Tag Archives: Desmond Morris

Human behaviour, Desmond Morris, and his comb-over

25 Dec
Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris sports a deep comb-over.

Desmond Morris, the famous British zoologist who wrote The Naked Ape, put together a six-part BBC series called The Human Animal: A Personal View of the Human Species during the mid 1990s, in an attempt to examine and explain human behaviour.

During the series, he explores humans as “hunting apes”, looks at our body language, genetics, and tackles the differences of the sexes. During part 6, Beyond Survival, Dr. Morris, the brilliant zoologist that has moved the study of body language further ahead than anyone else in history, says, “Every time we go out in public, we’re making complex statements about ourselves”. Dr. Morris is absolutely right, but his statement reeks of irony because he talks about complex visual statements while wearing a wicked comb-over.


Comb-overs, a ridiculous “style” that balding men create to cover their baldness was extremely popular during the 1970s, as I recall from childhood. The comb-over was so big that it was actually patented in 1977. The patent is officially 37 years old as of December 23, 2014, and was the brain-child of smooth-headed father and son team, Donald and Frank Smith. Below is the U.S. patent. Click on it to read the details about the Smith’s “invention”.

Comb-Over patent

comb-over illustrationThe patent info explains the correct way of covering your bald spot by “cross-hatching” (FIG. 6) three sections of longer hair and combing them over one another. Original illustration at right–it’s a dandy, isn’t it?

Instructions: “To begin with the subject’s hair must be allowed to grow long enough to cover the bald area, generally about 3 to 4 inches. Of course, the length of the hair will depend on the size of the bald area, for example, a person who is front to back bald, as in the illustrations of FIGS. 1, 2 and 3, will require more length than a person with a bald spot either in front or in back of the head. In addition, the particular hair style to be performed will dictate the required hair length.”

Can you imagine losing your hair and thinking that the best thing to do is to grow sections of your existing hair quite long, strategically comb it up to cover over your bald head, then paste it to your scalp or on top of existing strands with some sort of adhesive (probably hair spray) in an attempt to fool others into thinking that you still have your full head of hair? Only the wind could betray your clever ruse! It’s genius!

Just kidding.

Comb-over symbolism

“Wearing a comb-over is like sweeping your baldness under the rug; it’s still there,” says Jason Kearns of Toronto’s Kearns & Co. hair design.

Kearns began his professional life in the late 60s in swinging London, when hair, and everything else, was all about fun and free expression. He watched the music stars of the time mature and change–some of their hair left the building before they did, and grace didn’t necessarily follow. He says of an aging rock star like Robert Plant, “If the hair is long and you’ve got all of it, wear it.” Guys like David Crosby or Max Webster-era Kim Mitchell who have lost it all on top but keep the bottom long? “Cut it.”

Clumsy, fragile comb-overs are an attempt to camouflage or hide something; they may even induce suspicion. It was no surprise to hear Mr. Kearns say that men who do comb-overs have no sense of self and are probably clinging to their youth. I imagine it could be quite upsetting, even devastating for a man to lose his hair; it may be seen as the loss of youth and possibly a loss of strength, and therefore a blow to masculine identity (could all men have a Sampson complex?). But this belief is a choice.

Bald and bald alternatives

Perhaps it was the unforgettable Yul Brynner who made bald okay for the first time in the 20th century. Biography UK describes how Brynner’s bald head became his trademark: Yul Brynner

“For his role as the King of Siam [in the 1956 Academy Award-winning The King And I], Brynner shaved his head and following the success of the film, he continued to shave his head throughout his life but wore wigs for certain roles. This was an unusual and striking look for the time and became known as the Yul Brynner Look.”

While Brynner wasn’t bald, he was balding. Below left is a shot of the intense, Russian-born actor with a receding hairline; at right below, with a hair piece in his second bald role as Pharoah in The Ten Commandments. To my eye, he’s much more striking without hair.

Yul Brynner

Yul Brynner









As the 50s moved into the 60s and 70s, a fully bald head was still scary to people, but someone came up to the plate and made baldness sexy. Telly Savalas rocked the bald head in the early 1970s in his hit TV show, Kojak. Unlike Brynner, Savalas didn’t shave his head for any particular role–his hair loss was well under way, as seen at left in a screen shot from season two of The Untouchables (1961), when Savalas still had some hair. Compare that to the second shot at rightwhich is one attractive than the other?

Telly Savalis

Telly Savalas in an early episode of The Untouchables.

Telly Savalas

Savalas as bald-headed NYPD Detective, Theo Kojak.










So why did bald work for these two when so many other men at the time chose the comb-over? First, they’re both actors, and they’re already confident (I have read in my travels that actors and football players have the highest testosterone counts of all occupations). Second, once they took to the look, they “owned” their baldness and made it work for them. Third, they have good shaped heads that are in proportion to their bodies–this is important.

Shaving one’s head is definitely an alternative if a guy is losing his hair, but shaving your head bald isn’t for everyone. Why? Proportion. I have a small head and I notice that when I put my hair into a tight ponytail, my head looks smaller, and I look out of proportion. Men with small heads who intend to shave their lids should take heed of this; I often see (usually white) men walking around with tiny shaved heads perched above hunched shoulders, their expression embarrassed and apologetic. Just because you’re losing your hair doesn’t mean that you have to shave right down to the wood, fellas; instead leave a 1/8″ or 1/4″ of stubble to break up the visual expanse of skin, and avoid large collars and scarves that can make your head look even smaller.

Probably the most important thing around hair loss is acceptance. I discussed ways to deal with hair loss in my last post, but ultimately gentlemen, it’s all about embracing and making the best of yourself, not making an awkward attempt to hide what is gone and in the past. Jason Kearns says that baldness is a way for modern men to make their lives simple and to deal with hair loss with grace. He offers other alternatives to comb-overs and bald insecurity: “Instead of hiding your bare pate,” he says, “try to work with it and add accessories like interesting eye glasses or a neatly trimmed beard.”Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris said in the Daily Mail  in 2008 that the key to a long life is calmness. If you want a happy and long life, it’s best to relax about things you have no control over, including whether or not your hair will hold out. Don your look with grace, avoid the comb-over, and for goodness’ sake, have a sense of humour about it; it’s not the end of the world.

For a laugh, read this Cracked article: Inside the Mind of a Man With a Comb-Over.

The power of men’s shoulders

18 Oct

It has always been my opinion that a man’s strength lies in his shoulders. Whereas women’s bodies have two expanses – the shoulders and the hips that meet at the waist (the smallest point of a woman’s torso and what I think of as the point of our femininity), men’s shoulders are much larger, broader, and rounder, holding his power and displaying his magnificence.

Zoologist, Desmond Morris, said in his BBC series, The Human Animal,  that a man’s wide shoulders above a narrow  waist is considered the most appealing. This classical shape speaks of a strong, healthy, and masculine body, and men often wear clothes to draw attention to the breadth of their shoulders, exaggerating their size, and visually increasing their power.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Take football players for example. Their padding is there to protect their shoulders but also to magnify them. Football uniforms exaggerate a player’s small waist and wide chest and shoulders, undoubtedly to intimidate the opposing team with their size, strength, and power.

Albeit all of the protective equipment worn on the “battlefield” of the football stadium, these men are not in the mortal danger that underpadding was created for – protection from weapons.


Unfortunately, where there is disagreement, there are wars, and with wars come weapons. The use of weapons calls for protection, and throughout history, body protection has come in different forms – thick quilted fabric, leather armor, and metal armor, each type with its own kind of shoulder protection.

In Medieval times, armies and knights wore rounded, moveable metal plates called pauldrons, worn to protect the shoulders in battle. Over these rounded pieces, armored fighters wore a gardbrace to protect the shoulder of their free arm. Sometimes two gardbraces were worn with raised guards at the top to deflect blows to the neck.

Henry VIII’s already enormous frame was further exaggerated by his armor. He wore one gardbrace with a huge guard (sometimes in the form of large spikes) on one shoulder – as seen on the left. Also note the armored codpiece peeking out of the faulds of his breastplate – even in battle, never forget the King’s penis!

Read this interesting take on Henry’s enormous girth in Daily Mail UK.

In Japan, the Samurai tradition paid special attention to the shoulders of their costume. Real Samurai wore the sode, rectangular shoulder protectors made of iron or wood strips laced together with leather. These shoulder pieces were very large during periods when bow and arrows were used as main weapons, getting smaller as Japanese armies operated on horseback. (Source.)

For modern men who wish to don armor but don’t feel like carrying around 45 lbs of extra weight, I found a Korean designer on Etsy who has created a wool “armor” hoodie, complete with fabric pauldrons, and designed so the eye moves up to the powerful shoulders.

Even when not in battle proper, men’s shoulders have been excessively decorated to draw attention to this manly body feature.

Matador costume, Museum in Ronda Bullring Arena, Ronda, Andalusia, Spain

Before bullfighting was recently (and thankfully) banned in Spain, Matadors risked goring by bulls, but strangely, their costumes offered little protection from the hard horns of an angry bull.  These  costumes featured short pants, long stockings, and a beautiful jacket with hombrera, heavily decorated shoulder pads, again drawing attention to the virile Matador’s V shape.

Because there was such little protection for the bullfighter, I’m assuming that the gorgeous, heavily adorned costume was meant for show, drawing attention to the beauty of the Matador who received for his work not the spoils of war, but roses tossed out when the crowd was pleased with his performance.

Character shoulders

Wide, majestic shoulders can give a man the illusion of size, making him more imposing than he actually is. On film and on stage, wide, exaggerated shoulders speak of size and power in heroes and villains.

Hero types are often young and strong, like Thor of The Avengers. Thor’s power is displayed through  (the illusion of) his wide shoulders.

The actor underneath does not have particularly imposing shoulders, so the costume designer illustrates Thor’s power through the illusion of big, powerful shoulders in a V-shaped breastplate with an exaggerated cape growing out of it, drawing the eye to the girth of the breastplate and the colour of the cape instead of the width of the arm.

The power suggested by broad shoulders can add a touch of menace to a villainous character. Darth Vader is tall, dark, and broad-shouldered, cloaked in a large black cape to make him a very intimidating and imposing figure.

Orcs of Middle Earth have little patience for each other and strongly adhere to their hierarchical power structure. Like any other army, these horribly ugly Lord of the Rings creatures wear costumes that demonstrate their military position, and their the shoulder pads speak of their rank.

Here, the small, whiny foot soldier Orc wears what looks like bear fur shoulder pads on his cloak, decorated with what I’m guessing are pig’s teeth. Senior Orcs not only stand taller, but wear larger leather shoulder pieces for instant visual recognition of their rank.


Modern day armies flood into office buildings every day in their version of armor – the suit. Suits, with their padded, squared-off shoulders suggest credibility and authority, but suit shoulders can get out of hand – remember the 80s? Men and women wore suits with massive, jutting padded shoulders to exemplify power. While these magnificent expanses spoke of the wearer’s clout, they didn’t do much to frame the face – to0-wide shoulders diminish the head, giving visions of melons on teeter-totters.