The perm is making a comeback, but not to this head

by | Oct 8, 2023 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

When it comes to hair, some men have a sense of adventure. I am not one of them. While others shave the sides, gather it in ponytails, or dye it blue, I am boring. Predictable. I have had the same haircut since college. You can compare photos of me today with those from my 20s and say, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he goes to the same hairstylist.”

Uh, actually, I do.

I bring this up only because of recent news articles citing the return of the “the perm” for men. Suffice it to say, I will not be getting one. I still have PTSD from the first time around.

Like many boys who grew up in the ’60s, hair has been an oversized focus for me. We began that decade with buzz cuts as tight as beard stubble. We ended it with hair down to our shoulders.

In between, we tried pretty much everything. The high pompadour that Elvis sported, the moptops made popular by the Beatles. The bangs in your eyes. The “parted in the middle.” The “long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratsy, matsy” versions that were celebrated in the musical “Hair.”

I mean, we made a musical about hair! What does that tell you?

Still, those styles were all about how short or long you cut it. The perm? That was something else. Popular in the ’70s, the perm was a process in which you sat in a chair for a long time while they used chemicals, rods and heat, until eventually your hair went from nice and straight to stupidly curly.

Mike Brady, the dad in “The Brady Bunch,” had a perm.

Need I say more?

How did this start back up again?

I remember when some of my high school friends got perms. It was bizarre. One day they had straight hair that followed the laws of gravity, the next day there was a feathery nest around their ears. It was often high and rounded. They looked like hairy ice cream cones.

Sometimes, the permed hair puffed out so far, you couldn’t fit a helmet over it. Other times the curls were so tight, I expected the guys to be wincing.

I suppose there were a few handsome men whose looks didn’t suffer from the perm. David Bowie tried one. George Harrison did, too. But even to them, the style looked phony. And most guys I knew just looked stupid.

So why on earth are they bringing the perm back?  Well, near as I can tell, it’s become huge in Korea, which somehow now sets the tone for pop culture. The “Korean Perm” is a real thing, defined by one website as “carefree, natural-looking waves that look so effortlessly chic.” 

And while it’s true, this new perm has come a long way from those wispy mops of the ’70s, still, in the famous words of Hall and Oates, I can’t go for that.

No can do.

But then, as I said, I am follicly boring. The truth is, back in college, when my male peers began pulling their bangs back to see if their hairlines were receding, I made a deal with the future. Let me keep my hair, and I’ll never do anything stupid with it, like get a mohawk.

So far, the future has kept its end of the bargain.

I have tried to do the same.

If it’s not broke …

This meant I passed up many fashionable waves. When men started slicking their hair back Gordon Gecko-style, I passed. When rock bands like Poison and Aerosmith teased their locks to neatly horizontal lengths, I stayed flat.

I never frosted my tips. Never went blond or purple. Never had a fade. Never did the undercut. A mullet? No thanks. Not even when all the Red Wings were wearing them. And a ponytail? Even a fashion-ignoramus like me could tell that was a bad idea.

I stood pat, watching my hairstylist named Laura go from single woman to married woman to mother of many kids. When she said she was leaving the salon to focus on her family, I begged her to keep cutting my hair. I wanted no change. So for decades, she has been coming to the house every few weeks to snip a style she could do in her sleep. Boring bangs pushed to the side, slight part, hair half-an-inch over the ears. I’d like to flatter myself by calling it “timeless.” The truth is, I’m too scared to change.

Especially to a perm.

Which reminds me of conversations I had with my father years ago. He, too, now that I think of it, wore the same hairstyle his whole life, if you can call it a “style.” He washed his hair, combed it straight back, and spayed it neatly in place, behind the ears, above the collar line. I would often say to hm, “Dad, why don’t you try something new?”

“Nope,” he’d say, reading his newspaper.

“But you could blow dry it.”


“Grow it longer.”


“Why not?”

He’d lower the page, and give a slightly annoyed look.

“Because I don’t need to,” he’d say.

I’m going with that.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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