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?