resurrected mullet. Stylish guys are wearing what can only be called the marooned executive or the stranded CEO. At heart, this castaway cut is the typical office guy crop: long on top, short in back, clean on the sides. But this version appears grown out, as if that routine business flight to Albany somehow crash-landed on an uncharted island two months ago with no barbers among the survivors.
The cut isn't really grown out, of course. Stylists just make it look that way. The finishing touch is a shot of spray wax worked into hair to make it `multidirectional,' salon-speak for messy. Men appear to have spent their days blasted by ocean breezes and their nights sleeping on hand-woven palm frond mats. The overall effect is rugged and ever so slightly vulnerable.
Why this look? Why now? A stylist at one of LA's top salons says actor Jason Bateman of FOX's sitcom "Arrested Development" has the ultimate example of the cut. The tribulations of his character Michael Bluth illustrate one reason it's so popular. Everything in his life is sinking: family, business, even his house. Like any guy in the US, he has no job security, fragile national security. And who knows about Social Security? The average American man is feeling a bit marooned, and so far, no one has sent out a search party. For him, the stranded CEO is the perfect cut. It's only enhanced by constantly running your fingers through it, a classic response to stress.
But the style may also be the spark of a signal fire. `I might need to be rescued soon,' this haircut says. `I'm OK for now, but later, I might run out of fresh water or money.' But not every man grinding away at the American Dream sees being a castaway as a bad thing. For him, the marooned executive fantasy is more literal, and thus the cut is more alluring. Build me a raft instead of review the marketing plan? Harvest coconuts instead of show up at the morning staff meeting? I'm there! His hair is living out the escape fantasy one shaggy centimeter at a time.
There's another reason the look is hot. The United States is starting to feel more and more like an island. We nervously tighten our borders, consider national ID cards and get surly and sulky in diplomatic circles. Men living in a country like this don't need tidy, pretty haircuts. They need style that says, `I may work in a steel and glass office building, but I can build a bamboo and vine shelter in less than a day, and I can defend it.'
The fact that the marooned executive limits itself to mimicking only a few months of neglect is an overall sign of optimism. Men who adopt it believe the problems they face, we face, can be solved within a two- or three-month growth period. `Things will be better in the next quarter when sales numbers improve, or the next season when the coconut harvest is good.' After all, it's not like guys will be wearing the hermit this summer. Once locks get that long and tangled, no amount of conditioner or economic growth or diplomacy can rescue them.
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BRAND: Kate Hahn is a free-lance beauty writer who lives in Los Angeles.
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BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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