Monday, September 07, 2009

Thoughts on A Close Cut (or getting “decked” on purpose)


vectorized version of Stewf’s cc Flickr photo: Official Hair Styles for Men and Boys

Let’s take a diversion from the normal tech/info-sec related posting routing for a moment.

I never paid much attention to my hair-cut growing up.  It didn’t matter (and I had no choice) up until jr. high; up to then the little-boy’s ruled.  Then began the constant battles between me and the parental units.  I preferred a length that completely covered by ears and fell in the back to cover my collar.  I wasn’t a “hippie” or anything, I just had some identity issues with my ears (they seemed to stick out too much) like many young men.

In high-school I graduated to the “wing-cut” style for the first two years where you would carry that funky large-n-curvy “Goody-brand” styling comb and “flip” the sides over and back to give a “wing” effect. The crown was loosely parted down the middle. When not in use, the oversize comb was stuck in the jeans behind the wallet appearing about 1-2 “ above the pocket top.  Sound familiar any of you 80’s youth?

Then for my final two years in high-school I had more of what I would call a “spike” top of at least 1-1/2 inches, but the rest was fairly long.  I guess that was the style in the mid ‘80’s.  I don’t remember much about my college & early wedded bliss cut style though I guess Lavie might consider it to be (smirkingly) a short mullet style.  For one brief summer in college the back did get long enough to put up in a mini-pony which Lavie continues to chastise me for even to this day.  That “grew” out of a extended college group camping expedition to Big Bend Park in Texas.

It has only been in the past 5 or so year that I have transitioned to a flat-top, much to most everyone’s approval.

I say “most” everyone because Lavie is still of the opinion that I look much more handsome with a longer length haircut as well as “…missing running my fingers though your hair” stuff.  I just say “rub my Buddha-man’s head for good luck".

I made the change for a couple of reasons; first and foremost was the fact that it was much cooler in the summer.  I have an oily skin type and since I shampoo daily, it helps with the oil-control  Being an IT geek I sometimes am required to go into ceiling space or under/in IT equipment.  In all those cases having the insulation, ceiling-panel bits, dust, etc. in my longer hair was maddening.  With a flat-top it is just wipe and go.  Rain is fun and not a distraction.

Most of all however, I think it helps me feel more mentally focused, ready-for action, and outwardly coveys the inner-discipline I am constantly trying to project and improve on.  Call me crazy (maybe the ladies can understand) but I can tell a real change in my mental-state when my hair grows out “too long”.  I just don’t have the same energy level and attention to detail.  Kinda like Sampson in reverse.

I’ve never really considered if my flat-top style has any particular “official” name.  My regular barber knows to “skin me on the back and sides” and make it super-short & flat on top.

I went through a few cuts where he actually shaved down the sides but generally it was a slow evolutionary process to get comfortable going from the #1 or #2 blade on the sides down to my now-preferred #0 (or is it #000 or #00000) blade.  I’m not certain if anything past a #000 makes that much of a difference though technically you can find blades that close.  A good scalp-scrubbing with the “tightest” blade at hand usually does the trick.

I was looking for an version of a classic “crew-cut” barber-shop poster I once saw while in a former (I believe) Navy-man’s one-man barber shop out in El Cajon, California when I came across this one Official Hair Styles for Men and Boys on Flickr.  It’s not the same (though I have seen variations on this one as well). His had a number of different military cuts displayed, all crew/flat in nature.  Finding that poster is one of the things that got me started on this post.

Turns out (after donating at least a few hours of my time to Google search) that my “official” flat-top haircut style is known as the Horseshoe Flattop Barber Haircut Style.  It gets its name from the fact the sides are “high & tight” and the top is cut so short and flat that if someone looks down on it it looks like a horseshoe of hair.  Now I know.  The illustrative picture on that page is very close to how mine looks when fresh.

The Shave of Beverly Hills also notes details on other flat-top styles including the more traditional Flattop Barber Haircut Style as well as the Buzz Cut Hairstyle.

Wikipedia also has information on assorted close-cut haircuts; the High and Tight, the Crew cut, and then the Buzz cut.

Ed Friedlander MD maintains the extensive (and illustrative) Flat-Top Crewcuts page.  I noted with amusement the following observation he makes:

I have noticed that flattops are especially popular with computer geeks, weight lifters, police officers, and professional military men. All are non-nonsense, self-sufficient, hard-working types.

Curiously, in both our own IT shop as well as that of a sister-agency we regularly interface with, I think only one other guy besides me wears his hair this short, and it is a buzz-cut.  That’s not including the guy who is almost a doppelganger to my brother who just shaves his entire head.  Not that I’ve got anything against that particular style, but it doesn’t seem to qualify.

I found the wonderfully detailed Buzztown Barber Shop website as well that has a great collection of barber-shop lore and stories including a number of them focusing on buzz/flat-top cuts and tips.

If you are ever passing through far East Harris County and are looking for a great “old-school” barber-shop I recommend the Trophy Barber Shop.  The decor might not be for everyone’s taste but it certainly is a local area landmark.  All the barbers are great and their diversity makes for greatly entertaining banter.  It’s my personal barber shop of choice. No TV’s are present though when there is a lull (rarely) in the clippers you might catch some music.  And they still use sharp straight-razors and old-fashioned heated shaving foam to clean-trim the edges of the cuts.  The stately former shine-man and consummate gentleman Mr. John Cooper has long since retired from his shine station, but for the longest time his tiny black & white TV could be seen hidden under a chair displaying a mid-day Astros baseball game.  Now that he is sadly gone, it is gone as well.  And if your appetite is needy after a mid-day Saturday buzz, nothing better to follow it off with a trip across the street to Roosters for some great local burger fare.

In the past (being borderline OCD) I would sometimes come home and “fine-tune” my flat-top with my own clipper set.  Invariably there always seems to be a few stray long hairs that failed to muster for their cut-down. Nobody would notice but it drives me nutty.  Long ago I had picked up a particularly nice set of hair-clippers and it does the job awesomely.  While the shortest setting is probably comparable to a #0 blade, a good scalp-scrubbing with it does the “high and tight” treatment quite nicely.

I’ve also been known (in a pinch) to take the clippers to my head and do my own full flat-top treatment.  This generally occurs when my work-schedule causes me to miss the barber-shop hours of operation.  Something happening much more commonly now, despite Trophy now keeping the shop open during the week-day until 7pm to attract straggling customers like me.  I’m sure the economy has something to do with that decision as well.

While doing my own flat-tops I find it much easier to do when it is already fairly short since the last cut.  I generally go two-weeks between cuts.  Then it is merely a matter of following the existing but just making it shorter again.  This weekend I was really out of whack with circumstances causing me to go over four-weeks since the last cut.  It was still short but more of a standard “man’s cut” traditional length (to Lavie’s delight).  Being that long it was too challenging to try to get the flat-top cleanly polished off myself so I just buzzed the sides and back down “high-n-tight”, then ran a tight #1’ish buzz on the top, forgoing the flat.  Next weekend (if time allows) I will get it “professionally” horseshoed at the barber shop, or if time is not my friend, I will have a much easier time decking it myself.

I can get the transition/taper on the sides handled nicely myself, but to be honest, getting the fade-line in the back perfect is still challenging.  Fortunately Lavie is accommodating and is adept at polishing it off for me.

While not directly related to hair-cuts, I did find this site The Fedora Lounge to be pretty fun as well in covering a number of gentlemanly topics.

Now back to regular programming.

--Claus V.


Clay Johnson said...

I wish I had the nerve to try and "trim my flattop" after only one week myself. I have this fear that I cannot reach around to the back of my head to shave the sides down close. I think I could probably cut the top all right, but the sides might look butchered!! I own several sets of good clippers to tackle the job!!

T. Johnson

Claus said...

@ Clay Johnson - Truth be told, about a year or two ago I decided it was taking me just too much extra time to do the flat-top. I could still manage it but it added 10-15 minutes on the job. So now while I still cut my own hair, I just...

1) buzz down the sides with a 000 type trim up to my crown line, using one of my daughter's plastic hair bands as a handy/durable trim-line guide,
2) buzz down the top with a 1/8" trimmer blade guard evenly, then
3) do a fade cut from the sides/back upward to blend the transition.

Here are my tools:

Goody Colour Collection Set of 2 Brunette Brown Shades Headbands (76638)
(demarcate an even trim line around my crown line and trim down the back and sides to that point)

Wahl Five Star Magic Professional Hair Clipper Model 8451
(side and back trimming first-pass hair removal, and 1/8" cut and fade)

Wahl Professional 8685 Peanut Classic Clipper/Trimmer
(back and side trimming down to the skin)

2-sided Mirror with Handle/stand
(to check out the job and confirm evenness in fade)

I've warned the Missus that in another year or so I will probably go all "000" on the trim, but for now this is a compromise between just enough hair on top for a "cushion" and to show that I've actually still got a full head of hair, but still with the neatness and low-maintenance I'm looking for.

My hair grows out pretty fast so going any longer than two-weeks between cuts seems "shaggy".

Thanks for the comment!

--Claus V.