The combover: A hairstyle that refuses to lie down

Anthony Burgess, Bobby Charlton, Robert Robinson
Image caption Kings of the combover (l-r): Anthony Burgess, Bobby Charlton, Robert Robinson

More a state of denial than a hairstyle, the combover is making an unlikely return, writes Ben Milne.

In American Hustle, a 1970s-set tale of scams and intrigue, we first see the main character, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), arranging and securing an elaborate weave of hair over his bald pate. It's an impressive feat, but it's clear to the viewer that this is a man for whom deception is a full-time business.

How times have changed. There was a time when public life was awash with men who pushed their hair uphill but did not yet attract ridicule. The late broadcaster Robert Robinson was a much-loved presenter of Call My Bluff and Ask The Family when TV critics - notably Clive James - started to draw attention to his hair loss. "Men's vanity is so different from women's," James later said. "Men tend to draw attention to their defects."

Image caption Christian Bale in American Hustle

There was the literary combover (Anthony Burgess), the sporting comb-over (Bobby Charlton) and of course countless politicians who dragged their hair, kicking and screaming, where it was not meant to go. Combovers were no obstacle to success in politics - they were in government as recently as the 1980s, although it should be noted that the parting was never ideological. Leon Brittan combed to the right (as it were), while miners' union leader Arthur Scargill took his combover (looking like "shredded wheat" according to James) onto the picket line.

But if one had to pinpoint a moment when the combover began to vanish, it would probably be when former Labour leader Neil Kinnock went naked on top. The decision was made, it appeared, in the interest of making Labour electable after almost a decade of Conservative government (not that it made a difference to Kinnock's ambitions).

Image caption Neil Kinnock: Before and after the combover

Donald Trump notwithstanding, the combover has been in decline ever since. We've seen hipsters resurrect the moustache and the bushy beard, but the combover is perhaps an ironic gesture too far. On the other hand, as hair stylist Huw Morgan says, "Cast your mind back five years ago and you wouldn't see side partings. They're ubiquitous again now, and that begs the question: when does a side parting become a combover?"

Are you proud of your combover? Send photos to with the subject line "combover".

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