Frequent salon visits, and shopping for shampoos, gels and conditioners… Here’s how men are kissing buzz cuts goodbye, and lovingly going in for ponytails

“I wanted to do this before I went bald,” a friend explained to his family, who had come to receive him at the airport, after his Masters abroad. The father (genetically bald) looked completely shocked; the grand-mother muttered something about bagavadhars; the mum said he looked very handsome. Taking little notice of their reactions, the friend pulled his long hair into a pony-tail and dragged the luggage to the waiting car. Fifteen years later, he loves to show his wife “when I too had hair” pictures.

The long-haired friend, then, was a relative rarity; now, so many men carry it off effortlessly, stylishly; and it’s not only imminent hair-loss that drives them to grow it out.…

“I vaguely remember first wanting to grow my hair when I was eight. With short hair, my ears stuck out a lot and other kids gave me a hard time about it,” recalls Vish Thomas, bespoke pc designer / freelance musician. Longer hair took the focus off, he explains, and more importantly, his music idols (Cobain, Tyler) had long hair.

Music was the spur for Nihal John Lazarus, manager, creative solutions,, as well. “My dad told me ‘do what you want, but only in college’. And, as I grew up, music helped give shape and reason to the urge of growing out my hair.” For Karthik Murugadhas, creative director — Winged Elephants, there were numerous inspirations, including “WWF wrestlers, Bobby Deol’s long locks in Barsaat, and Brad Pitts’ tresses in Legends Of The Fall.”

“The mass marketing of hair gel was the greatest enabler, because it kept the hair in place all day long,” reasons Dexter Bob, management professional. “Previously, because of my unmanageably dry hair, I kept it short all the time!” Now, long hair is his identity. “If I’m meeting someone for the first time and they ask how they’d identify me, I only have to say ‘look for the tall chap with the long hair’.”

Wide acceptance?

While hair grows enviably fast for many men, their families, however, are not always quick / keen to embrace their new look. “My dad was dead against my having long hair, and in my rebellious phase (late teens), it was my way of differentiating myself from him,” says Vish. Today, Vish feels different every time he gets a shorter haircut. “You could joke about it being some sort of Samson complex, but it’s part of who I am.”

Dexter, who started growing his hair seven or eight years ago, never went back to a crop either. “Much to the disappointment of a few in the family,” he quips. Karthik too acknowledges that his family wants a change from his pony-tail. “But I still love it and hope to have it till I become fed up with it!” For Nihal, the long hair was and is about making a statement. “I’ve never combed my hair until I decided to grow it out; but just because it’s not ‘normal’, doesn’t mean you can’t do something you believe in!”

Except, the long hair, is, at times, both an advantage and a disadvantage, says Karthik. A quick rinse with any old shampoo is no longer sufficient; long haired men need to familiarise themselves with conditioners, hair gels and hair ties; and getting ready for work, evidently, requires more effort than just running the fingers through the hair. “Growing up in Chennai, the hardest part of long hair is the heat,” says Vish. “In general, I’d say the toughest time while growing my hair is that point when it’s long, but not long enough to tie into a ponytail.” And that is awkward, especially in ‘official’ surroundings. Karthik too talks of getting frustrated and irritated, and admits cropping his hair before it fully grew out. “But when I got past that in-between stage, it was a breeze!”

But it’s breeze — or rather, wind — that gets Vish worried. “My biggest worry is dealing with a windy day with no hair ties!” For Dexter though, it’s imagining what it’d be like in a couple of years when the inevitable hairfall takes its toll. “I’ll probably jump to the other end of the spectrum and go clean-shaven!” he says. But, for now, the effort is still worth it, says Karthik. “You'd be amazed by how many people recognise you after just one very insignificant meet!”