I am man enough to admit that I am not as pretty as Jared Leto. And I think it’s safe to say that at this year’s Oscars, no one was. The man floated onstage like a Warped Tour Jesus: glorious, celestial, sexually transcendent.
That hair. The flowing ombré fade that launched a thousand stylist appointments. And while undeniably perfect on Leto, it’s not exactly a look that mere mortals can just … pull off.
But why not? What was to stop me, a 24-year-old comedy writer with a below-average Tinder match ratio, from going against the grain and actually rocking that shit?
I do improv. I get anxious a lot. I don’t exactly radiate packed-stadium-level pheromones of undeniable fuckability. But when the Cut asked me to wear Jared Leto hair for a week, I decided to throw reality to the wind and see how I’d do in a beautifully handcrafted, 100 percent Full Baby Hair ombré Leto look-alike wig.
Every morning I carefully secured it over a wig cap with the help of double-sided tape. I brushed it, twisted it in strands, and treated it with expensive sprays. And according to Michael Angelo, the aptly named creator of this masterpiece and founder of Wonderland Beauty Parlor in the Meatpacking District, I looked fabulous.
“Can I be honest? I think I like you better with the wig.”
It did look shockingly real. So I ventured out into the world, to meet the same adoring public that flocks to Leto’s feet. My first commute to work was harrowing, a true test of my social anxiety. I got looks. Lots of them. On the street, on the subway, everywhere.
I sheepishly read my Kindle on the 3 train, clutching my messenger bag in my lap, trying to avoid adjusting the wig or making eye contact with the elderly lady staring at me over her copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Once at the office, I expected my co-workers at CollegeHumor, hardly an uptight bunch, to support me. “If I saw you on the street, I would hate you,” said one co-worker. Another called it “an aggro statement of wealth and power that screams I’m going to walk around looking this pretty and no one can stop me.”
Daytime proved to be a disaster pretty much across the board. But I soldiered on with my day-to-day life. I worked, ran errands, ate dinner with friends at Umami Burger and Westville — friends who did their best to play along, not laugh, and be on constant alert for wig slippage, should I need to quickly Mrs. Doubtfire my way to the bathroom.
The thing grew very, very irritating. It itched, it shifted, it made me feel truly, irredeemably weird. But the weekend was just around the corner, and I knew I had to muster up some confidence. I would need to dance, flirt, and move like Jared.
So I Leto-fied my clothes as best I could (i.e., put on a dumb jean jacket), and primped. Newly determined after sundown and pumped up by the killer jams on 30 Seconds to Mars’ thought-provokingly titled album LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS, I hit the town.
My first stop was the Williamsburg beer hall Spritzenhaus. Two cute girls sat at the bar, nursing glasses of wine. After the guys hitting on them finally gave up and split, one of the girls leaned in toward me.
“Excuse me, why are you wearing a wig?”
“… Uh, I’m not.”
“Yes you are, we saw you adjusting it. Just so you know — we thought it was real, and defended you.”
“Those guys approached us and said, ‘Hey, don’t you think that guy’s hair fuckin’ sucks?’ And I said, ‘No, he just seems like a fancy man.’”
I quickly realized that fanciness does not necessarily bring with it actual interest.
My next stop was the dark, packed basement of Union Hall in Park Slope, where I struck up conversation with some strangers, one who seemed so thoroughly creeped-out after looking at my hair that she refused to even make eye contact.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a drunk young fellow in a knitted cap, who had just been onstage for karaoke, wailing away to “P.Y.T.” “Bro, sorry to interrupt — can I just say, I see you keep touching your hair … Don’t. You’re killing the look.” He said I was giving off a cool androgynous vibe that made me seem like a real individual, even a jack-of-all-trades. I don’t get that a lot.
Now bloated with pride, I expressed discontent at the lack of attention my look was getting from women. “Man, head to Meatpacking,” he said. “They’ll eat you right up.”
So that’s what I did. The following night, I went full Leto. I suited up in black jeans, a V-neck, a black suit jacket, and a woman’s scarf. By then my stubble had grown in nicely. I knew this was my night to shine.
And so, burdened with purpose like Frodo to Mordor, I trudged toward Le Bain, the chic rooftop club of The Standard hotel. Once past the velvet rope, I quickly realized I’d found my people. I received zero odd looks. I blended right in, and for the first time that week, I felt downright wonderful.
I made my way to the line for the unisex bathrooms, where a blonde woman in a pink dress looked up from her iPhone and gave me the once-over. “Oh my God, I love your hair. I’m, like, jealous. Actually.”
She was not the only one. At the bar, I started talking with a very pretty biology grad student. She touched my arm. “I like your hair.”
I was terrified and exhilarated. What the hell was I going to do, hook up with her?! Wouldn’t that make me a fraud, a creep?! We migrated to the couches. I swallowed my fear and desperately kept talking — about the club, the skyline, anything. Then she brought up the hair again. “Seriously, I love your hair, you look spectacular. But then again, I don’t have my contacts in.”
That explained that. She then pointed out that she too had an ombré fade, though not as vibrant as mine. I mentioned that it seemed a far more common look among women than men.
“Yeah, but it takes balls for a guy to rock the ombré. You seem like a man who knows what he wants.”
Well, she did too, and it wasn’t me. Ten minutes later, she was making out with a tall, waifish French man. I moved onto the dance floor.
There, rebuffed by any and all potential dance partners (I was used to it by this point), I simply boogied down on my own. What did I care? The moment — that club, that dance floor, that hair — was delicious.
I then saw a man in his mid-50s stumbling through the crowd toward me.
“’Scuse me, do you have any rolling papers?” he slurred in a British accent.
“I don’t, I’m sorry.”
He grabbed my hand, twirled me, and leaned into my ear.
“Now, now. Don’t you look well pretty.”
I was ready to leave.
The next morning, I got brunch in a man-bun. I tied it low and loose. People left me alone. No one stared, no one laughed. I was hungover, and actually beginning to feel human again.
And that was that. I wanted out. It was the taste of freedom that I needed. I never wanted to see Jared Leto’s stupid flowy lady hair again. The look did not work for me at all. And by that point, I didn’t want it to.
I wanted to look boring, average, decent, whatever. I wanted to look like me.