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Remembering the "Ollie Haircut" of 1987 by Justin
Remembering the "Ollie Haircut" & the Return to the Barbershop
Back in the mid-80s guys still wore long floppy feathered haircuts. Unisex Style shops were the place guys went to get their monthly (or less frequent) haircut by Hair Stylists. Gel and Mousse were the common products guys were using, if any product at all. But times were about to change. The Punk Rock scene saw short spikey haircuts come onto the scene, but these were never out of the mainstream. Fluffy neatly coiffed hair was still very much the norm for most guys. I was no different. Since High School in the late 70s and into college in the early 80s, I sported a "regulation" Center Parted Over the Ears and Collar Haircut like so many other guys. "Regulation" because nearly every guy I knew had the same kind of hairstyle.
Then 1987 came and a little political intrigue hit the US: Iran-Contra Hearings. Congress held hearings to investigate a questionable, and illegal, operation involving arms, drugs, South American civil war, CIA, IRAN, and hostages. A complex conspiracy that ignited a firestorm in American politics. These hearings were rather boring - the substance of the hearings weren't all that intriguing to the public; the witnesses called to testify, were. In particular was a certain Marine name North - Oliver North. This obscure soldier was like a rogue Rambo of sorts that seemed to catch public interest. Not just for his demeanor, but for his look. Short, neatly tapered, side parted hair. Like a whirlwind, men were flocking to barbershops to get the "Ollie".
The "Ollie" was really just what men used to barbershops knew the "Regular Haircut" or "Taper Haircut": parted on the side (most often the left side), and closely tapered around the ears and up the back with hair clippers. Not an unusual haircut at all - albeit one that kind of vanished from popularity since the 70s. Certainly, one that was not typical to find done at a Unisex Hair Salon. In fact, men who sought out the "Ollie" had a hard time finding any "stylist" who could do it. Many "Stylists" were trained as Cosmetologists and Clippers and Clipper Cuts were not a staple of the Salon. So, men went to where clippers were still used - Barbershops. To barbers, the "Ollie" was a piece of cake. A haircut, using clippers, was ingrained in the fabric of being a barber.
For many men who only knew going to a salon for a haircut, a barbershop was a new experience. Clippers instead of just scissors. Pomade instead of Mousse. No stinky Permanent smells - instead bay rum, hair tonic and barbercide filled the air. I think it was really at this point when guys came to be aware of everything that was lost when they stopped going to barbershops and started going to Hair Stylists and Salons. The Salon was never an experience for guys. Get in, get out, get on with life. A Salon was just a place to get your "regulation" hair styled. Usually sharing space with women and crying brats. The smell of stinky permanents wafting in the air. Charming - NOT.
A barbershop was different. It was guys and typically only guys. Guys getting their hair cut, not styled, by guys. Chatting about this or that - crude language expected. A male bastion where a guy can be a guy. Where he can get a haircut. Something that by its nature, is rather personal and touchy, but in a safe male place away from "the women folk". A barbershop was more than just a place to get a haircut. It was a place to socialize with guys in a guy friendly place.
Soon, lots of men were making a trip to the barberchair instead of the Salon to submit to the clippers. It was liberating for many men to finally have an excuse to lose the floppy "regulation" hair of the 70s/80s. It's amazing now that in 2016, the Barbershop has seen an explosion of growth. Barber schools are churning out new young barbers trained in barbering - a skill many feared was going extinct with the advent of long hair and the Salon. Straight razor shaves are also back. Greased Slicked-down hair is back and new pomades, cremes and hair tonics are coming out every day. The slick wetlook is definitely back. Side-parts, pomps, and other classic cuts are sought. Men who never had the pleasure of experiencing these since the 70s, can now enjoy classic looks from the 40s, 50s and early 60s.
MadMen may have definitely played a role in this too. Check a guy coming out of a barbershop today, he could easily blend into the cast of Mad Men on set. They said back in the early 70s that "the Wet Head is Dead" - referring to the decreased popularity of the slicked down brylcreemed/hair tonic wetlook. Perhaps the "Drylook" was in and was part of the "regulation" look thru the 80s, but this decade sure looks like the Wetlook is definitely in.