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The Long History of Why We’re Still So Angry About Long Hair

One reason dudes don’t look like ladies is that most societies expect women to have significantly longer hair than men, despite there being no biological reason why that should be the case.

Though disdain for men with long hair dates back centuries, it still lingers today. “There are still companies out there with dress codes and guidelines for appearance,” explains our go-to HR expert Terry Petracca. “Images loom large. Some people aren’t comfortable with their banker having a pony tail.”

But why?

Has long hair on men always been taboo — even on, say, William Wallace?

For answers, I spent the last 72 hours scouring the internet and speaking with experts on manes throughout the ages. Here’s what I found.

1. Hating on men with long hair is Biblical. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he asks, “Doth not 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.”

2. It was customary for men in Ancient Roman to keep their hair short, explains Robert Bartlett, professor of mediaeval history at the University of St Andrews. “If you look at Roman statues, most of them have short hair.” Until that is, the fall of the Roman Empire in 500 A.D. With the arrival of Germanic tribes such as the Franks, Anglo-Saxons and Visigoths, long hair became a sign of nobility.

3. In fact, Merovingian kings, who ruled what is now France and western Germany in the Early Middle Ages (500 A.D. to 750 A.D.), were called “The Long-Haired Kings.” So much so that rather than murdering each other, they punished their enemies by cutting their hair, which signaled, “You’re no longer king material.”

4. Soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066, however, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury refused to give his blessing to men who “grew their hair like girls.” “It was shocking and countercultural when people started growing out their hair in Norman time — much like the 1970s in America,” Bartlett says. Long hair also became associated with artistic men and poets of the Renaissance.

5. To distinguish themselves from such ne’er-do-wells, 18th and 19th century elites — lawyers, doctors and businessmen — “wore wigs,” Petracca notes. “It was all about instilling confidence with clients. If they were unkempt, they thought, No one will want to do business with me. That look continued for a long time.” Or to be exact, from the American Colonial period until the early 19th century.

6. “The First World War is often identified as a turning point in men’s hair length,” posts Semaphore on the History Stack Exchange, a question-and-answer site for historians and history buffs. “Prior to the war, both men and women commonly kept long hair. This became problematic during the Great War, where armies encountered severe hygiene issues fighting in the trenches. Under the unsanitary conditions of the front, soldiers adopted short hair to mitigate the scourge of lice or fleas.”

7. “Men for the next half century had to measure themselves against the war veterans, to try to give themselves and others the impression that they too could have endured the trenches,” explains Michael Antony in The Masculine Century: A Heretical History of Our Time. “That became the measure of manhood. And so the style of the veteran of the trenches: Short hair, suntan, dangling cigarette… becomes the male style of the 20th century.

8. Until the hippies came along. “We said, ‘I don’t need to wear suits and ties and get my hair cut like a soldier,” explains John McCleary, author of the Hippie Dictionary: A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and 1970s.

9. The Monterey Pop Festival was a seminal moment on many levels, McCleary remembers. “Style was one of them, and it was visual. When I walked into the place, I saw men with long hair, which was different from anything I’d ever seen in Southern California. Surfers wore slightly longer hair than businessmen, but nothing like this. I thought, This is way different than I’ve ever experienced, and I approve of it. Of course other people didn’t approve of it. That’s probably the reason most people didn’t like the hippies.”

10. “I went on tour to Singapore in 1974,” remembers guitarist Steve Deutsch, a friend of mine. “They had restrictions at immigration for hair length. We had to make sure no hair touched the collar of our shirts, or we were told we would be led to a room where they would cut off what they deemed necessary.”

11. The Hippie Dictionary describes “freak flag” as “something that identifies a person as a hippie. Long hair is the most obvious, as in the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s song, ‘Almost Cut My Hair.’”

12. “The term ‘freak flag’ started off referring to long hair but grew to include anything that identifies a person as a hippie, like smoking marijuana, having an earring or wearing bell bottoms,” McCleary notes. Why did long hair, more than anything else, become synonymous with “hippies”? “It was visual,” he explains. “It frightened the media and straight society. The hippie movement — children of the beatniks, grandchildren of Bohemians — was interested in making real social change, like keeping 1984 from actually happening.”

13. “My brother and his friend Bill were both long-haired musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” recalls my friend Fifi Brochure. “Bill was driving when they got pulled over in Arkansas. When he rolled down the window, the redneck cop in a very sarcastic voice asked, ‘Male or FEE-male?’ Bill goes, ‘What?’ And the cop asked again, ‘Male or FEE-male?’”

14. Most of the Vietnam veterans McCleary knew let their hair grow long as soon as they got out of the military. “They realized the war had been a mistake and wanted to distance themselves from anything like that. One of the easy ways to do so was to let their hair grow long. It made a statement.”

15. “It’s probably true that prohibitions against long hair in the workplace at the end of the 20th century were related to not wanting to associate with the counterculture,” Petracca says. “But it had a lot more to do with a premium placed on professionalism.”

16. “When I first went to work in 1977 it was daring for a woman to wear a pantsuit and unheard of for a man to wear long hair,” Petracca adds. “I was in Chicago, and Midwesterners are very traditional. If you were going to try to find a job in an office environment, you weren’t going to walk in with your hair long or without a tie on. Because you’d be sending a signal to everyone that you were a renegade.”

17. “Got beat up by a small group of college jocks in Boston because I had long hair in the late ‘80s,” remembers my friend John Michevich. “Was literally just walking down the street and they decided to take out their testosterone on me because I had flowing locks and a leather jacket. Lots of ‘long-haired fag’ stuff being shouted as they punched me. Good times.”

18. These days, guidelines about hair length aren’t very common, says Suzanne Lucas, whose blog evilhrlady.org “demystifies your human resource department.” The more common requirement is that you “look professional,” she tells me. “Problem is, people don’t often think you look professional if you have long hair as a man. As a result, you may not get the job, but no one may articulate why. It’s easier to get a job with a traditional, conservative haircut, and then grow your hair to however you want. In other words, having long hair does hurt your chances of being taken seriously, but it’s nowhere near what it used to be.”

19. “Images loom large,” Petracca repeats. “The person with hair down their back: Are they some IT guru who may be brilliant but can’t pay attention to little things? Are they reliable? Are they a drug dealer? Don’t underestimate the ability of having to relate one-on-one with someone in order to gain their trust and confidence to do business with them.”

Which is to say, trust and confidence still go hand-in-hand with remaining high and tight.