Chris, a 42-year-old dad, rocked the same hairstyle for years: “Shaved on the side, whatever on the top, same haircut every two weeks.” You know, that quiff and fade that says, Yeah, I work 9-to-5, but off-the-clock I enjoy small-batch bourbon on the rocks and listening to The National. Then the pandemic hit, and while working from home as a retail consultant, Chris’ salt-and-pepper locks lengthened until they curled below his ears, his next barber appointment nowhere on the horizon.
“It wasn’t even that I was trying something new, it was just such a clusterfuck being a dad with two kids,” Chris tells me. “Your hair grew out, and then you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I haven’t had long hair since I was 16.’ I decided to keep it.”
When the “silver fox, but with a baby face” finally made an appointment for a haircut, his long-time barber just cleaned it up a bit with scissors. It was Chris’ first time in maybe two decades not getting a razor-trim on the side, and now he can’t imagine going back. “It’s also that middle-aged thing: There’s a gun to my head with how much time I have left to have my hair long before it starts to really fall out,” he explains.
Either way, he’s happy with the longer look for the foreseeable future, and his wife is, too.
While some men quickly got fed up with their messy quarantine mops and took clippers to their own heads, or booked an appointment to chop it all off the minute it was safe to do so, others took a liking to their flowing coifs and decided to see how far they could take it. Eva Carnevale, a barber at Brooklyn’s Blue & Black Barbershop, who cleaned up Chris’ hair, tells me that she’s had many longtime clients come in post-COVID with shaggy manes for the first time who want to keep it that way. “There have been a lot of guys who would have never grown their hair out but then did with the pandemic, and it surprisingly looked a lot better than I would have thought,” she says.
For Sam, 36, quarantine’s work-from-home edict was a chance to grow out his hair again to its former glory — wheat-colored, medium-thick with a slight wave, down to his shoulders — which, for years, he’d resigned to being “a part of my identity that I put away when it seemed like it was time to be professional.” The documentary filmmaker had long hair in high school and college, and always identified with “the kind of rock ‘n’ roll element of long hair, certainly more so then the buttoned-down short-hair atmosphere of Washington D.C.,” where he lives now. He says letting it go long again has felt, “in a sense, like a coming out — like, yeah I’m a dude with long hair, and I’ve actually been that dude this whole time.”
Even with an eventual return to the office for many of us, it’s hard to imagine suffering the indignity of business-casual now that we’ve learned starched shirts and close shaves are irrelevant to getting the job done. The same logic would apply to hair. Priorities have shifted, and maybe for good. I mean, how much energy can you devote to maintaining a clean cut as the world literally burns?
“Coming out of the pandemic, everyone has slowly become more accepting of appearance — that you can present yourself however you want and it’s actually not that important,” says Rachael Gibson, a hair historian. “You don’t need to have a certain haircut or style to be professional at work, and being professional doesn’t mean the same thing it used to.”
In certain eras, long hair has signified a counter-culture or outsider element, notes Gibson, whether in hippies opposing the Vietnam War and “the man,” or Gen Xers retaliating against 1980s suits and corporate conformity. There may be some of those elements at play today among millennials disaffected with capitalism. Alex, 35, a financial auditor who also took advantage of the COVID break in client-facing work to ditch his “thin fade/pompadour” for shoulder-length layers, admits that part of the appeal was to distance himself from any possible association with more conservative-leaning vibes. “If I can push myself a little further away from someone who’s hyper-conservative and clean cut, that’s not a bad benefit to [longer hair]. It was nice to physically look like how I feel inside on a lot of that stuff,” he explains.
At the same time, longer hair on men doesn’t have to reflect a deeply political or cultural shift. Gibson points out that for much of history, long hair was the norm for men and was associated with macho culture. “Pirates, vikings, warriors, cowboys — they all have long flowing hair,” she says. “Even 1980s heartthrobs — Fabio is the guy that a mainstream suburban mom sees as the ideal vision of masculinity. ‘Virile, hirsute guy with long flowy hair’ is a real romance novel staple. It’s only really in the early 2000s that we get these ideas of male grooming.”
The TikTok generation, however, is also abandoning such a well-shorn look. On the Gen Z app, you’ll find plenty of fellas primping and peacocking with their thick and luscious manes, kinda like if Anthony Kiedis did a Pantene Pro-V commercial.
And so, if you’re thinking about trying a wavy Dev Patel or beach-crunchy Point Break–era Patrick Swayze, now’s really as good a time as any: Grow ‘em if you got ‘em, YOLO, let your hair flow, etc. If it looks bad, you can always cut it; also, none of this matters. Until, of course, you die, as supposedly your hair continues to grow even after you’re dead.
In that case, I hope they serve marula oil in hell.