George Gobel, move over.
The crew cut, that close-cropped, no-nonsense look that turned men's scalps into peeled nectarines three decades ago, is rearing its stubbled head for a fashion comeback.
"Fifteen, 20 years ago, all the kids were growing their hair long," says "Tino," owner of Backstage Hair Designers in Bethesda. "Now they're getting crew cuts."
But just as parents who fought a losing battle to keep their kids' hair short in the Age of Aquarius, when the main form of communication in some households was reduced to the three words: "Get a haircut," some parents now are battling to keep their kids' hair long.
"One kid was in here last week who wanted a crew cut and his mother talked him out of it," says Frank Tropea, owner of Tropea's Barber Shop on Connecticut Avenue.
"Generally speaking, the parents aren't for it," says Sal Impellizzeri of Bethesda's Continental Hair Cutters. "My nephew got one and he got yelled at. The parents are conservative. They want it longer."
But the kids are winning. Call it a "Buzz," "Brush," "Flat Top," "Philly" or "Skin Head." The cut by any other name would be as short.
"It's something relatively new," says Ivan Eaton, owner of the Esquire Barber Shop in Northwest, who says he is seeing more teen-agers -- black and white -- adopting the look. "The trend is definitely short hair now."
Some say the economy -- the rising cost of hair-care products, blow dryers and frequent $25 "stylings" -- has sent the teen-agers back to the barber chair where an old-fashioned flat top -- minus the Butch wax or Dixie Peach pomade -- costs about $5.
"I also think it's because of the military coming back into prominence," says Impellizzeri. "Kids are seeing a lot of military stuff on TV."
Not to mention the movies, where Richard Gere's and Lou Gossett's shaved heads in "An Officer and a Gentleman" may do for crew cuts what Brando did for T-shirts.
Others point to punk rockers and the gay community as arbiters of the new style. Impellizzeri believes it might be politics. "If we had another conflict like Korea," he says, "it could really come back."
"It's a style," says Charles Stinson, co-owner of Charles The First hair salon on Connecticut Avenue who says he gets four requests a week for crew cuts, one of them recently from a woman. "People need change." Stinson is planning a Flat Top Festival later this month to cash in on the fad and may even crew-cut himself, a style the 43-year-old hairdresser remembers fondly from his college days. "It's a renewal. It's like a cleansing. It gives you a fresh new start."
Milton Pitts, White House barber, thinks the Reagan administration is responsible for the return of the crew cut. "That certainly fits into it. They are conservative." Pitts, who claims to have introduced the first flat top to Washington 20 years ago, says he cut Ronald Reagan's hair Tuesday night and told the president of the new trend toward conservative coifs. "He thinks it's great," Pitts says, adding that the last crew cut in the White House belonged to Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman.
Will Reagan exchange his pompadour for a crew cut?
"Oh no, of course not," says Pitts. "He wouldn't look good in one."
Whatever the reason -- economy, politics, fashion or fad -- barbers who went broke during the blow-dry period of the last two decades are thanking their lucky shears.
"Thank God for the barbershops," sighs Oden Linger, owner of Frenchy's Barber Shop in College Park, near the University of Maryland, where students have been taking to the shorter look. "I hope it continues. Instead of walking to work, I might be able to afford a car."
"Most of the barbers were put out of business during the '60s," says John Taylor, owner of John's Barber Shop in Chevy Chase. "The Beatles. The Vietnam war. It really chopped the barbers up good."
Now, Taylor says teen-age boys come in six or seven at a time, asking for the desert look. "They want to be different. A lot of the boys have never seen flat tops and crew cuts before. There's not many barbers left like myself who can do that kind of work."
Oden Linger thinks the new look is "definitely macho," which is why football players and other athletes like to run their fingers through peach fuzz that would make Johnny Unitas proud.
"I got a flat top because I'm in a lot of sports," says 11-year-old Ben Breeze, a student at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda. "I perspire a lot. I feel cooler with it."
His mother, Kathy Breeze, unlike other parents who find the look too extreme, approves. "The kids don't like long hair anymore," she says. "I don't know whether it's a passing fad or not."
Yesterday, Ben Breeze and his classmates Patrick McKelvey and Ross Richmond stood outside the school building, wetting down and brushing up their crew cuts. "I did it because a lot of other people were doing it," says McKelvey, licking his fingers and running them over his light brown hair. "My friends like it, but my sister says, 'Yeccchh.' "
Linda Richmond, who says her son pays $6 every two weeks to maintain his crew cut, says, "It makes them feel so macho." Richmond, who recently drove to Rockville to buy her son a special crew cut comb, rolls her eyes. "It's crazy, isn't it?"
"I think some of them started as a fad in school," says Paul Darroch, owner of the Wildwood Manor Barber Shop who says he recently had 10 teen-agers on one day asking for crew cuts. "Then really young kids started getting it. We've had quite a few of them." Darroch says the new trend toward shorter hair is good for business but takes more time than a shag or over-the-ear trim. "The flat top is hard work," he says. "There's no room for mistakes."
Camille Duhe, grooming editor of Gentlemen's Quarterly, says the monthly fashion magazine is endorsing the new look. "It may be a fad, but it's one that makes sense for a change." The crew cut, he says, "is a look that never really goes away for very long. They're so much easier to deal with. I think we've pretty much seen the end of long hair for a while."