just a thought – hair is a conscious statement

The title of this post is nicked from Sarah Nicole when I was asking her about the social side of building a fashion career. When she was featured in the Worthy 30, this quip:

Why Shinan picked me “My hair looks expensive?”

… made me do a double take.  I asked her in regards to “it girl” social status: How much does hair have to do with it?  I remember your comment for the worthy 30 bit, and I remember thinking that quip wasn’t just a quip – hair seems to play a very significant role in fashion blogland too. Sarah Nicole replied:

Ha! Well, I was just being sardonic, but you’re right–hair is a conscious statement.

I was reminded of that exchange on twitter when there was some discussion of personal brands, and @canice drew the connection to hair again.

Ever since I committed to growing out my hair this year, I’ve been thinking about the connection between hair, personal brands, social status and fashion identity.  The decision to grow out was the first real deliberate decision I’ve made in regards to hair since I chopped off my waist-length hair at the age of 14.  Since then, I’ve had my hair cut in a variety of styles in a haphazard, impulsive fashion, until a stage in 2008-2009 where I was getting hair school haircuts with little to no consultation with my stylists. Random acts of hair are incredibly reckless way to play with your self esteem and identity, especially when you have chosen to make a career in an industry where image is so critical. It took one disastrous cut to force me to my senses.

I am aware that it sounds incredibly flip to place so much importance on hair, but here’s the thing: HAIR IS CRITICAL. Especially in fashion, and even more so when you are creating an online identity.

Here’s why: your first impression for a lot of people is a 48 pixel by 48 pixel square.  It should be of your face because as I’ve mentioned before, human beings have an irresistible urge to connect with faces. But lets face it – at that scale your features and expression are reduced to a mere suggestion of information. The biggest feature on your head is your hair – and like it or not, your choices about colour and shape are a signal about who you are. If you have any ambitions at all, that signal should be a conscious one.

Case Studies

I first began to notice the connection between hair and social status, both online and in real life, when I noticed that Gala Darling and Nubby Twiglet made the move from livejournal to fashion blogland in 2007. Here were two personal style bloggers with a considerable following and a strong point of view.

Nubby has a very clear, consistent visual identity, part of which is her striking, carefully-parted, long black hair. It suits her perfectly (and graphically) and she rarely varies it – she is someone who understands the power of a signature look (learned at a young age).

Gala’s hair changes frequently and dramatically which suits someone whose blog mission is all about personal transformation. She chooses bright colours, switches it up with extensions, accessorizes it with a collection of mouse ears, bunny ears, flower crowns, and other oversized, attention-grabbing adornment.  Descriptions of Gala often mention her hair in the first or second sentence – it is a commanding tool that draws people to her writing work, and sometimes distracts them from it. Her recent abandonment of pink was one of those telling little moments in the evolution of an online identity. She wrote:

I really miss having pink hair sometimes, even though I am pleased to be a blonde. I don’t know if I will ever go back to pink hair, because I feel like it does all your talking for you. Does that make sense?

In early 2010, when the fashion industry trend towards celebrification of teenaged fashion bloggers was in full swing, there was another moment worth noting when it comes to selecting an unnatural hair colour, when Tavi of Style Rookie went blue. This was an imitative move, done with the same guileless quality that Tavi does everything. She collected examples of what she wanted and went there – like a lot of kids, unnatural hair colour is a rebellion against your genetics (and your parents) – and in Tavi’s case, it was a deliberate visual entrance into the grown-up club of the incredibly fashionable just before she went to the couture shows. It seems like instinctively, Tavi understands that what’s on your head will get people talking for you or against you. The bow hat fiasco just amplified that lesson for all of us. Now that Tavi’s hair is red (and without her parent’s permission) it is clear that she’s taking control of her own head and her own narrative.

So sometimes hair is signature, and sometimes it is mutable, and sometimes it is absent.  In Toronto, the fashion blogger with the most distinctive head is Anita of I want – I got whose signature look is bald. It completely suits her style which is modern, assertive, unpretentious, with a complete lack of patience for bullshit. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that Anita’s blog has the most powerful clout of any fashion blog in town. The same sense of identity and confidence that makes her such a striking woman allows her to be all the more influential.

From Suzy Menkes to Diane Pernet to Betsey Johnson to Rick Owens, hair statements are clearly not just important for models, regardless of the fashion career you’ve chosen, hair choices can serve to amplify visibility, and ultimately, status and the possibilities status confers.

Conscious Statements

Now that I’m being deliberate about my hair, I very specifically am asking for haircuts that don’t look like haircuts. As I’ve become more confident in expressing my identity visually, I know that my identity is a bit more nuanced and rather than making bright bold statements with cuts and colours, there is a certain quality of anti-statement which I feel is defining of what I do, from the contrary name of the blog to my obsession with archetypal rather than unique clothing.

How has hair affected your own choices as an online persona or as a follower of online personas? Is it conscious or unconscious?

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13 thoughts on “just a thought – hair is a conscious statement”

  1. Hair definitely says a lot about who you are, and if it’s distinctive enough, it can become a part of who you are, and yes, your brand. This came, surprisingly, as somewhat of a surprise to me, maybe because I liked doing my hair a certain way (big and messy and blond) and never really considered that other people would actively note this (or, horrifyingly, take me for an unkempt hobo who’d wandered into Holts by accident). It was a bit of a wake-up call when a designer referred to me as “that blogger with the crazy hair and glasses”. And when I expressed surprise at someone I’d only met fleetingly recognizing me, a friend said, “Oh, honey, until you change that crazy hair of yours or stop wearing glasses, most people will recognize you.” There’s even been the bizarre experience of the occasional time I rock a slicked-back side-pony and friends don’t recognize me until I get up close because they don’t see that cloud of yellow frizz floating toward them. So I guess my hair IS me: wacky, unpredictable, a bit messy, but fun and DIY. For better or for worse!

  2. Since the age of about 10 I have had highlighted blond hair. My mother was rather influential in this initial decision as she herself has highlighted blond hair, in her opinion blond hair is the only way. My center-parted blown out blond hair has been referred to in a few cases in both positive and negative terms, in turn my hair has become one of my trademarks. I recently however made the decision to die my hair dark. I felt that it was time to be more natural and connect with my original self. I guess you could say it’s my way of rebelling against that center parted blond boy in the front row who gets his picture taken.

  3. Thanks Briony and Nolan for such thoughtful, interesting comments. I’m fascinated with how everyone seems to have a story about hair and identity.

  4. When I went bald I remember thinking “Well, I wasn’t really using it anyway” (I suppose as a medium for expression).

  5. I’ve had a fun relationship with my hair since I was in middle school. It’s been dyed every colour under the sun and cut short most of my life. The unnatural colours were never a rebellion for me – my mom approved and they were ones I genuinely loved. My hair was often spiky and short, all kinds of punk. I dyed/cut for 10 years, and I felt like I was really expressing myself. People could easily see that I wasn’t just a quiet, normal chick.

    But after my wedding last year, I decided that it was time to stop. I wanted to grow it out, take care of it, and, you know, see what my natural colour turned out to be. I’m nine months into my Year of Growing Out, and I’m super excited about having this pretty dark blonde/reddish hair. Now I feel like I don’t need to impress upon people that I’m a weirdo. They know.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post Danielle. I know we have talked about hair choices over the years, and it totally makes sense!

    You remmeber my hair? it was hardcore edgy – and now I have gone more traditional – it has definitely affected how people treat me.

    When I look at my fashion career/blog and its evolution – I can say that its related to my hair in so many ways! It’s kind of weird!

    Thanks again!

  7. i’m a queer woman, but femmey, and one of the quickest ways for my to express my sexual identity and to have other queers acknowledge me is through hair. There’s the shaved sides, the fashion mushroom/mullet, crew cut, pompadours – all these haircuts are pretty distinctively queer. in montreal, there’s a lesbian bike shop call Bikurious that also sells “lesbian hair cuts for everyone.” Hair counts.

  8. Just read this; you’re the first peer to also articulate what I noticed years ago, in a writing project I did in which I shadowed a hair stylist and saw the intimate connection that people have with their hair, and the importance they (rightfully) give it in affecting how people will judge them off the bat.
    It’s the same project that I mentioned in my Vidal Sassoon post, and the same concept that I think gives total validity to the crucial role that hairdressers and haircuts play in our lives. Just as crucial, perhaps, as fashion – or perhaps we should consider them one and the same.

  9. Another great post Danielle!

    From the age of 9 ’till just a over a year ago, I covered my hair with a hijab. I have very orthodox parents, so I didn’t have a choice in wearing the hijab or not (though I was absolutely content to wear it as the years went on and I still wear it as and when I wish) and this meant my hair was always tied back into a plait and rolled up. I still had the desire to express myself through my hair though I did not reveal it out in the open, so at the age of 13 I chopped off my hip length hair and as the years went by, had it dyed, highlighted, low-lighted and so on.

    Until I revealed my hair, I was incredibly shy (which was aggravated by being judged wrongly because I covered my hair) and then I decided to go crazy and cut my hair even shorter. Since having my bob and styling it in a variety of vintage styles, my life has changed dramatically. Of course I can’t credit that change just to my hair, but I believe it had a lot to do with it. I’ve never had so many people randomly approaching and wanting to talk to me because they like or are curious about my hair. My hair paved the road to the world of fashion, an industry I had never considered working in because I didn’t believe I belonged there. My hair got me into Spanish Vogue – now that is hilarious and crazy and pretty awesome to boot!

    I could go one, but I think you get my drift – hair counts!

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