On Being a Longhair

Part 3 - Keeping Long Hair Neat

Staying away from the Barber Shop

Just about all longhairs know the feeling. You tried to grow your hair but then it would get messy and you would give up. As you sat in the barber chair, you surely wondered, "How do people with long hair get their hair to look so nice, while mine looked messy even though it was still much shorter?"

Well, you were experiencing what we call the "awkward phase". Long hair is neat because its weight keeps it in place, and because you can tie it back or tie it down, too. And of course short hair is neat because there is nothing much there to get messed up. But there is an in-between stage that must be gone through to get long hair, and all one can do is to tough it out. Fortunately you are a man and men are good at being tough. So think about the great hair you are going to have later! And take one of the three steps we know of to restrain your wild hair in the meantime:

"Gunk" can be in the form of creams or sprays. You'll find lots to choose from in the drugstore. Most longhairs don't like the feel or look of this stuff though, and opt for the second option, to physically restrain the hair, or the third, to apply frequent combing to keep it neat.

We'll talk about ways to physically restrain hair in a minute, but first a bit more about combing, and a bit about trimming.

Get used to combing. It may be all you can do, and it may be frequent during the awkward phase, but even when your hair is longer, you will find that no method of restraining your hair is perfect, and all of them must be supplemented by combing from time to time to get your hair neat again.

But forget trimming. Once you leave the awkward phase behind, the list of three ways to keep long hair neat will become two:

You should be very aware of these two items in case someone suggests you neaten your hair by trimming, because trimming is not on the list. Not only is trimming not on the list, it runs counter to both the items that are. Trimming makes it tougher to restrain your hair physically because afterwards it is less apt to reach restraints such as hair ties. And trimming reduces the weight of your hair. So trimming does not make long hair neater. It makes it messier.

There are three specific instances for longhairs in which trimming has a place:

Note that "trimming to spur growth" is not on the list. Incredibly, an old wives' tale has circulated for years that your hair will grow out faster if you trim a little off from time to time. Not only does this not make scientific sense, it has been debunked by longhairs who have done tests. Though it does not make scientific sense, perhaps for some it has made economic sense, and they have therefore spread the tale. Don't buy that line, and remember, the fastest way to get through the awkward phase is to not trim your hair.

Accepting That You Have Long Hair

One small battle you may have to fight within yourself is accepting long hair for the way it is. It is not glued to your head with a 100% consistent look, like short hair is, and if you've had short hair, you may be used to that.

Unlike short hair, long hair has varying character, it has life! It falls behind your shoulders at one moment, on them at another, and perhaps in front of them a little later. It splits over them in different ways, it falls in your face, it blows around a bit in the breeze. And it moves when you do.

Don't think you have to comb your long hair or restrain it every time it moves. Don't think you have to do so every time you see your reflection and your hair is a bit different than the last time you looked. Expect it to be like long hair is. Expect it to have life! Restraining our hair is something all longhairs sometimes want to do. But don't go overboard with what we talk about next here.

Ways to Restrain Long Hair

You'll discover most things to restrain hair on the market, such as bobby pins, barrettes and hair combs look a bit feminine, which leaves one to "frequent combing" until your hair gets long enough to wear one of these two things which do look masculine - a bandanna or a pony tie. I'll talk about bandannas first, since they are useable at a shorter hair length. (I will omit discussing caps or hats, since they go beyond "restraining" your hair to "hiding" it, but of course they are useful as well during this phase.)


Bandannas come across very masculine, and if you like the look of one, it will be the first thing that works in restraining your hair. They will work soonest if you part your hair in the middle, combing it to the sides. This is because the hair above the middle of your forehead has less distance to go to reach the bandanna over your ears than if it has to reach it at the back of your head.

Bandannas are in reality the same thing as handkerchiefs, of course, and only change their name depending upon where they are used. When you first shop for one, you will find that almost all stores stock only white ones, and a white bandanna will make people wonder if you are lost and looking for the nearest emergency room. So you will want your bandannas to be in colors.

One of the best sources, where they have many colors of bandannas, is in clothing stores in gay neighborhoods. Gay people use various handkerchief colors to signal different interests, so these stores will have bandannas in just about any color you want. Motorcycle shops and western wear stores also stock bandannas in colors, but the selection may be more limited.

Be sure to get a bandanna that is 100% cotton. Most are, but a few for sale are a cotton and polyester blend. Avoid them. They will itch more than cotton, they will not stay put on your head as well, they will not absorb moisture as well, and they will be stiffer. Their stiffness means they won't fold as well, and if you want a narrow band, you will need to make lots of folds.

Some cotton bandannas are made with a heavier cloth than usual. These also do not fold well and you might want to avoid them.

Bandannas, to fit around your head, will need to be the right size, but almost all you find in stores will be that size. The correct size is somewhere between 21 and 22 inches (53-56 cm) on a side. Anything bigger will work, of course, with the cloth beyond the knot hanging down in the back like a pony tail does.

Some longhairs are perplexed when they first try to tie a bandanna. The secret is that you have to tie diagonal corners together. Adjacent corners are too close together and will not reach around your head! So the first step is to fold the bandanna in a triangle.

Making your first fold like this instead of a perfect triangle will also work, and starting like this may allow you to fold the bandanna so more interesting patterns appear across your forehead. Starting like this may make tying the corners a little easier because they will not consist of a double layer of cloth. If you are going for a cap instead of a band on your head, starting like this may also keep the bandanna from wrinkling as much on your forehead. (Lay the short side underneath and the long side on top, if doing this. Having the longer side on top makes tucking the whole bandanna under the knot in back easier.)

A distance of about three inches (seven centimeters) between the two corners shown in the upper left on the diagram works well for this fold.

After getting the triangle, if you want a band around your head and if you are in a hurry you can just grab the bandanna by its opposite ends and twirl it into a tubular roll, but it will not be extremely tidy-looking that way, and a corner may stick out, when you put it on your head. It is better to lay the bandanna on a table and fold it carefully. The first thing you will want to do is fold the two corners I just mentioned almost completely across the triangle. That way they'll end up in the inside of the future roll. Then if you want, you can pay attention and continue to fold the bandanna so the patterns in it will look a certain way when you make your final fold. You should aim for a finished strip about an inch (2.5 cm) wide.

Next you want to tie the bandanna in the back with a square knot, of course, but if you have curly hair, you will discover this is impossible to do without catching a few hairs in the knot each time, and of course when you remove the bandanna those strands of hair will break. So put the bandanna on in reverse - tie it in the front. Then you can lift it off and reinstall it with the knot in the back. The place the bandanna should rest is in the middle of the forehead, just over the ears, and just below the knot on the back of the head.

It is not necessary to retie a bandanna every time you use it. You can just lift it off like a large band and use it again another day. You will need to do this a few times the same day anyway (if you have it on all day) because you have to take it off once in a while to neaten hair on top of your head that has become frizzy. Hair on top of your head will work its way out if you're wearing a bandanna, just like it will with a pony tail.

During the time that your bandanna is tied in a band it may stretch, and this may necessitate retying, but this will probably happen only once per washing. This is most likely to happen if the bandanna gets damp or wet.

If you decide you don't want your bandanna on your head, the best thing to do with the band is to fold it and put it in a shirt pocket or front pants pocket. If you put it in a rear pocket and sit on it, it will get wrinkled. Another thing you can do with the bandanna is store it is around your neck. Just push it down, flip your hair through and over it, and then turn it 180 degrees around so the knot is in the front. With this maneuver you've just turned it into neckwear.

If you don't wash a bandanna, after a few days of wearing it, your forehead will break out underneath it. Bandannas are made with a much thinner cloth than are shirts or jeans, making them dry easily overnight, so washing them is convenient. Do it.

Hair Ties

Once your hair reaches a length where hair strands from all over reach the back of the head, a pony tail becomes an option. Though most longhairs say their favorite style for hair is "down" or "loose", if one looks around he will discover most longhairs have their hair in pony tails. Hair in a pony tail stays neater longer and is less susceptible to messing by wind, so it needs less frequent combing. So those who feel the pony tail look suits them, often have their hair in a tail.

Of course, to have a pony tail, one must use a hair tie of some type. The thing to not do is use a rubber band! It will break several strands of hair and damage who knows how many more, every time you remove it. So go to the drugstore and buy a package of pony ties.

You will find different kinds there. Pony ties that don't contain exposed metal, that are softer, or that are thicker will damage your hair less. So go for those.

Most ties on the shelves will be in pastel feminine colors, but keep looking. Ties in solid "pure" colors look more masculine, as do black ones, and they are not that hard to find.

Some masculine jewelry is available for hair tying, but you'll really have to look to find it, and you may have to purchase it from afar, such as from someone on the Internet. One such supplier, now defunct, featured sleeves to hold your pony tail like these:

Another source for masculine hair jewelry has been the Highlander Store, which sold the hair ties used by longhair Duncan MacLeod in the Highlander TV show. The show went off the air for a while, and the store at that time was closing out merchandise. The Highlander Store could be reached at 1-800-622-0922 and offered hair ties such as the ones below. We do not know how long they will be available or if they now even are, but these ties are awesome enough I feel you'd want to see them, so I will leave them here:

Street fairs and tourist bazaars are places one sometimes finds an artisan offering masculine hair restraints, so keep an eye open in those places.


Braids can be done instead of pony tails, though they are tough to do yourself if you have curly hair. Otherwise, braiding is not that difficult, but it is something that one can only learn by practicing.

Braids are particularly suited for extremely long straight hair. This is so much so, that a majority of all men we see with hair to their waist or below have it braided.

One biker I know swears by braids, saying they are the only thing that works in high wind. His beard is so long he braids it, too, to keep the hair from it from blowing into his eyes! It does look strange, but as he said, it does the job.

Accessories That Look Feminine

"What! Is this guy nuts!" you must be asking. Why is he about to mention stuff for me that looks feminine?

The reason I am bringing this up is that some men avoid accessories they only think of as feminine because they only have seen them on women, but they are not feminine really. What matters is "will that thing look feminine on me?" If you are burly, damned little will. Lots of useful hair accessories such as dark brown plastic combs are readily used by women but shunned by longhairs because they just aren't seen often on men. But if the thing really isn't frilly or in a pastel color, at least try it on! See if it looks feminine on you.

A similar comment can be made about hair styles that was just made about hair accessories. Some men feel any style other than "loose" or "a pony tail tied low" is feminine. Indeed, most men opt for one or the other of those styles. Before shunning any other styles if you yearn to wear one, though, look to see whether that style looks feminine on you.

Turn over a two dollar bill and look at the back. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence is wearing a bow on his pony tail, and it doesn't look feminine on him at all!

Problematical Clothing

Some styles of clothing that worked fine when you had short hair may be a bit of a nuisance with long hair. If you wear a coat or sweatshirt with a hood, the hood will fight with your mane unless you put your mane under that coat or shirt. Shirts with collars will mess with your hair more than those without. Zippers, snaps, and velcro can catch and pull long hair. Shirts you must pull over your head will go on okay, but they will mess up your hair when you take them off, and they may pull some, too.

Some styles may not be attractive with long hair. In particular, a strong repetitive pattern lying underneath your hair, such as a plaid shirt with highly contrasting medium or large sized squares, may run interference with the pattern in your hair. This can obscure any attractive pattern you want people to see in your hair, and it can cause your hair to look messier than it is, because the pattern in such a shirt is so precise in comparison.

What About Haircuts?

Haircuts? While growing your hair out? You're best off to forget them and just let your hair grow all over. You will feel a great temptation to trim it in places during the awkward phase to "neaten it up", but all you will be doing is extending the awkward phase because the hair you've been cutting will take even longer to reach a length where you can restrain it. In general, as a longhair, remember you should abandon associating "neatening up" your hair with "trimming". With long hair other methods, the ones we've mentioned above, are used for neatening.

In particular, resist the temptation to cut the hair short in front while letting it grow long elsewhere. In front is where the hair is most visible, so later when you decide to let that part of your hair grow out, the awkward phase will be extended by many months, and right up front where people see it.

Once your hair has grown out, you may want to get it trimmed along the bottom, while it hangs loose (not in a pony tail!) way down behind the back, to even up the ends. This should not be done until your hair is as long as you want, as this maneuver will prolong the amount of time it take to reach the desired length. This "trimming the ends for neatness" tack is one just the guys with straight or mostly straight hair ever need worry about. Though curly hair tapers off to a thinness at a certain length as surely as straight hair does, the ends of such hair are all mixed in with the other hair and they are not visible, so trimming fulfills no real purpose other than just to make your hair look shorter. If your hair gets longer than you want, you may want to trim it infrequently to keep it the length you want.

You may be tempted to trim around your long hair in some fashion. Some men cut the neck hair to either side of their pony tail. Others cut the hair on top short, hoping to just have long hair in the back.

The problem with such styles is that in trimming around the long hair, barbers will always miss a little here and there. To make their haircut of the moment look better, they will even things up by taking strands of your long hair! Each barber in turn will do this, clueless that you took two or three years to grow those hairs, and your long hair area will shrink and shrink with each haircut until you have little long hair left.

Of course you will need to trim your beard, unless you completely shave or are growing it out. And you may wish to trim your sideburns in front of your ears. What often looks best is to trim any sideburn hair that is too low to push back over the top of your ears, and to trim it to the same length as your beard. This is trimming you can probably do yourself.

The hair that grows in your beard is different from the hair on top of your head. Similarly, hair on the scruff of your neck is a third kind of hair. It will not necessarily be the same as the other hair on your head, and it normally has a much shorter terminal length. If this hair does not go well with the rest of your hair (for some men it does, for others the mismatch is striking), you will probably want to shave or trim it off, unless it is seldom seen. Men who leave their hair down all the time, for example, don't have to worry about this because no one ever sees that hair. If you most often go for a ponytail and this hair clashes with the rest of your hair, you will probably want to remove it. It will never change how it looks, and it is not going to grow long, anyway.

Though most longhairs can forget about visits to the barbershop, some, particularly those with straight hair, find visits to a beauty salon to be of benefit. In that setting, one can have the hair made more wavy or have it trimmed. Longhairs with curly or wavy hair really don't need either of those services, though they may find a salon helpful with the selection of hair care products.

Beyond the Awkward Phase

As your hair progresses beyond the shoulders, it will begin to appear much neater! The added weight of the hair will hold it in place around the head, and its added bulkiness will tend to hold it together. Options to restrain the hair, such as ponytails, can also now be employed. When you reach this stage, you will be glad you did not attempt to "neaten" your awkward-phase hair with trimming! Consistent length that extends completely off the head is what makes a longhair look neat.

Deciding on a Final Length

Eventually, you will have a new decision to make: How long do you want your long hair to be! You can go for terminal - go for the max - but your hair will probably look a bit ratty on the ends. If you have more length than matters to you at that point, you may want to trim off a bit to have nicer looking ends. If your hair reaches terminal before you have all the hair you want, or so close to the awkward stage length that you sure don't want to take off any for neatness' sake, then you'll feel your hair looks best the way it is, despite its terminal ends.

The conformist in you may drive you to consider what lengths are popular with other longhaired men. Most longhairs settle on a length between shoulder length and mid-back, with shoulderblade length the most popular. This is a length that looks plenty "longhaired" but avoids the escalating hair care hassles that come with hair that is longer. As with other minorities, longhairs are underrepresented on television, but some appear there, and one can get a sense of where fashion is by looking at persons shown. Most longhairs on TV have their hair at shoulderblade length. Portrayals of men with hair below mid-back are quite rare.

If your hair gets really long, you will probably have it in a braid or a tail most of the time, just to control it. If you really like having your hair loose a lot, you may want to stop at a shorter length.

Some men with hair longer than mid-back report that they began to get confused for being female when their hair passed that point. This is probably just because fewer men go for longer lengths. This is something to keep in mind if it might bother you.

Fun and Not So Fun Things

Part of the pleasure of having your hair grow out is having new experiences with it. The first time you can see your own hair, the first time you can feel it move independent of your body, the first time you feel it brush against your shoulders, the first time you can put it in your mouth, etc., are all milestones to celebrate!

And some things may not be for celebration but will bring laughter, such as the first windy day at an outdoor cafe that I found hair in my food while chewing, and upon trying to remove it, I realized it was attached! Guess I couldn't blame the waiter for that one!

I chuckle about the first time my hair got into a picture I was taking, too.

Though accidents with long hair are rare, one suddenly becomes far more aware of such hazards as ignition sources - I'm not so apt to lean over to do a task near a gas stove burner or the fireplace as I once was, for example. Watch out for candles, and smokers lighting cigarettes - one longhair I've met had his hair accidentally set afire once by a smoker in a movie line. Watch out for revolving doors and other doors if your hair is really long. And one must be aware of rotating machinery in some places and should consider wrapping up one's hair when there to eliminate the hazard.

Also guard your mane like you would your wallet in public places, particularly when seated in front of strange people for a period of time. Municipal buses and movie theaters are such places. Though the dipping of pony tails in inkwells vanished with inkwells, the temptation to play with someone else's hair did not. There are no nerves in your mane, of course, to warn you that some idiot has decided to chop on it or otherwise mess with it. Put it under your shirt or coat, or throw it over your shoulder so it's in front and you can keep an eye on it.

Next we look at how people, both longhairs and others, feel about long hair! It's in Part 4.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Caring for Long Hair
Part 3 - Keeping Long Hair Neat
Part 4 - How People Feel About Long Hair

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Bill Choisser, All Rights Reserved.

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