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Hair in the 50s

By Terry Shaw of Willmar

n the small town of Litchfield, where I grew up in the 1950s, teens never wore baseball caps, except when they were actually playing baseball, for fear of being called a “square” or a “dork.” I didn’t even wear one when I was playing baseball. I don’t think I even owned a baseball cap. The main reason was we didn’t want to mess our hair up. Cool hair was important to teens in the ‘50s. I spent hours training my hair to go back on the sides with some sticky goo from a jar labeled Butch Wax. It was used for crew cuts, and I bought it from a local barber. My hair was going to go back on the sides, even if I had to glue the hair to my head. Later in life, I went to a barber for a “boughten haircut,” my wife usually cut my hair, and the barber said, “Did you know your hair grows forward on you left side?” What? That’s why it would not go back properly.

Some of the common sites in the ‘50s includes a ducktail hair cut. Contributed photo

When we were pre-teens, hair styles weren’t so important. My mother couldn’t afford to send us four Shaw boys to the barber for a dollar haircut. At first, I think she tried to cut our hair herself. Yes, she used a bowl and a pair of scissors. Then our Grandpa Shaw cut our hair with a hand clipper. Grandpa’s clipper looked like the electric version except he squeezed the handles together like pruning shears. Apparently, it needed sharpening, because it always pulled our hair, and we hated it.

Unappreciated, Grandpa stopped doing the haircuts, so Mom sent us to a neighbor’s wife, who would cut our hair in her kitchen with a pair of scissors and an old electric trimmer. My younger brother and I didn’t mind, but by that time my two older brothers had started to balk. “I ain’t lettin’ some ole lady touch my hair!” brother Mick would say. In the fifties, you either had a “heinie” or crew cut, as my younger brother and I did, or you had a pile of long greasy hair on top of your head, which you combed into a “duck tail” or “duck’s ass” in the back and/or on the top of your head, as my older brothers and did. They started to pay for their own haircuts at a barbershop. Mom refused to pay for the little trim they got around their ears. My oldest brother preferred a guy we called “Mike the Barber”. Mom was always after my oldest brother to “Please cut your hair. It’s so long, you look like a bum!” She had no idea what she was in store for when I discovered the Beatles in 1964. Then she said to me, “I’m not going to sit by you in church if you don’t cut your hair.” “Okay,” I said, “then I won’t go to church.” But I did, and she did.

Some of the common sites in the ‘50s includes a hand clipper. Contributed photo

My youngest brother and I soon graduated to “real” haircuts too. Mom broke down and gave us each a dollar and off we’d go to get our “ears lowered.” There were five barbers to choose from in Litchfield in the fifties, and they all had their shops in the basements of stores or the hotel. We generally went to a guy named Roscoe Keller, under a bank, because he was one of the nicest guys in town. He was like a much hipper “Floyd the Barber” on the Andy Griffith Show, and kind of looked like him. He was funny, kind, and best of all, he let us come into the shop anytime and trade comic books with him. He had quite a pile of comics, so, for us, it was like hitting the jackpot. I knew I had passed some kind of “rite of manhood” one day when Roscoe finished my haircut, undid the cloth around my neck, and then reached out to my shoulder to stop me from getting up out of the chair. “Not done,” he said, and then he proceeded to lather up my neck with warm foam and then shave the back of my neck with his straight razor, which he ran up and down a leather strap connected to the chair. After the neck shave, Roscoe slapped on some great adult-smelling aftershave, Bay Rum, I suppose. And I still got the usual stick of spearmint gum from him too. I walked out of Roscoe’s a little taller that afternoon.

Now, I can’t leave out the women and their beauty shops. Did you ever notice how creative the women’s shops are for names? The men’s barber shops aren’t. But for the women, here’s a few that I’ve noticed. In Willmar, there was Hair We Are. There’s Shear Pleasure in Montevideo. Then there’s Hair It Is, A Cut Above, Bangs For The Memories, The Mane Event, Hair Apparent, The Hair Port, Hair and Beyond, Just Cut Loose, Prime Cuts, Shear Delight, Upper Cuts, Curl Up & Dye, Deb On Hair, Dye Hard, Hair Raisers, Hair To Please You, Heads Up, Just Teasin’, The Best Little Hair House, To Dye For, Scissors Palace, Hair To Stay, Blood Sweat & Shears, Combing Attractions, Hairway to Heaven, The Hair After, Hair Ye, Hair Ye, Hair We Go Again, Get Your Locks Off, Hair ‘Em, Cuts Both Ways, Hairobics, and finally…Hairborn. Mine would have to be Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

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