Editor’s note: Fifteen years ago, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned heads when he cut his hair — or more specifically, trimmed off the comb-over that had been mocked for many years. Our fashion critic Robin Givhan penned a thoughtful essay that fall commending the pol for this brave move, and we publish it today  — oh, for no particular reason. Why, did you think something made us think of this?


By Robin Givhan
Friday, September 13, 2002

The world’s most famous comb-over has vanished. New York’s former mayor Rudy Giuliani has at last given in to baldness, allowing his naked scalp to rise — unashamed — from a ring of smooth, graying fringe.

The public debut of this more flattering hairstyle was Tuesday, at his mother’s funeral in Brooklyn. But his unabashed baldness was revealed to the wider world on Wednesday, when Giuliani made a series of television appearances and read from the list of the dead at the memorial ceremony held at the World Trade Center site.

The comb-over was no more unattractive on Giuliani than it is on the legions of men who use it in an attempt to conceal the obvious. But Giuliani’s comb-over had reached mythic proportions as it was memorialized in comedy bits on virtually every television network and in countless caricatures. One can only assume that its disappearance will send shock waves ricocheting from the studios of “Saturday Night Live” to the corner barbershop. This is hair news on the level of a Matt Lauer crew cut, a George Clooney Caesar, a Justin Timberlake buzz.

The former mayor hasn’t gone to the extreme of rubbing pomades into his sparse but now well-coiffed hair. He simply but dramatically has shaken off the image of a door-to-door salesman with an affinity for Sansabelt slacks, black socks with shorts and the short-sleeve dress shirt — the garment industry’s great oxymoron.

Embracing the hairstyling standard of all savvy, self-aware and balding men — Sean Connery, Bruce Willis — he has stopped growing long and parting low. Now his dark suits and crisp white shirts have an enhanced, self-confident aura, a Robert Duvall-meets-Ed Harris elegance. Giuliani, 58, is knocking at the door of handsome. Already the compliments are rolling in.

Who was his stealth stylist? And what was Giuliani’s motivation: a little pestering from his style-conscious lady friend Judith Nathan, one wisecracking comedian too many, an honest self-assessment in front of the mirror, or a general longing for a fresh start?

According to Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel, “The mayor has been extremely busy in the last five days and he combed his hair quickly like this one morning.” His lady approved. And what man needs more than that?

Yet simply slipping off the almost always pedestrian cloak of public office can brighten a politician’s look.

The demands of public office pressure politicians to strive for the middle of the road in attire and nonchalance in grooming. Their clothes may be high-quality and well made but they do not necessarily enhance the body inside. So often it seems that politicians only sneak glances into a mirror when they think no one is watching, or they avoid them altogether. Style is not, and to some degree cannot be, their forte. They excel at unremarkable awkwardness. They take pride in their unfashionableness.

When these folks leave office, they bear the scars of stress and worry. A few never recover and continue down a slippery slope that leads to jelly doughnuts, bursting seams and stained ties. Most hold the line, unable to move beyond the staid appearance that was so reassuringly inoffensive to voters. A few uncover an inner aesthete.

When Bill Clinton appeared on “The Late Show With David Letterman” Wednesday night, he displayed a keen post-White House sartorial savvy. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and sapphire tie, he looked particularly dashing — as well as rested. Not enough can be said about the grooming benefits of a good night’s sleep.

And instead of looking like a street fighter selling used cars on the side, Giuliani has polish and dash. An out-of-office makeover doesn’t rewrite history, but at least in the final chapters, the pictures will be better.