It's a Mann's World: Splitting Hairs

Olly Mann 2 February 2022

This month, Olly Mann gets to grips with a change to his signature hairdo

I’m losing my hair. I mention this not to garner your sympathy; don’t worry, this column will not be an exposition on how distressing it is that my body is succumbing to the ravages of time. It’s just a fact, and, honestly, I’m fine with it. 

Don’t get me wrong: had this happened when I was 25, I would have jetted off to an Istanbul clinic with a wallet full of credit cards and a sackful of shoulder-shavings faster than you could say "Elton". I would have had a baseball cap glued to my scalp, like Ron Howard. I would have hired a psychiatrist, put them on speed dial, and shed more tears than Gwyneth at the Oscars.

But at 40? I’m fine with it. I’m a married father of two, unburdened by maintaining a Tinder profile. I’m tall, and balding from the top, so everyone who is shorter than me (ie, most people) can’t even see my scalp. Most comfortingly, I cling to the knowledge I had "good hair" for the first 30-ish years of my life.

Not stylistically, of course: the hairdos of my school portraits are half Boris Johnson, half Rose West. But hairdressers would always compliment me (I guess because there’s little else to chat about with a fidgety, football-hating boy?) on my "great hair". 

"Don’t get me wrong: had this happened when I was 25, I would have jetted off to an Istanbul clinic with a wallet full of credit cards"

“Ooh, isn’t it thick?”, they’d coo, as they hacked through a vast swathe of voluminous curls, making no discernible difference to the aesthetics of my lion-like mane. “I’d kill to have hair like that!”.

My follicles have had a good innings, I feel. Once I’d learned which products to use (moisture-rich shampoos, leave-in conditioners) and which to avoid (sun-in hair dye—which makes me go ginger), I even enjoyed my hair’s insistence on defying typical chemical reactions, being always big and brown and bouncy, whether I’d greased it down into a 1950s quiff, or combed it up into a sandy "Jewfro". It had its own personality. 

When I was an intern at The Guardian, their design editor at the time, the esteemed Jonathan Glancey, once identified me in the foyer because he’d been told my hair was "pre-Raphaelite" (I took this to mean I looked cultured and classical, rather than medieval). 

In any case, it’s thinning really slowly: I’ve probably got another 20 years before I go full Terry Nutkins. Nonetheless, this raises a pertinent question: why am I still spending £50 getting my hair cut? 

The answer to this is, I suppose, "habit". But if the pandemic era has taught us anything, it’s that even our fundamental behaviours—such as commuting to work, sending our children to school, or chatting to someone at a party without worrying about death—can be transformed when necessary.

For decades, I’ve frequented salons, rather than barbers; even though, for many years, I lived on North London's Newington Green—a haven for Turkish toppers whom, I’m sure, could have cared for my curls just as artfully as Toni and Guy.

I’d convinced myself I enjoyed the salon: the air conditioning, and the espresso machine, and the seductive smell of ammonia as a neighbouring lady’s beehive is blasted with bleach. I wanted my stylist to be at all times adroitly wielding her scissors, hovering over me studiously, as if sculpting me from ice—rather than hacking through my foliage with vibrating clippers.

But really, all I require these days is a short back and sides. As long as I don’t end up looking like Kevin Keegan and/or Krusty the Clown, the haircut’s a winner. So, for the first time in manhood, I’ve started going to my local barbershop.

"But really, all I require these days is a short back and sides"

And… it’s great! For one thing, you don’t need to book an appointment. I always hated diarising my haircut, as if it were elective surgery. Now I just rock up and take a seat.

There are retro film posters on the walls, and vintage leather chairs, and the two guys who run the place are friendly, yet also business-like, and make a really quite decent cup of coffee (which, to be fair, strikes me as a 21st-century development in the world of Hertfordshire barbering, but a welcome one.)

Best of all, the cut costs £15, which means I’m saving… drumroll, please… £200 per year! And my hair looks exactly the same as when it was done in the salon (not that anyone ever notices.

The only two comments I ever get about my hair are either "you need a haircut!", or "have you had a haircut?"; mere estimates of condition, delivered as one might consider the status of a pigeon on the pavement: "is that bird still alive?" or "is that bird dead?" It is of no consequence to anyone else. So why spend the money?).

I’ve even begun to experiment with getting a full wet shave while I’m there. The first time my barber draped a wet towel over my nose and mouth I thought I was being water-boarded, but I’ve come to appreciate the feeling of a freshly-plucked chin. 

So yes, my hair is thinning: I am older. But also, I believe, wiser.

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