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The New Curls for Boys – Man Perms

By Joie Goh

The original curl-spiration, Kit Harington's Jon Snow.
HBO Asia
The original curl-spiration, Kit Harington's Jon Snow.

On the recent seasons of “Game of Thrones”, there’s been an ironic reversal of trends: post-resurrection, Jon Snow traded in his curly bob for a pulled-back man bun (arguably 2015’s most popular hairstyle). However, in the real world, apparently inspired by the secret Targaryen heir’s early-season mop of curls, trend-conscious men have been chopping off their topknots and reaching for the curlers and perm solution instead.

The man perm, or merm, has seen its popularity crest and dip over the past several decades, with far more, and far longer dips than crests for good reason — it’s a notoriously hard look to pull off. With the wrong cut, product or curl pattern, one could wind up more Richard Simmons than Richard Madden. And since most men tend to have less commitment to the length of their hair than women, a bad perm is often trimmed off as soon as regret hits.

While one might assume that curly hair would suit European features better, since Asians are more genetically predisposed to stick-straight hair, Ken Hong, salon director at Evolve Salon, waves off the notion. “With the right styling, Asian men can pull off permed hair,” he says, and adds that male celebrities from South Korea and Japan, and not Hollywood actors, have served as perm inspirations for local men.

“A common mistake I often see, is perming the curls too tightly,” says Hong, who receives several perm requests from male clients on a weekly basis. “That, paired with a bad cut and using too much product, often result in disaster.”

TOP Photo CorporationJapanese actor Takumi Saito.
Japanese actor Takumi Saito.

Instead, Hong advocates a looser perm (“Most K-pop stars have S-shaped curls, not ringlets.”) and virtually no styling products at all, so that the curls and waves look as natural as possible. A foolproof haircut to show off the perm, he adds, is one that’s at least eyebrow-length on top, with the sides and back cut very short, or even buzzed off like an undercut. “The important thing is to have volume at the roots and top,” he says. “Without product to weigh the hair down, and with short sides and back, the illusion of volume is created.”

TOP Photo CorporationSouth Korean actor Lee Jin-wook.
South Korean actor Lee Jin-wook.

And even with the right cut, product and curl pattern, it’s also entirely up to the individual to make or break the look with his outfit and attitude. “I would look at how they dress, where they work, and what kind of haircut the client has before designing the right perm and style for him,” Hong says. “After that, it’s really not so much about the  technicality of the perm, like whether it’s a Korean perm, or a ceramic one. In fact, I prefer to use the traditional cold perm because it gives me greater control over the size and direction of the curl.”

Contrary to belief, a perm isn’t as high maintenance as coloured or bleached hair. Styling product-wise, Hong suggests a dab of curl cream to control frizz and humidity — anything more is overkill. And since men have oilier scalps than women, special shampoos formulated for permed hair aren’t necessary. “Just use regular shampoo,” he says nonchalantly. “Remember, you need volume at the roots, and if your scalp is too oily, your hair will look limp, and that just looks bad.”

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