Long or short, curly or straight, black or blonde, hair shapes how people see themselves and how others regard them. That’s one reason why changing hair styles is profoundly upsetting–it may radically alter the self-image. For girls in the nineteenth century, it was rarely for the better because of the social expectation to wear hair long.
Remember Anne Shirley’s humiliation after she dyes her auburn tresses green and has to accept that there is no choice except for Marilla to closely crop them. Or Jo March shears off her hair to earn an honest $25 contribution towards her father’s comfort while he regains his health. Camille, the heroine of Le parrain de Cendrillon, chops off her magnificent dark hair on a dare from her brother. Of course he laughs rudely and tells her how ugly she looks now.
Grown men disgraced by their thinning hair can be ridiculed just as heartlessly as girls with short hair, especially when they turn to unguents that promise to replant the “waste places of the human cranium.” Carrot-Pomade by American illustrator Augustus Hoppin is an alphabetical history of the “origin and performances” of one such wondrous remedy.
Handsome young men with full heads of hair, on the other hand, are ridiculed for their vanity. Here is the dandy Cadet Roussel, a famous character in traditional French song.
But not an emblem of proverbial Gallic vanity. In the fourth plate of William Hogarth’s Marriage-a-la-Mode (1745) “The Toilette,” one of Lady Squanderfield’s hangers-on appears in curl papers… He is seated, legs crossed, by the flute player at the far right.