In the past, men have pretended that they were not much concerned about their appearance, and this was particularly emphasised when it came to hair. However, in an age when the differentiation between the genders becomes increasingly blurred, men have followed their sisters into all manner of personal adornment. In Ghana, over the second half of the twentieth century, this trend threatened to lessen the dominance of natural tonsorial styles and persuaded some to find self-expression in the full range of more manipulative means of hair control.
During most of the period under review, men in Ghana’s cities and towns continued to be much more at ease with their natural hair than their womenfolk. Most men were content to pay a more-or-less regular visit to the barber to maintain the length of their hair within prescribed limits and, in the interim, to rely on a broad-toothed comb of traditional design to maintain a minimal degree of order. Some professionals, it is true, maintained a parting in an aped version of the style of the former colonial masters, but this was perhaps the limit of what was then achieved by purely tonsorial attention. The days of shaved heads, and especially of patterned shaving lay further in the future.
The first sign of the feminisation of men’s hair styles came with what was known as Rasta. This was the adoption of plaiting, with or without extensions of synthetic fibres, to produce long hanging plaits, rats’ tails, dreadlocks or more properly just ‘locks.’ Associated with the Rastafarian religion, mostly practised along the coast in the south, Rasta originally came to Ghana from Jamaica. Rasta hairstyles seem to vary widely in quality, from the almost totally unkempt to freshly re-plaited elaborate creations that would grace a female head. However, the general recollection of the last century is that Ghanaian Rastas were relatively few in number. They may be more common today as a Rastafarian Council was founded in Ghana in 2009.
When discussing men’s hairstyles it is impossible to neglect the topic of balding, hair loss that afflicts many men and often in their prime. Through most of the twentieth century Ghanaian men took baldness in their stride with jokes about ‘TVs’ and ‘motorways’ depending on the shape of the bald patch. In general, they left the tufts of remaining hair untouched except for the routine attention of a barber administering standard ‘short-back-and-sides.’ The fashion of ‘some-off, all-off,’ which has swept across the Western world in recent years, was almost unseen in Ghana before the end of the millennium.
With advances in chemical processing, and in particular with the introduction of less-burning and painful potions, some young men are bravely submitting themselves to the periodical ordeal of permanent waving, or permanent straightening as it should be called in Africa. However, this is a development of the new millennium and was little in evidence in the twentieth century. Overall, it must be said that Ghanaian men proved themselves to be much more conservative than their sisters in accepting change and becoming followers of fashion. This applied to hair styling as much as to clothing. Whether they were wisely content to stick with what they considered to be most cost-effective, or were stubbornly denying themselves full self-expression, is a matter of personal opinion.