Here's some notes on hairstyles that were current when I was a boy during the 1940s and
50s in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
My mother let my hair grow quite long (perhaps shoulder length or a little
less) until I was about 5 years old. My hair was naturally curly and in old
photos I looked like a little male Shirley Temple--though admittedly not so
cute. My father kept telling my mother to get me a haircut because he
thought my curly mop looked sissyish, but Mom resisted and so did I.
Mother finally felt forced to take me to the barber just before I entered
kindergarten, for fear that other kids would tease me or bully me on account
of what they would see as my girlish hairdo. My Mom tells me that I cried
when the barber cut away all my curls and left me quite well shorn.
We called the haircut I got a 'rah-rah'. It was an all-over short brush-cut
- less than 1/2 inch at the longest, on top and in front, and shorter than
that on the sides and back. To boot, the barber shaved the nape of my neck
and 1/2 inch or so around the ears. I wore this style of haircut well up
into my 20s. It was the style I wore in the Seminary during my teens
and early twenties, and the style forced on me during my tour in the Army in
my late 20s.
Most of my male elementary schoolmates wore the same style. A few boys wore their hair longer, but our teachers (nuns) were always telling them to get a haircut - even a couple of inches of hair was considered a symptom of rebelliousness.
If your hair had some body to it, you could 'train' it to stand up in front with the help of a pomade that came in the form of a stick in a tube (much like lipstick or lip-balm), and
you might be able to get your parents to allow you to wear a short flat-top.
Many boys considered the flat-top hair style to be somewhat vain, and unduly
finicky. One of my close friends wore a flat-top that was always perfectly
shaped and neat, and I envied him for it.
The DA (duck-tail), long on top and sides and
slicked back with hair tonic on the sides to form a nice straight vertical
line in back, began to be popular in the 50s, thanks to Marlon Brando, James
Dean, and Elvis. It went with leather jackets, cigarettes and motorcycles.
Catholic school boys could not wear this hairstyle--not even in high
school. The style was thought not only rebellious, but also extremely
vulgar. You'd be sent home from school with instructions to your parents to
get you a proper haircut.
The only hair restriction put on the girls at the time was that they could
not wear their hair too short. None of my female schoolmates ever wore
anything shorter than a pageboy.
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