There’s this episode of “Seinfeld” in which Elaine introduces Jerry to her new boyfriend, a tall, shaved-headed dude who keeps his pate bare to make himself more streamlined for swimming competitions. When he leaves, Jerry quips, in wink-wink sitcom fashion, “Is he from the future?” Cue audience laughter. In the early ’90s, a shaved head was apparently a futuristic concept, right up there with flying cars and robots that cook spaghetti.

I chuckle every time I see the episode, and not just because I share a hair-do with Future Man. In a way, the comment is prescient; shaved heads may have been rare in the early ’90s, when the only options available to bald guys were horseshoe-style cuts and wigs that looked like unkempt ferrets. Now they’re all over the place. The bare head has become the go-to ‘do for the follically challenged, and it’s started to infiltrate popular culture: Howie Mandell, Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel all sport the gleaming bareheaded look, and not a moment too soon. If any of them had held onto their hair for longer than was necessary, they’d be sporting the kind of comb-overs typically associated with accountants and high school guidance counselors.

It’s the latest trend in the ongoing evolution of the “do.”

I’m currently reading an account of the life of George Washington ”“ apparently presidential biographies are my thing now, soon to be followed by backgammon and tweed jackets ”“ and despite the remarkable life he led, some of the quirkiest passages are about his hair.

Everybody assumes that, because Washington was a right dandy sort of fellow, he wore a wig. Not true. The weird triangle shape of his hair, which makes him look like a wise and benevolent kite, is due to a popular 18th- century hairstyle called a “queue,” in which the hair at one’s temples is flared out and tied behind the back of the head in a kind of ponytail. Washington’s hair was white because he applied powder to it, which was another popular practice in the 1700s. Nowadays, the effect would make it seem as though his head was being attacked by a swarm of angry marshmallows, but in colonial Virginia, he fit right in.

One wonders what Washington would have made of the voluminous, bird-like hair-dos of the 1970s and early ’80s. I watch movies from that era, and I’m struck by how even the baldies would grow out their unruly hair in the back and on the sides, giving them the surreal impression of having been raised by cocaine-addicted wolves. Women in particular seemed fond of the flared-out Farrah Fawcett-style wings on either side of their faces. And it served a practical purpose, if you think about it: If they were chased to the edge of a cliff by a marauding sasquatch, they could simply take the plunge and glide safely into a ravine like a flying squirrel. For some reason, that seems like a particularly ’70s thing to do.

One of the tantalizing mysteries of human history is how styles evolve. In a lot of ways, biological evolution ”“ the actual physical changes that occur over centuries and millennia ”“ is much less of a mystery. We stopped swinging from trees, so we lost our tails. We learned to walk upright, so we developed hands. It’s an easy enough concept. But popular trends are tricky; they don’t contribute to survival, so it’s tough to explain a pompadour in any kind of Darwinian terms. Things like hairstyles just seem to happen. I like to think of trends as originating from a single person ”“ someone has to be the first to do something, after all. The Duke of Earl gets up one morning and decides he’s tired of his long hair getting caught in his mouth when he’s eating lamb eyeballs and porridge. So he ties it back into a ponytail. Boom. Next thing you know, everyone’s got a ponytail, from the merchants to the sailors to the guy who sews underwear for the merchants and the sailors. It’s the hair equivalent of a modern-day Internet meme, without the cats and terrible grammar.

Not all hairstyles are as long-lasting as the ponytail, which is near-ubiquitous for women of certain ages, and still fairly common among men, especially hippies and owners of comic book stores. Much more fleeting was the rat tail. When I was a wee schoolboy in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the rat tail was all the rage; while the rest of the hair was kept short, one long strand was grown out in the back and often braided into a knotted sliver that looked like a whip for an eight-inch-tall dominatrix. It was similar to the ponytail, only super gross.

In that same era, it was popular for young boys to have shapes or words shaved onto the sides of their heads. Lightning bolts were common. One kid I went to school with had the Batman insignia shaved into the hair just above the nape of his neck, which would have made him a demigod on the playground had it not been for the rat tail directly below it, which was frayed and long enough to choke a small horse.

Fortunately, certain hairstyles are destined to die a gradual death. I just hope the shaved head isn’t one of them, because otherwise, I’m out of options. Although, fashion being cyclical, I suppose I could always bring back the queue. My contemporaries would find it utterly ridiculous. But unlike the honest-to-a-fault Washington, they can always lie about it.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and is proud to say he never once sported a mullet. He can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected]



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