Kent Bernhardt: The lengths, they were a-changin’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 17, 2016

“Give me down to there, hair! Shoulder length or longer! Here baby, there mama, everywhere daddy daddy…”

A couple of years ago, my daughter and I were having a discussion about hair. I might as well discuss it; I can’t grow it like I used to.

I was telling her there was a time in the not too distant past when the length of your hair told others a lot about you. She didn’t quite grasp that idea, but I assured her it was true.

It began with The Beatles really. There they were on millions of television sets across the nation changing the course of American music forever. Even at my young age, I was aware of the cultural phenomenon taking place right before my eyes. My father noticed only that “they look like girls.”

It was February of 1964. From that moment forward, hair meant something.

Slowly but surely, American men started going a little longer between haircuts. Soon, the tops of male ears disappeared. Sideburns slowly began to lengthen, and in some cases grow bushy. Suddenly, it was not uncommon to see a fully grown male brushing the hair out of his eyes.

A cultural rebellion was taking place.

What was interesting in this shift of style was the link between hair length and an individual’s lifestyle and politics. In the mid to late 1960’s, the longer the hair, the more liberal society perceived you to be. The guys who made the trip to the barber shop every two weeks were usually diehard conservatives.

And they were in that barber shop talking about hippies and flag burners who would be the ruination of us all. If your hair was over your ears, you probably smoked pot too, at least that was the perception of the day.

Even Barney returned to Mayberry in the late 60’s with long sideburns. That Raleigh night life finally seduced ol’ Barn.

An uncle of mine who had been a professional athlete turned banker gave our family a jolt one holiday season. He made his home in Virginia and visited once or twice a year, mostly at Christmas.

He arrived on Christmas Eve, and we immediately noticed a distinct change in his hair length. He had gone from a short, close cropped style to a longer, bushier style with sideburns to match.

It was quite a shock to the family, and he endured some good natured teasing about the apparent shortage of good barbers in Virginia. One relative remarked that, not only had he become a hippie, but had probably been converted into a Democrat as well.

I secretly envied his new locks, and dreamed of the day I could grow my own sideburns, forever waving goodbye to my unappealing flat top haircut. It was so….so 60’s. My parents preferred a clean cut look for me, and that philosophy wouldn’t change until years later when I left for college.

Even politicians began to avoid the scissors. It made local front page news the day North Carolina Governor Bob Scott changed his hair style in 1969. And Bobby Kennedy drew constant criticism for continually sweeping his long locks away from his eyes.

“Disgraceful”, I remember hearing a woman say.

Like many cultural shifts, the link between longer hair and the liberal lifestyle began to fade. By the mid 70’s, even my father had longer hair and sideburns, as did most men. Hair length made more of a fashion statement than anything.

Besides, longer hair seemed to compliment those ridiculous leisure suits we were wearing at the time. No one was happier to see those go than I.

Now, I see people with long hair, extremely short hair, and every length in between. Can’t grow hair? Just shave your head. There’s a style for you too.

The length of your hair sends little if any message these days. But there was a time. Oh yes, there was a time. And the times, they were a-changin’.


Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.



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