Boomers Watched the Long Hair Trend Grow

When most people think about the 1960s, one of the first things that come to mind is longer hair for men. Women’s hair lengths had been trending longer since the 1920s and if anything, the ’60s saw the acceptance of shorter hair for women. For men, however, The Establishment was not keen to accept men’s hair that covered the ears.

There were, of course, many men in the 1950s who sported longer hair for the time. The pompadour hairstyle was popular among rockabilly and rock musicians, and because of it they were placed in the category of other so-called unsavory types, like motorcycle riders. Beatniks and Bob Dylan, then considered a folk singer, often wore longer hair in the late 1950s and early ’60s, but they were exceptions. So how did long hair for men get to be popular among boomers?

Most people point to The Beatles (Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle). Once they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964, the genie was out of the bottle for boomers. Yet other bands in England, most notably The Rolling Stones, wore longer hair than The Beatles did at that time. Nonetheless, The Beatles hairstyle upset a great many parents.

By the time The Rolling Stones released their first album in the U.S. in 1964, the photo on the album cover showed hair length that would quickly be adopted throughout the rock music world, and on to the fans. So we see that rather than just The Beatles, we have the entire British Invasion to thank for bringing long hair to our shores.

Looking at album covers of the era you can see the progression of hair length among American bands. This style went against the grain of the societal norm, producing a backlash that carried over into discriminatory hiring practices and refusal of service by some businesses. Disneyland prohibited their employees from wearing long hair from its inception in the 1950s until the late ’60s, and banned long-haired visitors from entering the theme park. Yet the trend grew on unabated.

One of the oft-repeated refrains of boomer parents at the time was that with long hair, they couldn’t tell the girls from the boys. That prompted an American band from Provincetown, Massachusetts — The Barbarians — to record the song, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? in 1965. It was a hit among boomers.

Even “clean-cut” bands like The Beach Boys were wearing long hair by the time they released Pet Sounds in 1966. Every rock band after adopted the style as a sort of identifying uniform, putting the older generation on notice that they would not conform to their idea of how the world should look.

About the middle of the decade, long hair was not only being associated with a musical revolution but a cultural one as well. Hippies — the epitome of a subculture that stood against just about every established institution — took long hair to a different level, and boomers objecting to the Vietnam War wore it as a protest — the direct opposite of what a drafted military man would have to wear. That rankled the older folks even more.

By the time the “shocking” musical, Hair, extolled the virtues of long hair on Broadway in 1967, the style was widespread among boomer boys. Long hair slowly made inroads into schools that had previously banned it, and on into the business world, though some corporations remained rigidly opposed. One might say the tipping point for acceptance was not until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Perhaps this is due to the fact that once the “stigma” of protest was removed from the equation, the style could be seen more as fashion statement.

Mister Boomer would have grown his hair Beatles-style in the mid-60s, but as a parochial school student from grade school through high school, rules prohibited it. His long hair days would have to wait until his college years. He was just a little too young for war protests, but felt very much like the lyrics of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, Almost Cut My Hair from 1970. In it David Crosby sings that he feels like “letting my freak flag fly,” followed by how he feels like he “owes it to someone.”

When did you — or your boomer brothers — first grow their hair long?

Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle

The 1960s will be remembered for many things in the cultural milieu, and most notably among them is hairstyles. Any discussion of hairstyles of the 1960s would hardly be complete without acknowledging the tremendous influence the hairstyles of The Beatles — John, Paul, George and Ringo — had on a Youth Culture poised to explode.

The Beatles themselves changed hairstyles throughout their tenure as rock ‘n roll kings, but it all started when John spotted a young Norwegian schoolboy in the 1950s who, after swimming, left his hair hanging over his forehead. That look, combined with his fringed hair on the back of his head, was one that John particularly appreciated, and remembered. That boy was Jürgen Vollmer. In late 1961 when the band was playing in Hamburg, Paul and John decided to hitchhike to Paris. As luck (or rather, destiny) would have it, Mr. Vollmer picked the pair up on his way to Paris — sporting the style that John had so admired years earlier. John and Paul remarked how much they liked Mr. Vollmer’s haircut, and asked if he would cut their hair like his when they got to Paris. Thus, John and Paul were the first to receive the style, which became known as the moptop.

The moptop was a medium-length hairstyle, noted for its straight cut at the base of the neck, continuing over the ears and straight across the forehead. George and Ringo followed suit after seeing John and Paul, and the Fab Four took on the additional moniker of the Moptops.

Immediately upon their arrival in the U.S., The Beatles became style icons.

When they were introduced in the U.S. in February of 1964, their moptop hairstyle was an instant hit. It was copied worldwide and spawned one of the first licensed Beatles products: Beatle Wigs, manufactured by the Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation of New York. Many companies followed suit making wigs out of plastic and real hair, but only Lowell could claim their wigs as “authentic.”

Soon after arriving in the U.S., the group faced a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Having never seen their hairstyle before, a reporter asked George Harrison what he would call his haircut. In true Beatles fashion, George responded, “Arthur.” That scene was recreated in the movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), when a reporter asks George, “What would you call that, uh, hairstyle you’re wearing?”

In the 1950s, the predominant hairstyles for men were the shorter Crew Cut and Flat Top, while longer styles included the Pompadour and Ducktail. Some say it was President John F. Kennedy who ushered in the era of longer hair being more acceptable by flaunting his locks without a hat as the decade of the sixties began. Nevertheless, the likes of The Beatles’ haircut had not been seen on our shores before the band landed in New York.

As the sixties progressed, so did The Beatles’ hairstyles. It becomes hard to distinguish where The Beatles’ influence on worldwide hairstyles began and where what was happening in the world influenced The Beatles. By the time they recorded Sgt. Peppers in 1967, the group had replaced their moptops with much longer hair and, often, full beards.

Mister Boomer, like so many baby boomers, first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls how their appearance shook the boomer world, and was all that was being talked about around school. Girls loved their hair, calling it “cute,” while guys thought it was “cool.” Mister Boomer was somewhat ambivalent about their hair, but did greatly admire their suits — an Edwardian style with black velvet-trimmed collars. His attention was quickly drawn to their music as he developed a preference of “She Loves You” over “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Hair, for Mister B, was neither here nor there.

Mired in a Parochial School education, Mister Boomer and his classmates had to adhere to rules and regulations regarding dress codes and hairstyles. As soon as the first inklings of this new hairstyle were uttered on school grounds, new regulations expressly prohibiting the moptop hairstyle were adopted, naming The Beatles as the example of what would not be permitted. Parents had no choice but to enforce the rules, despite the pleadings of their children. Since Mister B didn’t care much either way, he never sported the hairstyle, though some friends did eventually acquire a moptop when they got into high school.

What do you remember about The Beatles hairstyle, boomers? Did you have to have a moptop of your own?