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Dear Mr. Smith: I'm 40 and my hair is thinning in a pattern that displeases me. What factors should I weigh in deciding whether to shave it all off?

Indeed, there is nothing less attractive - and I mean really nothing, save perhaps bad teeth or a soup-encrusted beard - than Thinning Wispy Hair Man, the guy with the bald spot and the mullet, with the sparse fringe hanging over a gleaming forehead.

Comb-overs never fool anyone. Ponytails never fool anyone. When it starts to go, it's time to cut it short. Note that you don't necessarily need to shave it all off, but you do need to keep it very short. Bristles, not wisps.

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When do you know it's time? Well, a thinning spot on the crown or back of the head can be kept invisible for a while if you like a bushy head.

But it's the rising forehead that will be your undoing. Once you realize you are growing your bangs as long as you can to make up for a receding hairline, it's time for the buzzing clippers. (Set them to number two.) And don't be afraid of the complete shave either - baldness gives off a reek of testosterone that will practically impregnate any female standing next to you.

Even if you do happen to be one of those lucky guys whose locks continue to grow luxuriant well into middle age, be careful about showing it off. Beware of being the older guy with the wildly curly mane: You may want to look like the hip sociology professor who beds all his pretty graduate students, but then again you may not (his students post cutting things about him online).

And if your hair is still thick and you decide to grow it long, after the age of 40, you will then inevitably start to wonder if you should dye the grey out of it. Maybe jet black, like the rockers of your youth - and before you know it you look as if you're auditioning for Spinal Tap. Keep it neat and keep it grey. It's distinguished.

Ask Mr. Smith a question, or view the complete archive, at Russell Smith's online advisory service, XYCanada.com.

style@globeandmail.com

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