Men embracing 'Boardwalk Empire' haircut

Los Angeles TimesJanuary 26, 2012 

  • If you're thinking about trying out the latest trend in men's hairstyles, here are a few pointers from the experts on how to do the 'do.

    What should I ask for?

    Some folks refer to it as an undercut. Others call it the Jimmy, the Darmody or the Michael Pitt. J.P. Mastey, who owns the Baxter Finley Barber & Shop, says requests even include "the haircut like the young guy with the limp on that old-timey HBO series." Although most barbers and stylists will probably know what you're talking about, Supercuts senior artistic director Melanie Ash offers a concise description: "Ask for a cut that's shorter through the sides, clippered up all the way, disconnected and left with length through the top." Or take in a photo of the style.

    How do I take care of it?

    The experts agree that using some sort of hair product is key, especially if the hair on top of the head is left as long - and swept back as dramatically - as that of Pitt's character. The cut's creator, Francesca Paris, uses American Crew's Grooming Cream to keep Jimmy Darmody's hair in place.

    How often should I come back?

    The rate at which hair grows varies from person to person (and even season to season, according to Mastey), but most men make a return clip trip every three to four weeks. A guy opting for the more extreme version of the Darmody - with the sides clipped quite short - should expect to darken the doorstep of his barbershop about every two weeks.

    What if I don't have the head (or hair) to carry it off?

    Michael Pitt could carry off the Darmody coif because it was specifically designed for him based on the men's hairstyles in vogue in the 1920s. But if your noggin doesn't make you a natural, a skilled stylist can still help you achieve a Prohibition-era vibe. "I can taper up the sides to give it a 1920s look, part it on the side and put a little bit of product in it," Mastey says. "You're going to look like maybe you could be a character on 'Boardwalk Empire,' but it just won't be Jimmy Darmody."

If the 20-something guy from the mailroom, your waiter at Mozza and hipster music moguls all seem to be sporting the same haircut - trimmed buzz-cut short on the sides, left long on the top and swept back from the forehead - it's not your imagination. It's "Boardwalk Empire." Or, more precisely, it's a throwback haircut from Prohibition-era America, reintroduced in all its dapper disheveled-ness by Michael Pitt's James "Jimmy" Darmody character on the Martin Scorsese HBO series.

Darmody met with an untimely end on last month's Season 2 finale, but those who ply the tonsorial trade report that the show helped make the retro-flavored 'do the coif du jour among millennial males.

"It's been a popular cut for a good nine months to a year now," says J.P. Mastey, founder of the Baxter Finley Barber & Shop on La Cienega Boulevard. "It started getting popular here around the middle of the (show's) first season. A lot of guys will kind of know who the character is even if they don't know his name." But, Mastey says, "We know exactly who they're talking about."

Supercuts' senior artistic director Melanie Ash has noticed the same thing over the last year and a half. "Most places around the country, the style is slightly less exaggerated," Ash says. "And the more severe James Darmody look is one we're seeing stronger in our major metropolitan areas where there's a little more high fashion. ... (Men in) Los Angeles, New York and Miami seem to prefer more of an extreme look, where it's much shorter through the sides and longer and more artsy on top."

It fit the character

The style perfectly suited Pitt's character - and for good reason, says the cut's creator, Francesca Paris, who is in charge of hair at "Boardwalk Empire." For the character of Jimmy Darmody, "I wanted to create something that was a little edgy, sexy and a powerful look, and when I was researching men's hairstyles of the day, I noticed that the popular style was shorter on the sides and longer on the top," Paris said. "I wanted him to have a James Cagney-esque look about him. But Michael (Pitt) has a natural boyish quality to his look and his hair is naturally wavy, and wavy hair tends to project a softer demeanor. So I immediately knew I'd have to straighten his hair to toughen his image."

Mastey and Ash give the show - and Pitt's character - props for bringing the style to the public consciousness, but they, and other industry observers, say there are also other factors at work. One is the current pop culture embrace of all things 1920s and '30s, as exemplified in films such as "The Artist" and "Hugo" and fashion for spring.

Another is simply where men happen to be in the pendulum swing of personal grooming. "I think part of the appeal is that for the last couple of years we've really been seeing a trend toward longer lengths and a little more of a scruffier look," Ash says. "And this is a very tailored, exact cut. It's very clean and sharp so it's a nice change."

It's not for everyone

It's not a coif every guy can pull off. "You've got to have the head shape and hairline for that (cut)," Mastey says.

When 20-something Kim Jong Un stepped into the limelight as North Korea's ruler a few days before the new year, it was hard not to notice his haircut: The sides were clipped short and the longer hair on top was slicked back a bit, and according to published reports, the barbershops of Pyongyang are abuzz with requests for what the North Koreans are calling the "youth" or "ambition" hairstyle.

Then again, perhaps they're all just fans of "Boardwalk Empire."

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