In 2018, I wrote an essay for Design Observer on the profound significance of men’s hair as a design affect. As examples I used certain famous and infamous unique hairstyles (hair branding) and how it is possible to identify a person from the forehead up simply by how they brush their hair.
Hair has consequences, among them: The concept of scalping as both trophy and punishment; and the contradictory ideas of nonconformity and uniformity. Hair has been a form of currency (paying crop, so to speak). Women have experimented with different styles since ancient times—and so too have men. Hair distinguishes distinctions of class, race, religion and politics. Hair speaks to time and place; to vanity and the absence thereof. Donald Trump has cultivated his hair as a key component of his brand, yet so did John F. Kennedy. Hair suggests attitude, behavior and character. It goes up and down, in and out of style.
Yet what about the total absence of hair? Baldness! Does not having locks unlock certain primal emotions? I, for one, as a kid, never trusted men who were bald or balding. Clear water hides nothing, a sage once said. Having a full head of hair has been, for some, a sign of power and virility. It also is cool. Unless, of course, one is feral, then coolness is subsumed by sanitary concerns. During the ’70s, being a skinhead was a right-wing hooligan protest against long-hair hippie culture. Mullets were a response to pompadours.
Military recruits are given shaved heads, in part because it telegraphs uniformity, and uniformity is entree to the macho club. Convicts are shaved to prevent lice.
Some bald people, meanwhile, don’t care an iota about being cool-looking; the loss of hair is just as natural as its growth.
My father used to say that baldness was a sign of great intelligence. I guess he came to believe otherwise, because he got himself a hair transplant for his 50th birthday. Pattern baldness is a roll of the genetic dice, and for some who find partial or spotty baldness less appealing than the shine of a well-polished naked dome, shaving the entire head is a preferable alternative to the receding look.
In that essay on hair mentioned above, the illustrations were tight close-ups of famous hair designs on famous heads. It is fairly easy to figure out who belonged to which coif. But can you identify the bald gents below? Not as easy? Or is it?
From top to bottom: Portrait by Leonardo da Vinci; yours truly; Jeff Bezos; Dr. Evil; Yul Brynner; Telly Savalas; Charles Darwin; Samuel L. Jackson; Patrick Stewart; Unknown; Benito Mussolini; Nikita Khrushchev; Mr. Clean; Charles Foster Kane; Dwight D. Eisenhower.