My Back Pages: On Being Bald in Summer

Author: Liam Farrell '04

Liam Farrell, alumni editor

When the sun finally makes its annual reappearance for spring in South Bend, there is much justified rejoicing. But when you are a bald man, the celebration is blunted by the challenges warmer weather brings to those with a cleaner pate.

I started losing my hair at the tail end of high school and beginning of college, so, entering the fourth decade of my existence, I’ve fully come to psychological grips with my dying follicles. That’s life; some of us have weight issues, some of us have bad eyesight, some of us are short, etc., etc. In the grand scheme of life’s random assortment of ills, I’ve seen worse fates than not being able to grow a hairstyle that would fit in on a lacrosse field.

So about six years ago, I took the situation into my own hands and just started getting all my hair buzzed off. I thought, “Look at me, taking control of the situation. Take that, nature.” As someone who does care about how he looks, a fuzzy head and beard topped with some hipster glasses felt like it would blend in well with my Nantucket professor style. And, lo and behold, research has shown that bald heads are associated with power and authority — not a bad side effect for a writer.

Oh, but I underestimated Mother Nature. You learn quickly that she punishes you for such a transgression.

You never quite forget the first time that hot water in the shower hits a sunburned head. And as an Irish American, my head seems particularly well-suited to getting roasted even on the shortest of walks in the summertime. Don’t even try to exercise without something on your head, either. Eyebrows are poorly suited to dealing with sweat from a basketball game, and good luck hitting a shot when your eyes start stinging. (Note: the fact that Michael Jordan played his entire career without wearing a sweatband and still retains his vision is his greatest achievement.)

This brings me to the greatest issue facing bald men, particularly those who wish to be considered stylish bald men, today. If you would rather not smell like sunscreen all day, the solution to most of these problems — hats — has been ruined. John F. Kennedy eschewing a hat is generally seen as the starting gun for their decline, but it must have mirrored broader trends (f one person had that much power, Clark Gable’s It Happened One Night performance would have been able to totally kill off undershirts). Their lack of popularity these days has rendered it impossible to wear a more formal hat, like a fedora, without being tagged as trying to make a statement, a peacock flouting about in a sea of his own self-worth and post-modern superiority.

But what can you do if you’re bald and wearing a suit in the beaming sunshine?

Last summer, my beleaguered wife accompanied me on a trip to try and find a hat that would protect my head and coordinate with my office rigs without simultaneously making me look like a commentary on conformity. I eventually bought an inexpensive panama hat because it was the best of all the bad options.

Now, I am undoubtedly known, or will be known, somewhere on Notre Dame’s campus as “That Guy in the Panama Hat” or “That Guy Who Thinks He’s Hunter S. Thompson.” Yes, I am in fact a guy in a panama hat, who doesn’t like Hunter S. Thompson but who is trying to avoid getting sunburned walking from the Eck Center to Grace Hall. It is probably the least ironic I ever do.

There has been a slight opening for baseball hats in fashionable circles, as a younger set reconsiders what is known as “geezer style” and finds wearing one with a blazer and tie to be winkingly acceptable. From time to time, I have done this, especially in the fall and spring. Sans suit or tie, I will often don a replica 1947 Newark Bears hat, which is retro and clean enough to be all right with khakis and a blazer, and it’s a nod to my family’s roots in that city.

Some occasions, however, need more.

On behalf of bald, aspiring stylers everywhere, I beg those of you with hair: please, leave the hats to us. You can play dress up with tuxedos or spats or collar pins or whatever else, but while you’re trying to look like Gatsby, I’m just trying to not end up looking like a lobster.

Liam Farrell is the alumni editor of this magazine. Email him at