Shag & Swoosh


By Danielle Komis


Bryan Barnett recently agreed to have his shaggy hair trimmed.

But it took begging — and a cash payoff from his older brother.

Longer hair with bangs that graze the eyes has replaced short, gelled hair as "the" hairstyle for guys — at least among those from elementary school-age to college-age. From hipsters to jocks, haircuts like Barnett's that are more Paul McCartney than Kurt Cobain have become the norm.

The longish hairstyle looks and feels better, Barnett said. Plus, it's easy to style.

"I wake up in the morning and it's like this," he said, pointing to his blond hair that flips out at the ends.

Decatur High School senior Blake Garrett said his classmates freak out if he cuts his long, shaggy hair, which always appears to be blowing in an imaginary breeze

"That's the best feature that everybody likes on me," he said. "All the girls are like, 'Ooh, we love your hair.'"

Shaggy, "swooshy" tresses like Barnett's and Garrett's are not greasy like the hair of the early '90s when garage metal rock musicians popularized the much maligned grunge look, complete with shoulder-length, middle-parted hair tucked behind the ears.

Nor is the shaggy 'do to be confused with the long ponytails that hippies sported in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a kiss-off to mainstream culture.

Instead, it is a mix of a skater boy's "whatever" attitude with a hint of ironically geeky indie rocker and sweaty European soccer player. In essence, the look embodies all that is hip in pop culture today — at least in this fleeting moment.

Where the look started or why it went mainstream is difficult to pinpoint. But such is the elusive nature of trends, said Steve Zdatny, a historian at West Virginia University, who has written about the aesthetics and politics of hair.

"Nobody can explain exactly how styles work or they would be very, very, very rich," he said. "Styles catch on or don't catch on and nobody can say what will or won't and why. Obviously there's something about the shaggy skater-boy look that really appeals to young boys and college students, too."

When asked, respondents usually say they wear their hair a certain way because "it looks cool," Zdatny said. The second most popular response is "I don't know."

Once a style reaches critical mass, people have a limited choice if they should jump on the bandwagon, he said.

"Either you get on board, or you stay a nerd. Or, you're so cool you can get away with it," he said.

Let the growing begin

Garrett grew his hair out about three years ago, when his parents finally stopped objecting to the idea. Now, he thinks he may always keep his hair on the long side.

"I'm really skinny, so my hair sort of evens me out," he said.

Wilder Queen, a junior at Hartselle High School, also got mop-top mania about three years ago.

"I love it," Wilder's mother Debbie Queen said.

The long hairstyle is reminscent of her high school years.

"I'm from the '70s. That's probably why I like the long hair," she said. Becki McCleskey, a hairdresser at Prime Kuts by Liz Beauty Salon in Hartselle, said she has seen an increase in guys requesting the haircut in the past nine months.

"When they get to be about 8, they want it hanging in their face, especially when they get to middle school," she said. "They don't want it cut straight, but they want it choppy." McCleskey's middle-school-age son sports the shaggy look, and he and his friends race to see which one can have the longest hair in their grade before they get it cut, she said.

Many guys with the shaggy look get their hair cut in hair salons, not barber shops. Some of them get highlights, hairdressers said.

"If I went to a barber, they'd probably cut all my hair off," Garrett said.

Queen also gets his hair trimmed — never drastically cut — at a salon. It's a necessary trip, to keep "the swoosh" of his hair looking good.His swoosh, in fact, looks so good, that a girl at a fast food restaurant recently told him, "Your hair is pretty."

Hearing the compliments is a welcome change from the days when male hairstyles were anything but pretty. Garrett remembers those days.

"In 8th grade, I had a butt cut," he said, referring to the once-popular haircut in which hair is parted down the middle. "It was horrible." But what's horrible or fashionable is relative — though shaggy, swoos-y tresses have certainly announced their presence into the in-crowd of hairstyles. Now, the look can be found anywhere, Zdatny said.

"Just open your eyes."