Class conscious

The quintessentially middle-class hairstyle for a man was to have the hair halfway over the ears: quite long hair, in other words, suggesting quite a bohemian person, but one still keen to be quite smart. Over the past couple of years, however, this look has gradually become untenable. The halfway-over-the-ears style has been exposed as the fudge that it is, and the pressure is on to have either very long hair or very short hair, preferably the latter.

All around me, halfway-over-the-ears blokes in their late thirties are going into the barber's (not the hairdresser, mind you, where they would have gone before, but the barber's) and asking the barber to get out his electrical shaver.

Before, in the salon, they would have given a whole series of complicated instructions - "Thin it out on top, but not too much, because I like it to go sort of back at the front, and trim it to half an inch off the collar . . ." - before concluding neurotically: "And tell you what, leave it about halfway over the ears."

Now, though, in the unfamiliar setting of the barber's shop, with its odd combination of condoms everywhere and Jimmy Young on the radio, they are simply enunciating a number. This number refers to the setting of the blade on the electrical razor: you might go for an eight, for example, or a six. The smaller the number, the shorter the hair, but it always ends up extremely short because the hair is being shaved.

This look has been pioneered by yobs. On Saturday nights, they spread a dollop of gel over their number fours or sixes, not to hold the hair in place - for it is so short that it is immobile - but to make it shine. The omnipresence of the style has gradually made middle-class blokes realise that the maxim they have held dear since the mid-Sixties - that it is quite cool to have quite long hair - no longer holds.

So, three Saturdays ago, I went off to have a number six (think Juan Pablo Montoya). When he had finished, the barber said: "Want some gel on it, sir?" "Why not?" I said. It would soon be Saturday night, after all.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A plan for the world