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SANDY BANKS

Such a Flap Over Losing a Little Hair

May 18, 1999|SANDY BANKS

There's the red cap with the Nike swish, the blue cap with the Dallas Cowboys logo, the white cap from the Tiger Woods line.

And one of them is always on the head of my friend Ray. In the house, at the gym, in movie theaters, on dates. . . . He hates going out with his head uncovered.

It's more than a cap, it seems; it's become his security blankie, his connection to a time before middle age, to a youth defined by the thick black curls that now are falling out and turning gray.

Like many men his age, Ray is losing his hair . . . or, as he would say, his hair is "thinning," his hairline "receding."

Call it anything but going bald. And don't try to take his baseball cap away.

*

I imagine he must feel like I do when my roots bloom gray and I douse them in hair dye in an effort to vanquish the signs of encroaching age.

But I wonder what it would do for his self-image--not to mention the multimillion-dollar industry of elixirs, pills, transplants and toupees--if he knew how little most women care how much hair a man has on his head. Certainly, every woman has her nonnegotiables, irrational though they may be. My friend Karen won't go out with a man with scruffy shoes or dirty fingernails. No matter his station in life, she says, the least he can do is wash his hands and polish his shoes.

Another friend turns down dates with guys with odd or unfashionable monikers (Herb, Bert, Dragan . . .). Says she'd feel stupid crying out those names in the throes of passion.

But I don't know a single woman who would rule out a man solely on the basis of "thinning" hair.

"Men worry about it a lot more than women," says John Chiarenza, a barber whose De Castilian Men's Salon in Woodland Hills specializes in "camouflage styling for thinning hair."

"I guess it makes them feel less virile, substandard to a degree," Chiarenza says. "When all the ads show these men, even older guys, with thick heads of hair, it's easy to feel undesirable. It's sort of like it would be for a woman, when all the ads show thin size 3 models and you're a size 12."

Chiarenza's goal is to use, as he tactfully puts it, "strategic haircutting to take full potential of what the person's hair inventory has to offer."

If your hairline has just begun to recede, you can comb your hair forward to disguise it. If you've got a bald spot on top or in the back of the head, you can fluff up the hair around it to cover the gap.

But whatever you do, Chiarenza says, avoid the temptation to "go for the flap"--to pull strands from the side of the head, sweep them across the top and plaster them down.

It doesn't fool anybody, he says; it just calls attention to the missing hair.

Besides, "When you think about it, there's so much more to a person, it's silly to be so hung up on hair," Chiarenza muses, trying to suppress a smile.

"But that's easy for me to say. I have all my hair."

*

His shop is busy on the day we talk, the chairs filled with middle-aged men like my friend Ray, getting haircuts and "inventories."

They're fortunate in a way, says Chiarenza: "There has never been a better time, fashion-wise, to be going bald." Hair styles are short, shaved heads are in. These days, a bald head might just as well be a fashion statement as a concession to middle age.

"I tell most guys," Chiarenza says, " 'Better to just shave your head. Look at Michael Jordan, it's a great look . . . as long as you've got a good-shaped head.' "

Still, he says, broaching the subject with new customers can be awkward.

"I try to be gentle, to say something like, 'Listen, you don't have hair on the top of your head. I know it, you know it, anybody who looks at you knows it. . . .'

"Sometimes it's a relief. They can stop pretending they're fooling everybody. Just like anything in life, you've got to learn to work with what you've got."

Sandy Banks' column is published on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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