Topping Off The Well-Groomed Man

jay-sebring-cutting-hair

By JAY SEBRING

the noted men’s hair stylist presents a comprehensive guide to individualized haircuts and correct hair care

FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS, I have been designing hair styles for men and offering them advice on grooming their hair. My base of operations is Hollywood, where an actor’s career can rise and fall on the strength of his personal appearance. But actors aren’t the only clientele at my three shops in West Hollywood, Palm Springs and Las Vegas. A potpourri of doctors, lawyers, politicians, teenagers and even construction workers have paid up to $30 per visit for my services.

With such a wide cross section of customers, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe every variety of men’s hair. My conclusions: The condition of most American men’s hair is deplorable. Their heads are burdened with grease and oil. They favor totally unnatural hair styles. Most wear their hair too short and bristly. And more men than realize it wind up looking like the village idiot, their heads gummy with gook and grime, their haircuts completely out of keeping. By the time half of them reach 30, they’ve started to lose large quantities of hair and have difficulty understanding why.

The reason is simple: They are negligent. The majority don’t know how to care for their hair, and those who do frequently lack the patience to do it. And yet American males spend roughly $350,000,000 annually on a motley array of shampoos and hair dressings. They succeed only in loading down the scalp with more oil than it can naturally handle. Men with very fine-textured hair like mine are encouraged to anoint themselves with tonics, creams and elixirs. Their hair looks like a cat with water on its back. A man can have a good, full head of 350,000 hairs, but if it is very fine and he uses oil on it, the oil mats the hair down, and you can see right through to the scalp. If the hair is cut properly, there is no need for oils, since their only function is to keep the hair in place.

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The prime conditioning factor in maintaining a healthy head of hair is a daily shampoo. So often, mainly through laziness, men forget—or can’t be bothered—to wash their hair. This is hard to believe. I don’t care if a man is riding a horse in Marlboro country; his hair should be well groomed and clean even if his head looks wild. When you come indoors from being out in the sun, you are obliged to shower and wash away the suntan oil or the chlorine or the salt. It’s just as simple to wash your hair with shampoo while you’re taking a shower—instead of just running soap through it, which leaves a dulling film. The type of shampoo that should be used is critical. I recommend an extremely mild solution containing a built-in hair conditioner that gives the hair a natural sheen and also adds body, which most men need because their hair is cut so short. The conditioner coats each hair shaft and helps build body in fine hair as well as soften coarse hair. But one should never use an unmodified castile shampoo, which many consider the cure-all for hair ills. The fact is that if you don’t have soft water, castile shampoo will leave a soapy film on the scalp—unless a water softener is built into the mixture. The film tends to leave the hair sticky and to clog the pores, and makes it difficult to get a comb through the hair.

There is no truth to old wives’ tales warning that daily washing or frequent wetting of the hair precipitates hair loss. As a matter of fact, daily washing with a bland shampoo is the best thing you can do for your hair: It keeps the pores clean. This actually inhibits hair loss, and in 70 percent of cases can help arrest receding hairlines.

When washing your hair, it is only moderately effective to use your fingers for massaging the scalp, for this technique merely rubs the hair against the scalp. The fingers can’t get right down to the scalp to remove that dead, scaly skin commonly known as dandruff. A scalp brush should be used instead, though it may tingle a bit at first if you’re not conditioned to using it.

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Brushing the hair after shampooing also has some value. Like washing, brushing should be done in a scrubbing motion rather than a stroking motion, to eliminate loose skin and scale. I recommend a plastic brush with wide-set teeth rather than one with bristles, which tend to flatten the hair. Brushing can also be helpful before washing the hair, maybe even the night before. The best time for washing is in the morning. The hair should then be combed into place, brushed once again when it’s bone dry and then can be optionally topped with a fine mist of spray to set it into place. The spray is a substance I administer in place of oil to prevent hair from blowing around. It dries almost instantly and thus does not attract dirt like common grooming aids. It also contains a conditioner that coats the hair shafts and adds body. But many of my customers can get along perfectly well without it, since, with my methods, the hair is cut right into place.

In effective grooming, a styling comb, with thick teeth on one end and fine teeth on the other, is sometimes helpful. The only time I would consider employing it, however, would be for making a part—which can really be made just as well with a brush. I brush the hair down, all forward, and then I find the part with my fingers, split it, and brush it into place. If a comb is desired, however, I would favor a good hard-rubber styling comb.

For conditioning the head, I favor periodic hot-oil treatments for the scalp, especially for the person with overactive sebaceous glands that tend to produce scales. The hot oil is applied, then the head is enclosed in a heat cap which enables the oil to get underneath the dead, flaky skin and lift it off easily and thoroughly. This is much safer than harsh scraping with a comb.

Dandruff—those layers of dead skin that accumulate over a period of time—is a natural condition with which everybody is afflicted now and then. In television commercials, there is a terrible onus placed on men who have dandruff. But people tend to disregard the fact that some dandruff is normal and even healthy. How to cope with it is another proposition altogether. The answer, again, is to make certain the hair is washed every day.

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Absence of dandruff, oddly enough, often accompanies one of man’s major grooming problems: the loss of hair. Men tend to feel they are falling apart when their hair begins to disappear beyond the normal loss of 1000 hairs per week, which are normally replaced by others. A young guy whose hairline has started to recede will automatically feel older. The fact is that approximately 25 percent of American males have noticed some hair loss by the age of 25. As they mature, the hairline naturally creeps back somewhat: but if the second line of defense is good, the hairline stops receding right there, reaching a point where it looks distinguished. In another, more dramatic kind of recession, the hair starts thinning out all over, and a major hair loss is apparent. At the premature age of 30, a good half of this nation’s men experience hair loss to some degree—and many of them to a large degree. By 40, about 30 percent of us discover that our hair is beyond redemption—and usually because of negligence.

Properly advised, however, we can nip recession in the bud and keep our hair many years longer. By keeping his scalp pores clean and allowing the sebaceous oils to flow freely, a man can do much to deter baldness.

If a major hair recession has already occurred, however, there are still several things you can do about it. Through modern haircutting techniques, hair loss can be camouflaged. I try to place the part as high on the head as possible so it isn’t obvious that bare skin is being covered. If the hair is receding across the top of the head, I wouldn’t make a very low part and allow the hair to grow long. This would only emphasize the combing of the hair from the side across the top. If a receding hairline exists and the hair is worn straight back, it’s going to show the maximum amount of recession. Perhaps a high part will show that a man is a little thin on top, but it will also add another two inches of hairline that he wouldn’t normally have. Then, of course, daily washing helps arrest further recession. By eliminating the use of oil, which merely clings and mats the hair, making it appear there is not nearly as much hair as there actually is, the appearance of the balding head is also enhanced.

Also, I don’t think men with receding hairlines should wait until the last minute to adopt a high part. They should comb their hair into such a part as soon as it starts to recede. Hair tends to grow toward the front of the head. If it is parted and combed in the same direction or slightly off to the side, this can look very impressive. Certainly it looks far more natural than wearing the hair straight back without a part.

In the event of almost complete hair loss, the deliberate shaving of all the remaining hair, as Yul Brynner does, makes a great deal of sense. This can be quite attractive if the head is a good shape, for it gives the head a better balance and a very clean-looking line. The bare head, as a matter of fact, suggests the way I design hair: to make it appear, in a sense, as if a man has no hair at all. A man would look much better completely shaved than with a fringe of hair on the sides and nothing on the top. Shaving the head also makes the face look much fuller.

But most men will never be faced with the decision of shaving their heads. Their hair will be abundant, it will grow luxuriantly, and they will be obliged to get a proper and periodic haircut. But it should never look as if you have just gotten a haircut or as if you need one. To preserve this desirable middle ground, the male with a good head of hair should visit his barber twice a month. Those with fine-textured hair and slow-growing necklines can stay away for three weeks to a month. In any case, a weekly haircut is never necessary, for hair grows usually at the rate of one quarter inch each two weeks. It’s almost impossible to snip off less than a quarter of an inch to make the hair even. It’s just too intricate a job, unless the barber is working with a magnifying glass.

If it’s done correctly, the haircut should be so much a part of the man that it’s never conspicuous. You don’t want women to say ‘Took at that guy’s hair,” even in admiration. Only “Look at that guy.” The aim should always be to bring the face into a symmetrical, compact unit, so that from any angle it seems well balanced. No hair should be left on the head that isn’t absolutely necessary for fullness or outline. And each time the hair is cut, every hair on the head should be cut. Don’t sit still for a trim around the edges. Most barbers merely trim hair around the ears and the nape of the neck, then splash on something that smells nice and get you out of the chair. Few of them, as I do, take the time and consideration necessary for an attractive hair style.

The first things I look at in cutting and designing the hair are the location of the cowlick, the structure of the hair, and the way it grows from the pores. These are considered only fleetingly by most barbers, but it’s the only sensible way to cut hair. You can’t just cut men’s hair any way that seems fashionable, as you can with women. Somebody might go to his barber and say: ‘I want a haircut like Tony Curtis’.” But if he doesn’t have a head of hair like Tony Curtis’, it just can’t be done.

I try to get my customers to change their hair styles periodically, depending on what they’re doing or how life is going at a particular time. Many men can wear their hair more than one way. Perhaps they should look more conservative or a little older. Or they can change their hair to suit the season, or their feelings, or a mood. I wear a convertible haircut myself: I like to part it when I’m wearing a suit, and when I’m informally dressed, driving my Cobra, then I just comb it back without a part and let it blow around.

One of the basic styles I design is the Fox Cut. It’s kind of a sleek look, smooth and even, not too flamboyant but not too conservative, either. It’s an even-length cut with fullness to it. And it’s a versatile cut: It can be parted, combed without a part, pushed straight back or worn forward. When I design a customer’s hair for the first time, this is the way I generally cut his hair. Then I show him the different ways it can be combed. I tell him to experiment with it for the first two weeks, combing it in as many different ways as possible. During these first weeks he should also be grooming his hair properly. The next time it’s cut, the customer then has a better idea of what he wants and what he can have, structurally speaking, while the hair grows in better shape for the cutting. It takes about three haircuts before the hair achieves a permanent design. And with one of my cuts, you’ll need to comb your hair only once a day.

A second type of haircut I recommend is called the Free Form. Vic Damone is now wearing one. So are Gig Young and Henry Fonda. With this style, the hair is generally combed with a part and is much shorter than the Fox Cut. The Free Form would be best suited for either a receding hairline or an extremely curly head of hair like Damone’s, whereas the Fox Cut would be desirable for a man with a full or square face with a center cowlick on the back of his head. Steve McQueen’s hair, for example, is a combination of both.

These are the two cuts I most often recommend. A style I denounce just as emphatically is the crewcut. Many American men wear crewcuts simply because they don’t know what else to do with their hair. They can’t control it at any other length, so they resign themselves to a cut they don’t have to bother with. The crewcut eliminates the hair problem by getting rid of the hair. But it isn’t attractive and actually requires about as much work as any other hair style. It must be pampered with pomades and butch wax to force the hair to stay up, against the way it grows. And a crew-cut, exposing skin all over, isn’t particularly healthy out of doors, where the sun beats right down on the scalp without any hair for protection. The heat tends to open pores on the scalp, which allows dirt to collect in them. Any hair style looks better on a man than a crew-cut. Many of my customers formerly wore flattops and crewcuts through their own naivete. College and high school kids can get away with them because of their youth, but I am more concerned with adults. And I find that professional men such as lawyers and bankers, at least in the West, are abandoning this porcupine look.

President Kennedy did much to change people’s ideas about hair. We no longer feel obliged to have our heads shaved up the sides with white sidewalls around the ears and bare necks bristling in the back in order to be considered well groomed. We can appear trim without having our hair cropped right down to the skin. More men are beginning to see that a longer look is a younger look. Many of us could take a cue from the Europeans; they wear their hair a little longer, which is much more flattering to the face. More hair is always more attractive—up to a point, of course.

face-types

There are several important factors to be considered before the haircut begins. Probably the most critical is the shape of the face. There are four basic types:

1. Long: The hair should be cut lower on the top than with other face shapes, but not necessarily shorter. A part is desirable for this shape of face. The sides should be full in order to
make the top of the head seem lower. An oblong face is a problem because it can tend to look even longer if the sides are too short and a lot of hair is worn on the top. I try to bring the face down into more of a compact unit by lowering the sideburns and making them fuller. Many times a high forehead goes along with an oblong face. In this event, I try to bring some hair to the forehead by combing it flat down over the top of the forehead. This is the only way to proportion such a face.

2. Round: This is a very common shape, generally associated with a heavy person. The round face automatically has a compact appearance. With Jackie Gleason, I had to thin down the appearance of the face. The more hair on the sides as well as on the top, the thinner the face will appear. The sideburns should be lowered, not to the point where they will look ridiculous, like cowboy sideburns, but a little lower than normal, below the cheekbone—not long enough to be conspicuous, however. A part can easily be worn with this shape of face.

3. Square: This is very similar to a round face as far as the design is concerned. To thin down the appearance of the face, it is absolutely necessary that the hair be full on the sides. This also helps balance off the jowly look. The hair can also be full over the top, but the fullness is not as critical as on the sides. The sideburns should also be a little lower than normal. With a square face you can carry as much hair as you like. A part also can be worn. Vic Damone has a square face, but his hair is extremely curly, so I have to get the fullness and yet keep it short. This is accomplished by daily washing, and cutting the hair at the break of the first wave. The daily washing pulls out some of the wave and gives the hair fullness. It springs out and looks long and full even though it’s short.

4. Triangular and Oval: You can do just about anything with these shapes that the hair will permit. You can comb it into a part or wear the hair without one. The sideburns should be normal in length, and should balance off with the cheekbone. Barry Goldwater has an oval face, but I would definitely suggest a high part in his case, because of recession in front. I would cut him “conservative”—close on the sides and on the top.

With all these shapes, I don’t try to reshape the appearance of the face—just to bring the hair and the face into symmetrical harmony. The hair is basically a frame for the face, and the outline is the most important factor.

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One of the hallmarks of “the Sebring look,” if it can be called that, is the natural neckline. On all heads, the neckline should be as broad and massive as possible—even on a thick neck. At the bottom of the neck, the hair should meet the collarline. This creates a more masculine appearance and eliminates the stubble of new hairs coming in. Hair below the collarline should be removed; it’s irritating to have your collar rubbing against your neck hairs. Men with long necks will find that their necks appear shorter with this natural look. A high neckline makes the neck look all the longer. For a thin neck, I would urge that the neckline be left as wide as possible, to make it appear more massive.

A prime virtue of the natural neckline is the elimination of unsightly neck stubble. Clippers should never be used, unless you want to have stubble showing two days later. I am against the use of clippers not only for what they do to the neck, but also because it is not particularly attractive to show a lot of skin at the nape of the neck. By pruning hair with clippers, you are only going to see skin. You might as well not have the hair there in the first place. If the neckline is cut with a scissors and it lies smooth and even, covering the skin, it produces a far more desirable look.

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Sideburns are also important to the natural look. Most men make the mistake of lining up sideburns with their ears. If they are lined up with anything, it should be with the top of the cheekbone and the bottom of the eye socket. Furthermore, sideburns should be just a bit longer toward the front of the face than the rear, to go with the slant of the cheekbone and the line of the face. A slant of one sixteenth of an inch would be perfect. On a longer face, I try to lower the sideburns, and on a fuller face I leave the sideburns a little fuller. On a thin face, the sideburns should not appear quite as full. If the face is long and thin, the sideburns should still be lower, but not as full.

For a man with protruding ears and a thin face, I advise wearing more hair on the sides and lowering the sideburns to compensate. Ears are something like toes: They are not considered notably attractive. I like to subdue them as much as possible. Above all, I never like skin to show between the top of the ear and the hairline, which serves only to emphasize the ears.

Large noses can also create problems. Since the hair profile from the side is just as important as the outline of the head, it makes sense to develop an overhang of hair on the forehead to balance off the nose. It’s also wise to wear the hair a little fuller in the back; this helps draw attention away from the nose.

Prominent jaws and chins are handled in a similar manner. A strong, forward-thrust chin should be balanced with a protrusion of hair over the forehead.

The part in your hair should be started at the point of highest hair indentation on the forehead, where the hairline naturally recedes and then comes forward again. The part should be started at the apex of this almost triangular area and should continue back in the direction of hair growth. A part is actually a change of direction where the hair goes opposite ways. I try to design heads so there is no change of direction other than the part. The rest of the head should be perfectly smooth.

There are frequent exceptions to the normal placement of the part, of course. On men who have cowlicks, the part might have to be raised or lowered a bit according to the location of the cowlick. While parting, you must always be concerned with the cowlick in the back, on the crown of the head. If it’s on the left side of the head and grows clockwise, there’s no problem. The hair is merely parted on the left side of the head. If the cowlick is located on the left side of the head with the hair growing counterclockwise, there may be some difficulty in getting the left side to lie flat. The best procedure for flattening a cowlick located in the center of the head is to comb the hair without a part, face structure permitting. The hair can always be combed without a part, no matter how many cowlicks exist (some men have two or three) or where they’re located.

A further consideration is the texture of the hair itself. If it’s fine, it will lie closer to the head. Fine hair has a tendency to flatten out, but body can be built into it with a hair conditioner and a daily washing. The proper shampoo and hair conditioner will also soften coarse hair.

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Many men have been going to the same barber for years, just as their fathers did. Often it is difficult to suggest new methods to this barber or to break away from him, even though he may be inferior. Machinery tends to make the haircut go faster for this man. Speed is his main consideration; but machines cannot accomplish satisfactory work. They are incapable of rounding the areas that a comb and scissors can. Machines also cause ingrown hairs and skin irritations on the necks of many men, but most barbers blithely continue using them.

Thinning scissors should not be used, either. This leaves stubble underneath that eventually grows and pushes up the other hair. Thus thinning scissors accomplish nothing more than making the head feel lighter.

An increasing number of barbers also cut hair with razors, a technique sometimes inappropriately known as “the Hollywood Cut.” Razor cutting endeavors to slither, taper and thin the ends of the hair. On hair as short as a man’s, the ends should not be tapered. It is almost impossible to cut short hair with a razor and have it look like anything at all. It is a fast, haphazard and at best an irregular manner of cutting. When a razor cut grows back, it looks bulky in spots. Ends are likely to stick up indiscriminately due to the uneven lengths of hair. The hair will hold up a lot longer if it is blunt-cut with a pair of scissors.

In short, you should look for a barber who will provide a natural neckline and natural sideburns, and will use a comb and scissors rather than clippers or other machinery. If your barber doesn’t wash hair, it would be advisable for you to wash your own hair before you go to the shop—and afterward. The hair should also be damp when cut. This keeps the comb from sticking in the hair and enables the barber to find the hair’s natural placement.

The customer should also insist that the barber cut the hair all over instead of just in the back and on the sides. It should be cut evenly, with comb and scissors, to avoid creating crevices and potholes where the hair will suddenly drop off into nothingness. Probably as close as the local barber can come to a Fox Cut is a crew-style cut twice as long as a normal crewcut. This would be at least some improvement over many existing hair styles.

So much for the barber’s job. How about yours? If you do it well—with the daily washing and brushing I’ve prescribed—you’ll find it’s as easy, and as gratifying, to be well groomed as it is to be well dressed.

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