If Your Locks Could Talk: The Symbolism of Hair

by September 07, 2017

The Symbolism of Hair

Image by Madison Reed

Scholars, psychics, and beauty buffs agree, the hair on your head (and what you do with it) is pretty powerful. Take a bad hair day. It can bring your mood from a 10 to a 2.  But a good hair day? Wow. You feel awesome, as if you got 12 hours of sleep, did yoga, then aced a work meeting. Across continents, cultures, and religions, hair has serious significance and symbolism. From tokens of affection to a source of strength, here are just some of the ways hair has been interpreted.  

Meet My Hair Color
You can’t tell a book by its cover, but hair color does come with a set of identifiers. Sure, they may be stereotypical, but there’s something about these hair color generalizations that keep going...

During the Victorian age, blonde hair was all the rage. Literature of the time associated golden hair with youth, beauty, money, and even compared it to an angelic halo. To sum it up, it was a symbol of something precious. Brown hair, rich, soulful shades of ebony, chestnut, and walnut, were portrayed as mature, sophisticated, and smart, while redheads were often characterized as bold, passionate, and fiery. Those stigmas are still going strong today, and are often played up in mainstream media. Just look at sassy Miranda, Cynthia Nixon’s character in Sex in the City, and Joan, played by Christina Hendricks, in Mad Men. Both beautiful, ginger-headed spitfires challenging societal convention. 

Want to try on a different color personality? Take our Color Quiz or talk to our Color Crew for a new hue.

Life-Changing Cuts
Have you ever cut your hair after a major life event? After a breakup? Job change? Marriage? Pregnancy? We’re talking a serious style change. Because hair is a symbol of self, when you make a big change—like going from long, flowing locks to a short, spunky ’do—it’s a small, but powerful way to assert control and alter how the world sees you.

Take the popular bob of the 1920s. Dating back to the Greeks and Romans, long hair was the ultimate symbol of femininity, health, social status, and wealth. It showed that you were eating well and had the leisure time to brush and groom long hair. When young flappers started shedding their Gibson Girl coifs for androgynous bobs, it sent a message of social rebellion–a way for women to liberate themselves from the constrictive norms of the day and exert their independence. Other gender-bending examples: the lengthy tresses of the hippie generation on men and women, and the shaggy, androgynous mop of the 1970s and 80s music scene.

Spirit Strands
Some cultures believe that hair is an extension of your spirit or soul...literally connecting you to the earth with its downward growth. Think of it as your hair aura. When hair is cut, the spirit is thought to live on inside the strands, giving the hair protective powers and strength. Want proof? According to one story, expert Native American trackers were recruited by the U.S. army as scouts during the Vietnam War. After receiving standard crew cuts, they were unable to perform in the field, claiming to have lost their abilities. If you think of each hair—individually connected to the scalp like an antenna—as bringing in sensory information from your environment, the tale makes all kinds of sense. Cultures that practice this belief use hair in amulets, rain charms, and medicinal treatments. Ever heard of keeping a lock of baby hair for good luck? Pretty powerful stuff. 

A Lock to Love
The tradition of giving a lock of hair to a loved one may not seem romantic now, but at one point, it was considered a token of affection. In fact, because hair does not decompose, it was cherished as a symbol of eternal life…a reminder of mortality and immortality…a source of comfort. The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University houses multiple family albums created prior to the mid-20th century full of hair samples or ‘keepsakes’. Cut locks were considered heirlooms, and were often passed down from generation to generation, plaited or tied with a ribbon, and sewn into book pages. 

So, do you think you’ll start your own family hair album? Probably not, but the fact remains: hair is a symbol of identity, both personal and public, and your crowning glory often tells the world your story.