‘Having style’ can be elusive

Once in a while, someone writes about people “having style.”

This reference often deals with fashion but, usually, if you’re described as having style it probably has to do with more than clothing. It’s a look, a demeanor and an attitude.

Somehow style always seemed to elude me.

Style eluded everyone in the 1950s because anyone who didn’t look like the norm was considered weird. Being a “normal teenager” (an oxymoron anytime) in the 1950s meant wearing jeans, a cotton shirt, loafers, white athletic socks and, oh yeah, the jean legs and shirtsleeves were rolled up two laps. Everyone looked alike.

Then came Elvis and rock-n-roll and pink was in for a while. It was really cool if you had black or blue dress slacks with pink stitching on the seam, pink shirt, pink suede belt, pink socks and blue suede shoes. And, you guessed it, everyone looked alike.

In those years, the “in” guys had a regular haircut, a buzz cut or a flattop. The “hoods” wore their hair just long enough to comb back in ducktails.

During the turbulent 1960s, responsible dudes kept those Fifties coifs and the hippies felt the more hair the better — head and facial. Stone washed jeans, tiedyed shirts and sandals or really ugly tennis shoes were the order of the day for the non-conformists.

Somewhere in that decade, styling gel and hair spray for men were invented. Regular haircuts and short styles almost disappeared. Styled hair was the thing. So, I let my flattop grow out and got my hair styled. Shirts with button-down collars (the Ivy League look) were in as well. And, yeah, we square dudes still sort of looked alike.

Since I didn’t have a clue how to style my own in the early 1970s, I drove 30 miles to the edge of Houston to get my hair styled. I chose the wrong stylist. He was so busy discussing world events and, if I slightly disagreed, saying “Bet me!” that he used way too much heat and hair spray. He tried to make the front of my hair look like a gimme cap bill. All of that led to my hair breaking off in clumps and a complaint to James, the style salon owner. He promptly fired “Bet Me” and began trying to rehabilitate my hair so I could look like every other square.

James’ remedy for my hair was a perm. He said my hair needed a style that called for it being more “relaxed” with no use of gel, spray or heat. A perm?! That’s for girls and sissies, I wailed.

So, there I sat in the back of the shop, curlers in my hair, a plastic sheet tied around my neck while a “shampoo girl” applied the perm solution.

When the curlers came out ... well, it was easy to care for, but not style’s finest hour.

In those upside down 1970s, pastel-colored leisure suits and wild-patterned shirts with huge collars were the in look along with big chains and medallions hanging around your neck. We all wore white belts and white shoes. So, I looked like every other guy ... ugly.

Finally, I decided to look professional, wearing a coat and tie every day. In 1980, I grew, gasp!, facial hair. My mustache was solid black.

Through the 1990s, the “pro look” held sway and then in the new millennium styles became more relaxed and it wasn’t necessary to wear a coat and tie daily. The black mustache went through a salt-and-pepper transition And, yeah, I probably still looked like most guys my age.

Ultimately, ah, there was retirement.

It was back to basics — jeans six and a half days a week. The other half-day (church) calls for slacks, a nice shirt and, as weather dictates, a coat but rarely a tie.

The mustache is now snow white and the hair is, well, graying and relaxed.

And, often there may be an expression — tongue sticking out and a noise like Opus of the comic strip — “Bftsplk!” I’m retired!

Now I have style.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. Email him at

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2010-01-28 digital edition

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