BLACK MEN HAVE plenty of options when it comes to their hair--more, perhaps, than ever before. The pompadour that Prince has worn, the micro braids of rocker Terence Trent D'Arby, stylized variations of Rastafarian dreadlocks and "tracks" or "etches"--parts or patterns shaved into the hair--will all be part of the 1988 look. So will the classic short haircuts favored by men such as Laker Magic Johnson and singer James Ingram.
But stylists in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles say the most fashionable men are choosing a cut that evolved from the flattop sported by Olympian Carl Lewis. The new look has a top that is slightly rounded at the corners, with sides that are "faded," or trimmed so closely that the scalp is sometimes visible. Actors Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Kadeem Hardison have worn interpretations of the look.
One of the most fashionable versions is achieved by chemically relaxing hair to create waves. "Stylish men are not straightening their hair, but relaxing it to loosen the curl," says hairdresser John Atchison, whose salons in New York and Los Angeles have tended the locks of actor Denzel Washington and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad. "This is quite different from the greasy-looking 'Jheri' curls of a few years ago," Atchison continues. "This style is shiny, textured and carefully shaped."
Aitch Peters, senior creative director for Vidal Sassoon, wears a version that is accomplished by cutting his hair three different lengths, keeping it very neat at the neck. "The emphasis is on a bolder, more sculptured shape," he says. "This more fashion-conscious approach is a reflection of the new interest in tailored clothes and the influence of (the film) 'Wall Street.' "
New York makeup artist and hairdresser Quietfire, who runs Quietfire's Nippy Model Management, says he wears his hair in a " 'Wall Street' cut"--longer on top, short on the sides. "The cut appeals to all ages and looks very natural, not greasy or nasty," he says. He points out, however, that it is a high-maintenance style. "A man may need to have his fades touched up every couple of weeks, depending on how fast his hair grows."
Peters, who is based in Sassoon's Beverly Hills salon, says that the time was right for a well-groomed approach. "Men are more likely to want the tailored--rather than carefree--attitude, which gave rise to the long shag look that Lionel Richie used to wear. This year, you have to keep the hair grease-free and off the collar."
In general, stylists agree, men are getting away from extremes. "The watchwords are design and texture," says James Harris, who teaches hair styling in Manhattan. "Chemical relaxing allows you to control design and texture at the same time."
Harris, who has been a hairdresser since 1965, says he is glad to see the variety of choices. "There was a time when the Afro was the only choice. We no longer have to make social statements with our hair."
Hair and grooming by Gwen Staples of John Atchison, Los Angeles; model: Robert Powell.