Once upon a time, short-haired, clean-cut men ruled the pages of fashion magazines, celebrity photo spreads and glossy ads.
But then one day Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant grew out his hair into a glorious, hip Afro. Tom Cruise dazzled audiences in the 1999 film "Magnolia" with his long, unkempt hair. Women swooned over New York Knick Latrell Sprewell, who looked sexily bad with his tres cool cornrows.
And just a few months ago, the Backstreet Boys unveiled their new look, with two members projecting rugged manliness through their sleek, long Fabio-esque tresses.
Gentlemen, it appears the time has come to let your hair down -- or at least grow it out and attempt the unkempt.
For years, buzz cuts, shaved heads and neat, short trims dominated the fashion frontlines of men's hair. But those concepts of cool men's cuts are now so 1990s.
The new buzzwords in men's hair are big, long, tousled, edgy and seductively rebellious. And here's a tip: You're not going to inspire any of those descriptions with a short, choir-boy cut.
"The fashion world dictates so much about hair," said New-York-based celebrity stylist Eva Scrivo, whose clients include Bon Jovi and the Goo Goo Dolls. "Because of the whole resurgence of the '80s [in fashion], where rock and excessiveness was so prevalent, it made such a strong statement that it affected hair as well. The whole rock and roll, glam-punk and everything that was rocking strong in the '80s is coming back."
So you see Ricky Martin sporting longer locks that have a slight rocker feel and Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson with shoulder-length, feathered hair that's reminiscent of Rod Stewart.
"He looks the best he's ever looked," Backstreet Boys stylist Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig gushed about Richardson to Entertainment Weekly recently. "He's got a little bit of that Beatles hair, ... a bit of a shag."
Mitch Stone, a celebrity hair stylist with the Cloutier Agency in Los Angeles, said some musicians have been growing their hair out to alter their images.
"Longer hair is sexy, especially for a musician," said Stone, who styled members of 'N Sync and Metallica backstage during last year's MTV Movie Awards. "And boy bands automatically have a clean-cut image that they desperately have to get away from."
Sometimes, getting away from looking clean-cut involves embracing increasingly cross-culturally hip styles like cornrows and dreads. The new fashion dictum is that you don't have to be African-American to sport these styles.
'N Sync's Justin Timberlake, for example, showed up at last year's Cannes Film Festival with his shock of dirty-blond hair knotted down in chic cornrows. And new boy band O-Town made its debut last month with cool dreads framing the cherubic face of member Jacob Underwood.
"We live in a society now where people are more and more open, and men are just willing to try new things, to not be afraid," said Enzo Angileri, a Beverly Hills stylist who coifs Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg. "We get tired of things, and we want to experiment. And it's human nature to take things and revisit and revise."
The new Afro is different from the famed '70s style. Angileri noted that the Afros seen on singer Maxwell, Kobe Bryant and the numerous other NBA players who followed Bryant's lead are not as round or full.
The modern Afro is smaller and usually has more texture, is firmer and doesn't "fly around" so much, he said. And while the 1970s Afro was a powerful political symbol of black power and beauty, its millennial version usually is coiffed to convey cutting-edge chic.
But men also are growing an Afro or having cornrows or dreadlocks as a form of self-expression, said Jah Waterman, a hairstylist at Nappy by Nature salon in Baltimore's Mount Vernon.
"Some people want to be a non-conformist," said Waterman, who said she's noticed an increased interest in the past year in growing Afros and getting cornrows or dreadlocks or "going natural," as it's termed. "In most corporate places, where there is some sort of a dress code, for a lot of people their hair is not considered acceptable. One of their ways of rebelling is to go natural, like, 'This is the hair I was born with; you can't say it's unacceptable just because it's not what you deem as appropriate.' "
Eva Scrivo, who also styles non-celebrities in her Manhattan salon, said her clients now are willing to experiment with longer hair because different looks are more acceptable in their work environments. She said she's seen regular clients and businessmen growing their hair out in the past couple of months.
"The rules have changed, and things have lightened up a bit about what's acceptable now professionally," Scrivo said. "They'll maybe keep their sides and back a little bit shorter and groomed, but they'll leave more on top so they can brush it back during the day but let it kind of fall freely everywhere on weekends."