Throughout World War II, American soldiers wore crew cuts, or GI’s as they were often called. It was a rallying point for the troops to have their locks collectively sheared to the scalp. After “The Boys” came home in 1945 and in years to follow, the crew cut became the hair to wear for young Boomers.
“I want a GI,” were the instructions to the barbers of that era. For a quarter, and in about 3 minutes, the haircuts were administered. Barbers drove Cadillac’s back then. They could cut a head of hair in record time. It’s really pretty simple when you get out the power shears and make roughly four swipes. Once those clippers passed through, there was no hair left to speak of. I suppose the visionary barbers were preparing Boomers for later in life – Male Pattern Baldness.
These monthly shearings, however, had the unintended consequences of causing frequent and unwanted head rubs. Every adult that happened by a kid with a crew cut or a buzz cut felt obliged to vigorously rub the youth’s head, as it if it was some kind of good luck charm.
Around 1954 a phenomenon called a flat top haircut appeared on the scene, and all the boys with GI’s and crew cuts let their hair grow long enough that the barber could start the cut in the front with about an inch of hair sticking up, then create a perfectly level playing field to the back of the head. Flat tops were high maintenance, requiring frequent trips to the barber. That’s because hair – left to its own devices – does not stand up straight in front. It took a skilled barber and copious amounts of a product called Butch Wax to keep a flat top flat.
Butch Wax was a thick, sticky paste that could turn a delicate spider web into a haul seine for tuna fish. The sweet-smelling gel was pink and came in both jars and small tins, similar to a snuff can. A drawback to Butch Wax was its propensity to freeze solid – like on winter morning walks to school. A frozen flat top with Butch Wax was like a formation of stalagmites at Luray Caverns. But when the Butch Wax thawed, the classroom of flat tops smelled like the inside of a cotton candy factory.
Somewhere around 1958, the flat top evolved into something called a ducktail or a DA. The cool guys with ducktails maintained their flat tops, but allowed the hair on the sides to grow long enough that it swept to the rear in a peak, something akin to the behind of a mallard duck. Growing a ducktail required a minimum of two hours in front of a mirror with a brush and comb, sweeping every hair into perfect order. Ducktails also involved two different hair products – Butch Wax for the front and top and Vitalis or Brylcreem for the sides.
Flat tops and DA’s dominated the hair cut scene for male Boomers until the dreaded arrival of those floppy haired aliens from Britain – the Beatles. After that, Boomers let their hair grew long – really long. Some of those yearbook pictures around 1968 are pretty scary. Don’t ever show then to your grandkids. They might just think you were a hippie.