The Cutting Edge

UPDATED 04/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

Every evening, an eclectic crowd squishes onto one strip of sidewalk in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Businessmen stand next to Billy Idol and Madonna clones who jostle with clean-cut students. All of them glance longingly at a man with a clipboard in a nearby doorway. Sometimes the gatekeeper screams a name and one lucky person elbows through the door into a smoky room where rock 'n' roll blares. No one dances, no one gets drunk, but in 15 minutes or so each man or woman pays $7 to $12 plus tip and exits happily with a Guido, a James Dean or a Spina di Pesce.

The scene may sound like just another clip joint but it isn't: This is the Astor Place barber shop. Every day, hundreds of John and Jane Does become pseudo-rock stars and royalty with one of Astor Place's 170 or so nicknamed hairdos. So much for the days when barbers were even lonelier than Maytag repairmen—now people wait up to an hour and a half for the privilege of an Astor Place cut.

Though few shops draw such huge crowds, haircutters from Greenwich Village to the Hollywood Hills have made a comeback. More than ever before in this century, people openly devote hours and spend big bucks for the right coif. Glemby Company, owners of more than 1,000 hair salons across the U.S., saw its sales leap by 20 percent last year. Meanwhile the $2.5 billion hair-care business grows at a hair-raising pace. Though styling mousse only hit the market early last year, sales reached $250 million before 1985.

Walk down five blocks in the center of almost any U.S. city and you'll see the fast clip of the hair boom. Unlike those boring decades when most people wore similar styles, the mane-stream now flows in countless new waves. Men wear tiny ponytails, women wear spiky crew cuts, and those who can't decide find ways to mat their hair down for work and stick it straight up at night. "People don't want to look natural anymore. They want to look dramatic," says Hollywood celeb stylist Armundo, whose clients include Priscilla Presley and Tom Cruise. Susan Flinker, author of a new book called Hip Hair, explains the obsession: "People think of hair as the ultimate accessory now. If your hair looks wonderful, others may not notice that you've worn the same dress three days in a row."

It isn't as easy as it used to be to hear the golden words, "Darling, your hair looks divine." Not only do you need an earthshaking hairdo—you need a new one for every occasion. Though Cher has done it for years, other celebs now challenge her claim to the most changeable locks. Last fall Princess Diana switched her coiffure three times in two weeks. Olivia Newton-John, once so prim, has already changed her hair four times this year. Even tennis star Martina Navratilova sticks her dyed-blond hair up in spikes for social occasions but lets it flow freely for business on the court.

Meanwhile some of the style setters on MTV can't seem to make up their minds. Boy George and Eddie Van Halen cut off their long locks while Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger, close-cropped in 1984, are letting it all grow out. David Bowie and Michael Jackson both expose their musical ears. But Bowie now looks ready for Wall Street—not a hair out of place—while Jackson goops on handfuls of styling lotion to keep the wet look alive.

In London, where the most extreme trends usually begin, one of this year's hot styles involves dying rainbow colors into the hair. Says Keith Wainwright, cutter of trendy British tresses, "If people are prepared to change their hair color, say, from white to brown, then why not make it green?" To a certain extent that philosophy has crossed the Atlantic. Cyndi Lauper changes her hair color more often than some people change their socks, and stylists say that even their dye-hard clients now are asking for bright parrot-colored highlights. Less committed types buy tinted strands of fake hair to weave into their own—or they use spray-on, wash-off hair colors in fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark and sparkly shades. Nestle's Streaks 'n Tips, a temporary spray color that used to sell mostly during Halloween, is now bought steadily year-round. Sales ($2 million in 1982) will probably reach $8 million this year.

Tina Turner, who never ever does nothin' nice and easy, found her own way to improve on nature. She ties her hair in a ponytail at the top of her head, fans the ends outward and attaches bundles of supplementary hairpieces. Other celebs seem to agree that more is better. While Dynasty's Diahann Carroll and Joan Collins wear wigs, their natural looking co-star Linda Evans hangs a fall over her own thin locks to add some body. Today show weatherman Willard Scott likes to lose his toupee to get laughs. But he never kids around when caring for it. He pays $800 each to replace his several mop tops every few years; his on-air toupee is washed every day and Scott now dyes his graying temples once a week to match his hairpiece.

"Hair is entirely unsatisfactory," says art and fashion historian Anne Hollander. "It is never natural. If we don't do anything to it, we all look like Amazonian jungle dwellers." Since all styling battles hair's natural chaos, Hollander sees a link between the new antinatural styles and the natural look popular since the early 19th century. "The antibeautiful styles are just a new convention," she says. "They aren't rebellious—it would be more rebellious to do nothing to your hair."

Hollander also points out that wild hair has appealed to young people throughout history. During the French Revolution women cut their hair short and men wore "messy, peculiar effects that looked deathly and strange." Fifteen hundred years ago young men living through the fall of ancient Rome adopted the hair and clothing styles of barbarian invaders in order to shock their elders. Hollander credits the current obsession with hair to a simple fact: For centuries everyone wore hats, and now we have nothing to decorate our heads except hair.

In London kids cut their hair at home and use soap or glue to make it stand on end. In Washington Ronald Reagan pays $20 for a 25-minute wash, haircut and blow-dry every two weeks or so, leaving each hair shorter than two and a half inches. In Beverly Hills celebrities get house calls from Armundo for up to $500. Is there anything left to do to hair? "Short hair is here to stay on both boys and girls," says Astor Place barber shop co-owner Enrico Vezza. "Androgyny is just finishing off and longer straight hair is coming back," says Clairol consultant and hair colorist Louis Licari. Well, probably Licari is right...but only by a hair.

Ranking Roger, a/k/a Skunkhead, shows his untrue colors as part of the hot British rock band General Public. "It is tricky to do my hair," says Roger, who visits the hairdresser every three months. "What they usually do is part it and stick these metal clips in to keep the black from the blond." Roger originally dyed his hair to match a car that he owned with a stripe down the side. Now his motto is never get the same color twice in a row. "It was orange to start with," he says. "Then it was blond, then I had orange in between the blond and the black, and I just had it redone with a bit of red instead of orange. But it isn't as if I want to dye it until it drops out. I mean, by the time we do the next album, I'll probably be a skinhead again."

Turn on your smoke alarm. Chaka Khan's greatest fear about her hair is that she's going to set it afire with a cigarette. That is, if it doesn't first get caught in a car door or on a coat hanger. In order to keep her miraculous 10-inch mop in shape, Khan gets a trim every few months, a wave set every six months and adds auburn hues herself with Clairol's Racy Wine coloring. Three or more days a week, she washes her hair and spends the rest of the day waiting for it to dry completely. "It's heavy, especially when it's wet," says Chaka. "When I perform, my sweat makes it heavy. But that's more or less my signature—sweat and hair."

Alternating her locks between greasy kid stuff and modified Marilyn Monroe, Madonna has become the hairstyle trendsetter of the younger generation. Romeo, her New York stylist at Girl Loves Boy, labors over her casual do. Every two months or so he spends about two hours adding gold highlights to the material girl's naturally curly hair. (That costs her about $180.) Romeo, who also taught Madonna to tie bows in her hair, might wish he had copyrighted the look. "Her 'Boy Toy' image is very easy to do," says Beverly Hills stylist Angelo di Biase, who is often asked for the Madonna look. "You put gel in your hair, tie a scarf around it and you're ready to go."

Goldilocks he ain't. Dee Snider, lead singer of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister, openly reveals the information only his hairdresser is supposed to know. He bleaches his long curly mane. However, Snider insists that every one of the delicate strands is firmly attached to his own scalp: no perm, no wig. We can merely assume that he occasionally submits to some more traditional hair care—such as a shampoo.

He has outstanding hair," says Hip Hair author Susan Flinker about ol' yeller Billy Idol (below). "It's what I call wrong-side-of-the-tracks raunchy." Flinker reveals the secret to Billy's do: "First it has to be totally bleached out so it gets brittle and dry. Then when he blow-dries it from the roots up, it makes each hair stand on end, and that's how he gets the snaky effect." Billy isn't the only close-cropped rock idol. Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics (bottom) enjoys the freedom of a mannish cut. She isn't particularly picky about stylists: As she travels on concert tours, she gets a touch-up from the closest trained scissors. Flinker approves of Lennox's do: "She has made androgyny safe for the masses."

Long, short, curly, frizzy, straight, blond, skunky—pick any adjective, and it probably applies to Cher's naturally black hair during the past two decades. Now as always, Cher is a locks leader. Beverly Hills stylist Jose Eber, who clips Cher every three weeks, just spent half an hour trimming and an hour retouching the dark dye that partly covers her recent bout of blondness. Perhaps for contrast, Cher's manfriend, Josh Donen, wears a monochrome shaggy cut, while Chastity (left) curls up in Mom's shadow.

As the close-cropped hero of 1983's Risky Business, Tom Cruise made short hair hip for kids again. But when the cameras turned off, Tom went Woodstock. "I've always had long hair," explains Cruise. "I prefer it that way." Though he had to cut and dye his hair darker for Risky Business, Tom kept his locks at the length he likes in order to play an eccentric hermit in the upcoming Legend. Shortly it will all come off again for his role as a Navy fighter pilot in his next film, Top Gun. Tom's steady date and Risky Business co-star, Rebecca De Mornay (below, right), makes life a lot easier for fans who want to copy her look. She generally lets it all hang down.

The woman has made a career out of looking severe, but when Grace Jones (right) heads in for a haircut, this girl just wants to have fun. She brings generous amounts of champagne to the Girl Loves Boy salon in Manhattan and shares it freely as she gets a $50 modified GI Joe cut. Jones' London haircutter, Trevor Sorbie, also gets a kick out of maintaining her look. "It's like carving, almost," he says. "You literally cut it like a hedge, with electric clippers." Many folks, such as Olympian Carl Lewis (above), now wear similar cuts to the one Grace introduced in 1980. But not everyone gives Grace credit. "Carl has his own haircut," says Lewis' manager, Joe Douglas. "His cousin gave it to him, and now people are copying his look."

I am the black Samson, and the Lord has put my strength in my hair." So saith Don King, the boxing and concert promoter with the hairdo only God could love. To promote the electrocution look, King just washes his hair a couple of times a week, pats it with a towel and voilà! "It's au naturel," he insists. "I came home one night, woke up the next day and it was popped up and it's been that way ever since. My hair is like an aura from God. Each hair stands up pristine and beautiful on its own individual stimulation. Know what I mean?" King doesn't plan a style change in the near future. "I'm staying with it," he says, adding patriotically, "my hair makes me feel good to be an American."

Percussionist and singer for the Thompson Twins, Alannah Currie acquired her unique style on a whim. "One day I got into a really bad mood, so I just went upstairs and shaved the sides off," she told London's Sun. "It was a real mess, but eventually I went to the hairdressers to have it tidied up, and now I rather like it." Reportedly Alannah is growing the sides again in little V shapes, letting the back and top grow long, and she doesn't wear her trademark oversize hats as often. What's more, she has stopped wearing her stick-on butterfly tattoo. How will we recognize her?

Just when we got used to the Boy as a girl, George O'Dowd cut off his famous tresses, and we had to see him as a boy again. Sort of. The new cut gave the pop singer no need to hide his face in shame. Last December when he stopped in at White Trash, a hot London nightspot, many failed to recognize him. Originally dyed bright orange, the Boy's cropped crown later became a conservative black, and now it's a subtle mousy brown. Is George through with wave-making? No way. As he modestly told London's Daily Star, "I brought long hair into fashion, and now I'm getting rid of it. This is going to be the look this year. I got it cut because I like being ahead of everyone else. Somebody has to take the initiative, don't they?"

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