James Dean had captured the imagination and envy of most every young male in the mid-50s with his standout performance in Rebel Without a Cause. In the movie, also starring Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, Dean had rolled into town, a new kid on the block and oozing coolness. He was, in fact, beyond cool. He was the epitome of everything a young teen male would like to be – confident, rebellious, suave, handsome, and a genuine lady’s man. And he had a ducktail haircut.
Ducktails, or DA’s, were all the rage in the 1950s. The name was derived because the hair on the side of the head was swept back to the rear and shaped into a point – to resemble a mallard’s behind. Flat tops, with short hair on the sides, had thus evolved, and by the 8th grade, all of my male friends were growing ducktails.
I had sported a flat top for years, but now I decided to grow my hair longer and go for a DA. It was a life changing decision!
I looked pretty scraggily for a while, with hair down over my ears and flopping around on top, but the day finally arrived. I went to the barber and asked for a ducktail haircut. The barber snipped, and buzzed, and snipped some more, then added copious amounts of butch wax so the hair on the side would remain swept back. It was a Friday and my good buddy, Bill Shaver, was spending the night. Later, we would be heading for a local sock hop at a friend’s house. Bill was also a new DA convert, and before the dance, we stood side by side in front of the mirror, brushing, combing and cajoling our coifs to behave themselves. At the party, we were back in the boy’s room more than on the dance floor, continuing to comb and primp. That night when we got back home, it was the same thing – another hour in front of the mirror. In one day I had worn the teeth of my small back comb down to the nubs.
I kept the ducktail for a couple more years, then enrolled at Greenbrier Military School and that ended that. It was the late 60’s before I and many other Boomer guys let our hair grow out again, now influenced by the Beatles. But the good old days of ducktail haircuts, white buck shoes, high school dances, drive-in restaurants and being young and cool sure bring back lots of memories.