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This article is about human hair. For other uses, see Longhair (disambiguation) or Hair
Long haired boy on a beach in Melanesia. While shoulder-length hair is not considered especially long for women, in most societies it is considered long for men.

Exactly what constitutes long hair can change from culture to culture, or even within cultures. For example, a woman with chin-length hair in many cultures may be said to have short hair, while a man with the same length of hair in some of the same cultures would be said to have long hair. Scientists view long hair as playing a large part in any animal species' natural selection, since hair length is frequently a sign of health.[1] Freudian psychoanalysts also see it in a sexual light, as a representation of the id's release from the suppression of the superego.[2] In the context of cultural and social norms, hair can signal gender differences as well as ideological differences. Opposite sexes and opposite ideologies tend to have opposite styles of hair, for example hair lengths.[3]

Culturally, long hair—particularly amongst men—typically signals the individual's separation from structures.,[3] although there are exceptions, such as the Thai people.[4] Ways of life often viewed as more rigid, such as religious cultures, often have explicit rules regarding hair length. For example, one passage in the New Testament of Christianity considers long hair shameful for men, while encouraging it for women.[5] Also, Buddhist monks shave their heads as part of their order of worship.[2] Even outside religious structures, cultures often associate long hair with ways of life outside of what is culturally accepted. Subservient cultures, for example, are sometimes detected by their rulers through hair length, as was the case with the Irish under English rule and the Moors under Spanish rule in Medieval Spain.[6]

During the cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies in North America and the Western world, long hair remained a strong symbol of rebellion against the cultural norm.[7] Again, though, there are exceptions to these rules, notably among the long-haired and religiously devoted Nazarites of the Hebrew Bible (Samson being a famous example)[8] and among the Sikhs.[9]

Among women, this is often reversed: Long hair (or average length hair according to current norm) becomes an acceptance of culture, while shorter hair than the norm signals a rebellion from it. Long hair is traditionally accepted as a female characteristic in western cultures, while very short female hair often is described as boyish or manish.[3] The appeal of female long hair goes far back into western mythology, to the stories of Rapunzel, Lorelei, Sif and Lady Godiva.

The feminist ideal includes, or used to include, medium to short lengths. Feminists and women's rights activists have long debated whether to advocate female long hair as a solely feminine trait, or to call for short hair in opposition to a narcissistic and non-authoritative stereotype.[3]

East Asian cultures have traditionally seen long, unkempt hair in a woman as a sign of sexual intent or a recent sexual encounter, as usually their hair is tied up in styles such as the ponytail, plait or any bun.[10]



Exactly what constitutes long hair varies from culture to culture, or even within cultures. For example, standards applied to each gender may be different: a female with chin-length hair may be said to have short hair, while a male with hair of the same length may be said to have long hair. The traditional connotation of "long hair" in English meant, roughly, someone artistically knowledgeable or wise, an aesthete.[11] As a descriptive term, it has been applied to Merovingians and classical music enthusiasts, as well as hippies and aesthetes.[11]


Anthropologists speculate that the functional significance of long head hair may be adornment, a by-product of secondary natural selection once other somatic hair (body hair) had largely been lost. Another possibility is that long head hair is a result of Fisherian runaway sexual selection, where long lustrous hair is a visible marker for a healthy individual. For some groups, however, short hair is the selected trait.[1] Some Psychoanalysts and Freudian commentators argue that long hair represents the id and aggression, and that cutting the hair is thus akin to castration.[2] Hair is thus considered to be a potent sexual emblem, both for men and women, having many parallels with intercourse.[2] Further connections made with sexuality are made with the fact that historically, adulterous husbands would cut off their wife's hair if she threatened to reveal his secret, thus violating the role of her husband.[2]

Cultural history

Hair is one of the most important ways humans have of both presenting themselves and judging one another socially, being one of the parts of their body which is easiest to manipulate. Throughout many cultures or viewpoints, hair is seen as representing control over oneself, sexually, morally, or otherwise: those having long hair having less control than those having shorter or no hair. Also, having short, cut hair (or a shaven head) is often viewed as being under society's control, such as while in prison or as punishment for a crime, while having long hair signifies being outside of the systems of society.[3]

In Jewish and Christian scriptures

"She, as a veil down to the slender waist,
Her adorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved,
As the vine curls her tendrils..."

John Milton's description of Eve in Paradise Lost

In the Old Testament, the Nazirites would go for long periods of time without cutting their hair to show devotion to God.[12] Samson is one example; his strength depended upon his refraining from cutting his hair.[8] The New Testament says, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering."[5] The statement was given in a time when hairstyles were changing from what was considered to be a normal (and longer) length, to a short-cropped haircut whether from Roman or eastern buddhist influence as it is not known. It is still not known however what constituted for long hair at the time, and general media portrayals are not accurate, While however the monks of Eastern Orthodox Church wear long hair and are often considered traditional.

Western culture

Classical period

In ancient Greece, long hair was a symbol of wealth and power, while a shaven head was appropriate for a slave. The ancient Greeks had several heroes which wore their hair long, including Zeus, Achilles, Hector, and Poseidon. Both Greek and Trojan soldiers are said to have worn their hair long in battle. Such warriors considered it a sign of aristocracy and are said to have combed it openly in order to show off. Also, in order to keep enemies from getting a hold of it in battle, they were known to cut the front short, but leave it long in the back, where it was more out of reach. Around the sixth century, however, the Greek men shifted to shorter hairstyles. Women in the culture remained with the longer style, which for them showed freedom, health, and wealth, as well as good behavior.[13] In men, it was considered a sign of false pride by this time.[14] Women in Roman times valued long hair, usually with a center part. Men's hair was usually shorter than women's,(but in the early times, the custom was quite the same as in Greece) although other cultures of the time, such as Greeks in the east, considered long hair to be typical of philosophers, who were thought to be too engrossed in learning to bother with hair.[15] Strictly in the province of Rome, however the shorter hairstyle was especially popular.[14] When Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls, who favored long hair, he ordered it to be cut short.[16]

Up to the seventeenth century

In the European middle ages, shorter hair often signified servitude and peasantry, while long hair was often attributed to freemen, such as the Germanic Goths and Merovingians. Often, non-Germanic cultures such as Byzantines viewed these "long-haired men" as barbarians specifically citing their hair as proof. In Ireland, English colonists who wore their hair long in the back were considered to be rejecting their role as English subjects and giving in to the Irish life. Irishman, in turn, scolded others of their race who moved into English culture by cutting their hair. Thus, hair length was one of the most common ways of judging a true Englishman in this period. Muslims in Christian areas were ordered to keep their hair short and parted, as their longer style was considered rebellious and barbaric.[6]

A girl with long hair, as painted by Sophie Gengembre Anderson.

A long hair fad was widespread among English and French men in the 11th and 12th centuries, though otherwise it was considered, mostly because of church endorsement, proper for men to have shorter, and women, longer hair. The fad was largely brought about by monarchs who rejected the shorter hairstyle, causing the people to follow. Wulfstan, a religious leader, worried that those with longer hair would fight like women, and be unable to protect England from foreign invasion. (This idea can be found in later military leaders as well, such as those of the American Confederacy.[17]) Knights and rulers would also sometimes cut or pull out their hair in order to show penitence and mourning, and a squire's hair was generally shorter than a knight's. Married women who let their hair flow out were frowned upon, as this was normally reserved for the unwed, although they were allowed to let it out in mourning, to show their distressed state. Long hair in the period signified youth and courtly behavior, and some scholars even suggest that in men it shows homosexuality, though this is disputed, as it was almost solely religious monks who connected long hair with woman-behavior.[6]

In England, during the English Civil War times of 1642 to 1651, hair length was emblematic of the disputes between Cavaliers and Roundheads (Puritans). Cavaliers wore longer hair, and were less religious minded, thought of by the Roundheads as lecherous. The more devout Roundheads had short hair, although there were exceptions.[2]

Recent meanings

A man with long hair

Beat poets during the 1950s wore longer hairstyles, as did many of the urban gay culture, although long hair was far from popular. However, the 1960s introduced The Beatles, who started a widespread longer hair fad. In the 1960s long hair, especially on men, was worn as a political or countercultural symbol or protest. This cultural symbol extended to several Western countries in the Americas, Western Europe, South Africa, and Australia.[7] Specific long hairstyles such as dreadlocks have been part of counterculture movements seeking to define other alternative cultures and lifestyles since this time.[10] Longer hair in general remained popular among the youth rebellion throughout the liberal decade of the 1960s.[7] Homosexuals, who had adopted a long hairstyle in the early fifties, continued the trend through this decade. Clergymen and conservative parents saw the long hair fad as a threat to gender identity, cultural, and religious norms as it grew with the spread of the hippie movement in the 1960s.[7] Notably, some country-and-western performers during this period (and many fans) also sported longer hair.[18][19]

In the 1970s, the popularity of Jamaica's reggae music and musician Bob Marley prompted interest in dreadlocks internationally. The anti-establishment philosophy of Rastafari, echoed in much of the reggae of the time, resonated with left-leaning youth of all ethnicities — especially and primarily among African Americans and other Blacks, but among counterculture whites as well.[20] In the 1980s the view of long hair as a solitary signifier of political or counter-cultural identity was countered and parodied in films such as Rambo and many other militaristic heroes of media which challenged then-contemporary views of what was masculine.[21] Today, longer hairstyles remain popular among heavy metal enthusiasts.[22] Long hair may be grown for the purpose of being donated to an organization, such as Locks of Love, for hairpieces to help those who could not have hair otherwise, such as those who are diagnosed with alopecia areata.

Beginning in the early to mid 2000s, long hair for boys and young men became popular in Western countries, a trend that has continued throughout the decade.


Women often have a stronger inclination towards long hair than men do. Younger women tend to have longer hair than older women. Hair quality is correlated with women's health. Hair length and quality can act as a cue to a woman's youth and health and, as such, signify reproductive potential.[23] Some feminists have declared long hair as "irrefutably feminine," while others argue for shorter hair. Some religious scholars even believe that without hair or long hair, a woman is not complete.[citation needed] In some cultures, long, well-kept hair symbolizes wealth and luxury, as such hair is difficult to maintain in poverty.[3]


Syrian Bedouin with long, braided hair, 1893.

Muslims regard Prophet Muhammad as the best example to live by, and try to emulate him whenever possible. The Muslim Prophet Muhammed reportedly in Sahih Muslim had hair that "hung over his shoulders and earlobes".[24] Sahih Bukhari, regarded the most authentic of hadith, also supports this.[25] The Prophet Muhammad has also described Prophet Jesus, as "having long hair reaching his ear lobes".[26]

With regards to women, neither Qur'an nor Sunnah explicitly state that women cannot cut their hair. Hadith does mention that women should not imitate men, and vice versa, and hence many scholars on this assumption, decree that women should let their hair grow longer than the hair of the Prophet, reaching beyond their shoulders, as hadith mentions that the Prophet had his hair between his shoulder and his earlobes. (he described Jesus's hair which hung to his earlobes as long[27]),

However culturally, some Muslims are opposed to men having long hair as it is also important in Islam to have clear differences (in appearance) between sexes. And generally these cultures encourage women to have long hair and men to have short hair.[28] The Taliban viewed long hair for men as a western influence, and punished it by arrest and forced haircuts[29], albeit this would be a direct contradiction of the sunnah of the Prophet. Similar measures have been taken by Islamists in Iraq.[30] In spite of this, several Taleban affiliated members of the Mehsud clan are recognisable by their long hair. The Saudi-Circassian Islamist fighter Amir Khattab was also notable for his long hair.

In the Muslim world, it seems the trend of hair styles is now favouring short over long in men. In the past, Bedouin Muslims often wore their hair in long braids, but western influences brought on the view that such styles were feminine in nature. Now, Bedouins are much less likely to have long hair.[31] Islamic countries in North Africa such as Egypt view long hair in men as homosexual and in one case the Egyptian police viewed it as satanic and a sign of an infidel,[32] although Western rock music, especially heavy metal, may have contributed to this view.

Native Americans

Many American Indian men wore long hair before the arrival of western influences on their culture. (In Cherokee legends, for example, males said to be handsome were often described as having "long hair almost to the ground" or similar formulas.[33]). Both men and women of these cultures have frequently struggled to maintain their tradition, but have faced heavy opposition. Many consider it a sign of giving in to western influences to have their hair cut.[34][35] Early American settlers saw long-haired, native men as rebelling against their civilized society. Mountain men and trappers who adopted the customs were also considered amoral, and often identified by their long hair.[36] Since the cultural movements of the sixties and seventies, however, Native Americans have felt less pressure to have short hair, as different movements have defended their cultural rights.[37] For example, several states have loosened prison regulations, allowing Native Americans to wear long hair during incarceration, along with other cultural allowances.[38] There has been resistance to these changes, however, as long hair is sometimes used to hide drugs, as well as to identify with a gang.[39]

Sub-Saharan Africans

Ngbandi girls, central Africa, 1905

In West African cultures, women with long hair were highly valued. Long, thick hair was seen as a sign of health, strength, and capability to bear many children. In keeping with this general theme, women who were too young for marriage would shave a portion of their heads to signal so. This tradition, however, did not extend to every African tribe, as several valued shorter hair.[40]

African Americans

Afros were originally used as a cultural statement to counter western influences on natural African hairstyles and ways of life.

When black slaves were freed in the Americas, they struggled to reach the social status of whites. Many former slaves tried to conform their hairstyles as part of this struggle. African-American women felt pressured to make their hair straight like white women, rather than keeping the shorter, curlier style they had known.[41] However, during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, African-Americans such as Malcolm X advocated hairstyles such as afros and dreadlocks. Social pressures at the time were heavily influencing African-American females to have long, straight hair, like many Caucasians did.[42] Recently, scholars have observed continued pressure on blacks to have long, straight hair. Amelian Jones believes that dolls marketed towards children add to this pressure, citing as an example a new black Barbie with long hair. Jones believes that African-American females should maintain their "African" cultural norms without feeling pressured to "tame" their hair.[43]

East Asians

Historically, East Asian cultures viewed long hair as a sign of youth and aesthetic beauty. Long hair is associated with private life and sexuality. East Asian cultures see long, unkempt hair in a woman as a sign of sexual intent or a recent sexual encounter, as usually their hair is tied up.[10] Lay Buddhists have long hair, while Buddhist monks have shaved heads.[2] For Sikhs, Kesh is the practice of allowing one's hair to grow naturally as a symbol of devotion to God and lack of worldliness.[9] In Jewish and other cultures, shortening hair signifies mourning and sadness.[3]

Around the seventeenth century, the Manchu people forced all men in China to adopt a hairstyle called a queue, which was basically a long braid down the back with the hair on the front part of the head shaved. This style lasted well into the nineteenth century, when the Chinese began immigrating to America. Americans at first judged them to be poor workers because their long hair brought an association with women.[44] Both Islamic and Christian missionaries to the Chinese were strong advocates of shorter hair for their converts, but this was a small group.[45] Around the Destruction of Four Olds period in 1964, almost anything seen as part of Traditional Chinese culture would lead to problems with the Communist Red Guards. Items that attracted dangerous attention if caught in the public included jewelry and long hair.[46] These things were regarded as symbols of bourgeois lifestyle, that represented wealth. People had to avoid them or suffer serious consequences such as tortures and beatings by the guards.[46] More recently, long hair was ridiculed in China from October 1983 to February 1984, as part of the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign.[47] Li Yang, an unorthodox Chinese English teacher who brands the popular Crazy English, claims the following on his website:

What [America, England and Japan] want most is for China’s youth to have long hair, wear bizarre clothes, drink soda, listen to Western music, have no fighting spirit, love pleasure and comfort![48]

In Southeast Asia and Indonesia, long hair was valued in until the seventeenth century, when the area adopted outside influences including Islam and Christianity. Invading cultures enforced shorter hairstyles on men as a sign of servitude, as well. They were also confused at the short hairstyles among women in certain areas, such as Thailand, and struggled to explain why women in the area had such short hair. They came up with several mythical stories, one of which involved a king who found a long hair in his rice and, in a rage, demanded that all women keep their hair short.[4]

See also



  1. ^ a b Watson, James. Darwin: the Indelible Stamp; the Evolution of an Idea. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2005. pg. 1042 ISBN 0762421363
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Leach, E. R. "Magical Hair." The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. (July 1958) 88.2 pgs. 147-164
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Synnott, Anthony. "Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair." The British Journal of Sociology 1987-09 38.3 pgs. 381-413
  4. ^ a b Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. pgs. 80-84. ISBN 0300047509
  5. ^ a b KJV 1 Corinthian 11. 14-15
  6. ^ a b c Bartlett, Robert. "Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1994) Vol. 4 pgs. 43-60
  7. ^ a b c d Bronski, Michael. The Pleasure Principle. City: Stonewall Inn Editions, 2000. pgs. 95-96. ISBN 0312252870
  8. ^ a b Judges 13-16
  9. ^ a b Fowler, Jeaneane. World Religions: an Introduction for Students. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1997. pg. 352. ISBN 1898723486
  10. ^ a b c Maynard, Margaret. Dress and Globalisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. pg. 104. ISBN 0719063892
  11. ^ a b Oxford English dictionary
  12. ^ Num. 6: 5, 18-19
  13. ^ Irwin, M. Eleanor. "Odysseus' "Hyacinthine Hair" in 'Odyssey' 6.231. Phoenix. (Oct 1990) 44.3 pgs. 205-218.
  14. ^ a b Nicolson, Frank W. "Greek and Roman Barbers." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. (1891 2) pgs. 41-56.
  15. ^ Bartman, Elizabeth. "Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment." American Journal of Archaeology (Jan. 2001) 105.1 pgs. 1-25
  16. ^ Felt, Joseph. Customs of New England. New York: Burt Franklin, 1967. pg. 187. ISBN 0833711059
  17. ^ McManus, Howard Rollins. The Battle of Cloids Mountain of Virginia, 1864. University of Michigan:1989 pg. 35
  18. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir et al. All Music Guide to Country. San Francisco: Backbeat, 2003. ISBN 0879307609
  19. ^ Tuleja, Tad. The New York Public Library Book of Popular Americana. New York: Macmillan, 1994. pg. 157 ISBN 0671899872
  20. ^ Gossai, Hemchand and Nathaniel Murrell. Religion, Culture, and Tradition in the Caribbean. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. pgs. 181-190. ISBN 031223242X
  21. ^ Lu, Hsiao-Peng. Transnational Chinese Cinemas. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997. pg. 229 ISBN 0824818458
  22. ^ Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal. New York: Da Capo Press, 2000. pg. 129. ISBN 0306809702
  23. ^ Verlin B. Hinsza, David C. Matzb and Rebecca A. Patiencec, "Does women's hair signal reproductive potential?", Journal of Experimental Social Psychology [0022-1031] 2001, vol 37, iss 2, pg 166.
  24. ^ Sahih Muslim Book 30 Number 5773: "Qatada reported: I asked Anas b. Malik: How was the hair of Allah's Messenger? Thereupon he said: His hair was neither very curly nor very straight, and they hung over his shoulders and earlobes."
  25. ^ Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 7 Book 72 Number 788 : "Narrated Al-Bara': I did not see anybody in a red cloak looking more handsome than the Prophet Narrated Malik: The hair of the Prophet used to hang near his shoulders. Narrated Shu'ba: The hair of the Prophet used to hang down to the earlobes."
  26. ^ Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 9 Book 87 Number 128 : Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar: Allah's Apostle said, "I saw myself (in a dream) near the Ka'ba last night, and I saw a man with whitish red complexion, the best you may see amongst men of that complexion having long hair reaching his earlobes which was the best hair of its sort, and he had combed his hair and water was dropping from it, and he was performing the Tawaf around the Ka'ba while he was leaning on two men or on the shoulders of two men. I asked, 'Who is this man?' Somebody replied, '(He is) Messiah, son of Mary.' Then I saw another man with very curly hair, blind in the right eye which looked like a protruding out grape. I asked, 'Who is this?' Somebody replied, '(He is) Messiah, Ad-Dajjal.'"
  27. ^ Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 9 Book 87 Number 128
  28. ^ Joseph, Suad and Afsaneh Najmabadi. Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Family, Body, Sexuality and Health , Volume 3. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. pg. 35 ISBN 9004128190
  29. ^ Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban. City: I B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2002. pg. 219. ISBN 1860648304
  30. ^
  31. ^ Massad, Joseph. Colonial Effects. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. ISBN 0231123221 137-140, 208-210
  32. ^ Heper, Metin. Ismet Inonu: the Making of a Turkish Statesman. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 1998. pg. 153 ISBN 9004099190
  33. ^ Kirk, Lowell (1999). "Cherokee Myths and Legends". Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  34. ^ Ferris, Jeri. Native American Doctor. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1991. pgs. 32-33. ISBN 0876144431
  35. ^ Kilcup, Karen. Native American Women's Writing, C. 1800-1924. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. pgs. 314-316. ISBN 0631205187
  36. ^ Cavallo, Dominick. A Fiction of the past. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. pg. 90 ISBN 0312235011
  37. ^ Nagel, Joane. American Indian Ethnic Renewal. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1997. pg. 191. ISBN 0195120639
  38. ^ French, Laurence. Native American Justice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2003. pgs. 113-117 ISBN 0830415750
  39. ^ Fontana, Vincent. Municipal Liability. City: Aspen Law & Business Publishers, 2003. pgs. 241-242 ISBN 0735513759
  40. ^ Byrd, Ayana and Lori Tharps. Hair Story. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2002. pgs. 2-5 ISBN 0312283229
  41. ^ Byrd, pgs. 25-49
  42. ^ Taylor, Paul C. "Malcolm's Conk and Danto's Colors; Or, Four Logical Petitions concerning Race, Beauty, and Aesthetics." Journal: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. (Jan 1999) 57.1 pgs. 16-20.
  43. ^ Jones, Amelia. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. pg. 343. ISBN 0415267056
  44. ^ Prasso, Sheridan. The Asian Mystique. City: Public Affairs Press (NY), 2005. pgs. 115-116 ISBN 1586482149
  45. ^ Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. pg. 82 ISBN 0300047509
  46. ^ a b Law, Kam-yee. [2003] (2003). The Chinese Cultural Revolution Reconsidered: beyond purge and Holocaust. ISBN 0333738357
  47. ^ "Olympic crackdown on China's bad habits". BBC News. August 6, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  48. ^ Evan Osnos, Crazy English, The New Yorker, April 28, 2008, p.3.,

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