March 12, 1984 12:00 PM

Before: a preppy under a fluffy blond mane. After: a cross between a Marine, a Martian and a prison inmate. If that transformation sounds peculiar, better get used to it. Once worn only by punk rockers, close-cropped spiky hairdos have gone mane-stream; stylists on both coasts offer the zany cuts to secretaries, saleswomen and computer operators who rush in to lose their locks, sometimes paying up to $50 for the shear pleasure.

Men started the short-hair revival a few years ago, but the wilder dos on women cause more of a ruckus. “It’s an artistic expression of myself,” explains Nancy Carr, an L.A. singer and waitress with a whitewall cut (one side of her head shaved close and stringy braids on the other).

Some women opt for buzz cuts—crew cuts so short you can’t even run your fingers through them—because the look demands little care. More courageous types go for the survivalist, or postnuclear, cut made famous at Lance Strugar’s salon in Beverly Hills. The style features near-shaved heads with atomic mushroom clouds, berets, even Christmas trees patterned onto them. Flamboyant women also like blue, purple and—most popular of all—fire-engine red dye jobs on haircuts that resemble Mr. T’s Mandinka. Larry Furness of Hot Cuts International in Venice, Calif. designs a unique “shmo-hawk” (yes, it rhymes with…), a matrix of triangular bald spots cut into a crew cut that sometimes makes the scalp resemble a giant pineapple. “I think most of the cuts are very feminine, and they accent a woman’s face,” says one stylist at L.A.’s Michaeljohn Salon, where Julie Andrews was clipped for her role as a male impersonator in Victor/Victoria and about three similar styles are cut daily.

Not everyone agrees. “It’s just a phase,” says movie-star stylist Jose Eber. “Young girls do it to be eccentric, and it doesn’t always make them look good.” There are added drawbacks: Employers frown on the more extreme cuts, and a $20 to $30 trim is required every few weeks to keep the style in shape.

Surprisingly, many husbands and lovers don’t seem to mind the new style. “Once women realize that men love them for who they are, they come back and have it cut even shorter,” says haircutter Furness. Still there are holdouts. As one entertainment lawyer says of his girlfriend’s buzz cut, “It’s hideous. But I keep reminding myself that it’s only hair. Well, it used to be hair.”

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