UK: Vital signs - A high price toupee - How far is too far? What helps build careers and what is still only ...

UK: Vital signs - A high price toupee - How far is too far? What helps build careers and what is still only ... - Vital signs - A high price toupee - How far is too far? What helps build careers and what is still only for crazed Californians?

by PETER YORK.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Vital signs - A high price toupee - How far is too far? What helps build careers and what is still only for crazed Californians?

Tempting though it was to say to Robbie, 'nice teeth' or, more pointedly, to ask 'how much?' I wasn't sure he wanted me to mention it.

They are terrific, though - a whole mouth rework, tremendously neat, lovely colour. He'd had a jumble of misalignments before, with ill-matched cheesy crowns. And here we were in LA personal grooming territory. Robbie's firm does very well, working on the cusp where IT meets creative media, and he obviously thought it was worth £12,000-£15,000 to help him look the part.

Gavin is a 'suit' in advertising, a young person's game. But he's not the owner and must be in his late forties - though well turned out. I met him in the street one day and, after we'd done our small talk and passed on, the woman I was with said, 'He's overdone the auburn, don't you think? Why do men dye their hair so badly?' When I next met him, I stared discreetly and could see what she meant. Now I see them everywhere - ordinary men who, for primarily economic reasons, dye their hair.

There's more where that came from, much more. All sorts of strange things to do with hair, sticking more on (wigs, weaves and extensions), or in (grafts, implants and the like). Then there's major intervention: two-stone-off-in-a-day liposuction, manly implanted chins of silicone, raised and tightened faces. Like so many things once considered un-British, it's all becoming increasingly common, almost ordinary.

But it's still different for guys. A senior woman told me how a conversation goes in her set. 'We'll be having lunch and my girlfriend will say: 'It's been an hour and you haven't said a word - what d'you think?" Then they'll have a jolly half-hour discussing the new collagen lips, re-arranged breasts, discreet eye-bag removal or whatever. It's part of life's rich pattern.

Regular guys don't do that. They think their motives will be questioned, so it goes no further than their wives (who often suggest it in the first place).

How far is too far? What helps build careers and what is still only for crazed Californians?

Of course, there are no absolutes but it seems to me that it must make sense to right some distracting natural wrong if the solution isn't going to be worse than the problem.

Teeth, for instance. While I think it's pointless to turn pleasant, slightly irregular teeth into shiny tombstones, a hellhole caused by neglect or sporting accidents might be worth some reorganisation. And if you had a set of artless cheapo acrylics put in 20 years ago, it's worth investing in a good set. More broadly, if you have spectacular moles or birthmarks that are removable, or a nose flattened by teenage boxing, then why not do something if you really hate them?

It's when you get to artistic improvements designed to take years off your appearance that it becomes tricky. It's not a moral difficulty but one of execution, manners and aesthetics.

Take hair dyeing. It's been universally OK for women for over 20 years - the point being not that it should look natural, but that it should look nice. Men still want theirs to pass for real, partly for macho reasons but more for economic reasons (the hard sell of men's hair colouring on TV is unequivocally about looking younger, holding on to a job or, crueller still, not embarrassing your children by looking like their grandfather).

As someone with about 30% salt to pepper, I look at these ads with mounting interest. But the reality is still so awful and ill-matched - fried 1940s auburn, frizzled yellow - that it's aesthetically unthinkable, apart from anything else.

Wigs don't work either. They look distracting and come in dumb styles their owners would never have allowed when they had hair. Instead, a no.1 shave, once the hallmark of psychopaths, escaped prisoners and graphic designers, is now an acceptable, indeed modern alternative for the balding.

As for the rest, be careful. Talk it out, certainly with your wife or companions, but also with your real friends. People are cool about these things now. They won't argue you out of it if they think your bloodhound jowls or turkey neck spell economic suicide but they will dissuade you from that obsessive self-improvement that only men seem to go in for.

Take the late-fifties plasterer featured in a recent BBC documentary After costly hair-grafting that left him in debt, he's saving for Kenny Rogers-style liposuction and a face-lift. They may enhance his chances at the local dance hall but they certainly won't make him a captain of the building industry.

Peter York, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing director of consultants SRU, e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk.

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