Before You Adopt Justin Bieber’s Hairstyle, Stop and Read This

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Aug. 24 2014 11:22 PM

Are You Man Enough for the Cockatiel?

Four things to know before adopting the wildly popular hairstyle.

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Mustache, earrings, and sunglasses optional.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Zayn Malik from One Direction has one. Soccer star Olivier Giroud has one. (What style-conscious European footballer doesn’t?) Justin Bieber and Tilda Swinton each have had one for a while. In fact, the first time I asked my barber to cut my hair in this style, I requested “a Bieber-Tilda”: You know, shaved on the back and sides, and foofy and floppy on top.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Bieber-Tilda notwithstanding, the fact remains that, despite its exploding popularity, there is no official name for this hairdo. It’s not a fauxhawk. It’s more than a Hollywood pompadour. It could be a “Stan Laurel,” but it happens not to be, and the reference is a tad old-school for such a youthful do.

My husband, a devotee of this cut, feels he has solved the problem by dubbing it “the cockatiel.” Since cockatiel is more appetizing than the more obvious toilet brush, I will adopt it for the duration of this article.

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So, why cockatiel, why now? Should you take the tonsorial leap? Are you man enough to suffer the slings and arrows and cream pies that may greet you while sporting this radical style?

Before you get the chop, I should alert you to the potential downsides.

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Barbara Freiberga / iStock

Firstly, once cockatiel’d, you may well find yourself accused of having become a sad, desperate, middle-age raver who is way too old for his haircut. When this happened to me, I neutralized the naysayers by pointing out that Samuel Beckett had a cockatiel, even into his 80s, and he rocked those towering tresses like Zoolander. The cockatiel, in other words, is not age-dependent. All you need are the functioning follicles.

Secondly, those with curly hair should think twice before going cockatiel. Though costly and time-consuming, it is possible to straighten the tressy component that adorns the top of your head. (See Little Richard’s magnificent towering bouffant.) However, one rainstorm and you could end up looking like Don King, or Jack Nance from Eraserhead.

Thirdly, and more disturbingly, the adoption of a cockatiel, with its shaved back and sides, will force you to confront long-buried scars and their attendant traumas.

Allow me to relate a horror from my past: Once upon a scorching English summer afternoon, I was blackberry picking with my Uncle Ken when we were forced to navigate a barbed-wire fence. Tall Uncle Ken climbed over it. Then he wordlessly held up the lower expanse of wire, thereby indicating to me that I should crawl gingerly under it. For reasons best known to my 9-year-old self, I chose to run full tilt through the temporary aperture, lacerating my scalp in the process.

Everyone blamed Uncle Ken for the carnage, assuming he let go of the wire prematurely. (Uncle Ken, I should mention, was paranoid schizophrenic, lived mostly in the twilight zone, and, as a result, was easily scapegoated.) Even though I knew that he was innocent, I, like the young amoral asshole I was, kept my trap shut and let poor, bewildered Ken take the rap.

The cross I bear for this horrible injustice is a blemish across the back of my head that is now, post-cockatiel, highly visible. The sight of it fills me with weltschmerz.

One final drawback to consider before taking the plunge: head shape. According to my barber, Mr. Johnny Gaita, “Pea-heads can be challenging, but the worst is guys with giant pan-heads. It ends up looking like a toupée resting on a beach ball.”

“But that’s me, isn’t it?” I said, reviewing my freakishly massive head in the mirror at Johnny’s place of employ, the Chris Chase Salon of NYC.

Johnny fielded my response with commendable diplomacy: “Oh, no. You are more borderline pan-head.”

As the cockatiel becomes ever more mainstream, I look forward to seeing how elitist early adopters handle the democratization of their mop style. Since the cockatiel consists of a shaved back and sides and a thick, bushy top, it is logical to expect that the hair revolutionaries of tomorrow, once they turn their backs on the cockatiel, will opt for a lustrous back and sides with nothing on the top. Friar Tuck meets Linda Eastman. Remember Dave Hill, the lead guitarist for the glam-rock band Slade?

In the meantime we need a great name. If you can improve on “the cockatiel,” please fling your suggestions onto the comments.

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

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