A while back, I posted a blog on hair and what it says about a character—or at least what impression it makes on others. So what can we glean from how a person (or character) deals with hair now that beauticians and barbers are deemed “nonessential”?

As best I can tell, there is a big divide in hair care priority between those who are deemed essential in jobs that require working onsite and those who are staying home. The former are under more pressure to keep up appearances. But both groups include essentially three subgroups: those who are happy to let it all flow, those who try to recreate professional techniques on their own, and those who create entirely new styles to fit the situation.

Go With the Flow

Theses people are doing nothing beyond washing and brushing their hair. The result may be tri-color—for example, dark chestnut coming in, the remnants of highlights, and gray in front or at the temples. Such people may resort to caps or scarves. Over time, ponytails, braids, barrettes, bands, and ties come in handy. And think wigs! They can be ordered online.

Some would claim this choice is tougher for a man to carry off, to the extent that many men are simply shaving their heads. Women are less likely to choose this option.

Choosing to do nothing is sometimes characterized as “giving my hair a break” from chemical treatments and elaborate coiffures.


Technically, shaving one’s head might be a form of DIY for people who hadn’t already adopted that look. A close alternative is men who have their spouses or partner’s cut their hair, even if they have never cut hair before. Some women opt for this option as well

Some women are cutting their own hair—definitely easier with some styles than others.

But not all households have the basic equipment—hair scissors, clippers, a mirror that allows a steady view of the back of the head. In such situations, what are the alternatives? Think kitchen shears, pinking shears, nail scissors, and safety razors.

Those who color their hair have denuded the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores of home dye. Professionals strongly recommend against DIY color, saying one may severely damage one’s hair. But, hey, it’s only hair. It’ll grow back, right?

A friend suggested to me that I could color the tips of my hair with red food coloring. She said that my hair is so short, it would be cut off soon. It reminds me that when I was in seventh grade a redheaded friend and I experimented with food coloring. She chose green and I chose blue. We (erroneously) thought it would wash right out. So, no red tips. But blue to match my eyes? Maybe.

And that reminds me: so-called temporary hair color is permanent if you have previously had your hair lightened.

DIY may be exceptionally difficult for Black women. The importance of hair care has resulted in a massive industry, worth $2.5 billion at least, including chemical relaxers, braiding services, hair pieces, and so forth. Women may feel uncomfortable wearing “natural” hair, and many more are unable to create their customary look from home.


These are the people who have decided hair care is essential and therefore defy the stay at home/social distancing injunctions. Either the client goes to the home of her/his hairdresser or the practitioner comes to the home of the client. Both greatly increase the risk of spreading the virus, of course.

Getting Help

I’m not a YouTube fan, but there are a gazillion (by actual count!) options for videos of home hair care. Recently, salon experts have been posting and advising their clients to take a look. Some salons are delivering professional supplies and equipment to their clients’ homes in sanitized packaging. And some practitioners are setting up video chats with clients to talk them through coloring or braiding their own hair.

Bottom line for writers: How a character responds to the hair care crisis is a clear reflection of personality. Use it!


My oldest daughter was born bald as a billiard ball and stayed that way for more than three months. My cousin left the hospital with his black hair combed into an Elvis Presley pompadour, but after several weeks he began to lose it. Head hair goes through three stages: growth, resting, and shedding, in that order. At birth, babies’ hair is in the “resting” stage while bodily resources are devoted to more vital functions, like lung development and temperature regulation. After the resting phase, hair sheds. It goes into a growth phase again after three to seven months. From then till puberty, it’s a matter of gaining more head hair. Hair color and/or texture often goes through many changes in the first several month or years. 

Bottom line for writers: Your young characters’ hair is pretty much up for grabs; except for the stage of “baby-fine,” hair tells us little about age or health of young children.


  • Males start growing body hair: face, underarms, chest, arms and legs, public area. This can be any time between 9 and 14.
  • Females grow hair in adult female patterns: underarms, legs, genital area. Usually starts between 8 and 13.
  • Following puberty, hair growth patterns are fairly steady for the next couple of decades.

Bottom line for writers: Hair can be used in a number of ways, but between puberty and 30 or so it isn’t an age marker. 

Adults shed hair regularly, perhaps 80-100 hairs a day. Shedding hair is not the same as thinning hair or going bald. Babies are born with all the hair follicles they will ever have. When hair follicles shut down, thinning hair or baldness result.  And why would writers care?

Why Hair Follicles Shut Down

  • Age: Both males and females typically notice some thinning or loss of scalp hair as they age, usually starting in the 50s and progressing in 60s, 70s, and 80s. 
    • A good way to show rather than tell that a character is a “mature” adult
  • Genetics: Both thinning and pattern badness tend to run in families for both females and males.
    • An unacknowledged family connection could be inferred by similar patterns and ages of onset
  • Alopecia: An autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles leading to hair loss on the scalp as well as other parts of the body. Symptoms usually start in childhood. 
    • Good for adding stress and tension.
  • Side effects of medication/treatment: Think chemotherapy, but also vitamin deficiencies, some antibiotic, some antidepressants (4 to 6 months after starting treatment), some anticonvulsants for epileptics (dose dependent). Hair usually regrows when/if the treatment ends.
    • A clue to unacknowledged/undiagnosed medical issues
    • Maybe someone introducing unneeded treatment in order to produce the side effects of hair loss/thinning
  • Hormonal changes: For women, pregnancy and/or menopause; high cortisol levels and thyroid imbalance for both women and men, insulin resistance and estrogen dominance. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, biotin, and zinc can worsen hormone based hair loss.
    • Maybe the hair changes/losses create emotional stress during pregnancy or menopause
    • Maybe a character is so upset that a major life goal is to find a “cure” through hormone and/or nutritional therapy
    • A good hairstylist may notice an illness or pregnancy before the patient simply by observing changing hair
  • Certain hairstyles: High ponytails, cornrows, braids, and pigtails if they are too tight and these styles are worn too long.
    • Consider a character whose self-concept and/or identity is connected to hairstyle and appearance

How Hair Changes Over Time

  • Growth: Scalp hair grows an average of half an inch a month. And a single hair can last up to six years. Consider hair length as an indicator of age.
  • Color: Chances are, when you think of an old person’s hair, you first think gray.  Graying hair can be brought on or accelerated by stress, and unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, or serious illness.
    • Generally, the lighter your skin, the sooner your hair will turn gray. Caucasians usually start to turn gray in their early 30s, those with darker skin generally start to go gray in their 40s.
    • Hair often grays first at the temples; sometimes it’s throughout the head hair.
    • Body hair usually turns gray later, but sometimes not at all.
    • When eyebrows gray, the individual brow hairs are long and coarse. 
    • Is your character embracing gray, or fighting it every step of the way? 
    • What is your character willing to do to hide gray hair?
    • And N.B.: there are far more than 50 shades of gray. Be precise when you describe your character. Think silver, iron, lead, clouds, snow—or that old standby, salt-and-pepper.
  • Thickness and texture: Over time, hair becomes rougher and more prone to break, and each hair itself becomes thinner and smaller. Give more depth to your descriptions of old hair, perhaps through touch.
  • Thinning hair and baldness by sex
    • By age 60, two-thirds of males exhibit male-pattern baldness. Hair loss occurs first on the top or at the temples. 
    • Female-pattern baldness is typically exhibited as thin hair and visible scalp. 
    • Consider a man who shaves his entire head rather than exhibit graying hair and balding. 
    • What might a woman with thinning hair experience? Feel? Do?
Some women can create rather impressive facial hair.
  • Facial and body hair: In general, facial and body hair also change with greater age. Women and men have less hair on arms, legs, underarms, chest, stomach, and in the genital area
    • Women’s remaining hair may get courser, usually around the lips and on the chin.
    • Men are likely to grow ear and nose hair.
    • Both men and women are likely to lose hair on the outer third of the eyebrows and to get long, coarse eyebrow hairs.
    • Older women may grow too much hair, hirsutism, showing hair in places usually associated with male bodies (face, neck, chest, thighs, back).

Using Hair To Distinguish Your Character

Face it, many people spend time on hair in one way or another. Except for haircuts, and maybe hair color, these are activities that tend to happen in private if not in secret. What your character does, how, and how often gives your reader a private, intimate view of your character.

  • Women
    • Changing hair color, either DYI or at a salon
    • Removing hair
    • Underarm, leg, eyebrow, face, genital area, around nipples
    • Via tweezing, depilatory, waxing, or shaving
  • Men
    • Changing hair color (scalp or facial)
    • Shaving
      • How often?
      • Using what instrument?
      • Beard?
      • What length?
    • Remove, trim, or shape body hair
  • Aging Athletes
    • Those who removed all hair to improve performance: swimmers, cyclists, runners, etc. Do they continue their old habits? 
    • Female athletes who train intensely throughout puberty often stop mentstruating temporarily, which can have a long-term effect on hair growth, texture, and color.

Hair Politics

Hair is so closely connected to personal identity and image that controversy is more or less inevitable. For more specifics on these issues, I advise you to visit the resources linked.

  • Religious direction at odds with uniform or dress standards
    • Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently changed their facial hair requirements, allowing Sikhs, Muslims, and members of other religions to serve as officers.
    • The US Air Force has made similar changes.
      • (Unrelated but still really cool – the Air Force has also started making uniform shirts that allow women to breastfeed while in uniform!)
    • British Royal Navy uniform regulations now allow Rastafarians to maintain their long hair and beards so long as safety (such as face mask seals) is not compromised. Uniform regulations may be adjusted further to allow turbans.
    • Many private religious schools in the US require specific hair lengths for boys and girls; boys cannot have long hair, and girls cannot have short hair.
    • Similarly, many schools have specific regulations forbidding cornrows, dreadlocks, box braids, and other hairstyles primarily worn by students of African descent.
  • Opposing cultural pressures on women (and men) to change the length, color, texture, or style of their hair
    • Society defines the ideal of beautiful hair ideal is silky smooth, blond or brunette, and as soft and fine as a baby’s – in essence, Caucasian.
      • Many of the products used to achieve these results are extremely caustic if not toxic.
    • Women who relax, color, heat, and style their hair to meet this ideal sometimes face push-back from within their own communities.
    • Military regulations, school dress codes, athletic associations, etc. often prohibit hair styles favored by women of African descent as well as “natural” hair styles; effectively, this forces women to cut their hair very short or use extreme treatments to mimic Caucasian hair. It is still legal in the United States to fire or refuse to hire an employee who has deadlocks, even if they are not a safety concern.
    • Both men and women are pushed to remove all traces of gray from their hair, along with masking crows feet, laugh lines, age spots, and so on from skin.
    • Men with long hair are told that only short hair is sufficiently manly.
    • Women with short hair are told that only long hair is sufficiently feminine.
      • Historically (and currently, in some parts of the world), women have been punished for various transgressions by having their hair cut very short.
    • Hair texture and color has been used as a marker on the scale of race differentiation in apartheid South Africa, by Adolph Hitler to determine Jewish ancestry, discriminating against “Catholic” redheads during the Great Famine in Ireland, while separating Aboriginal families in Australia, and in many other periods of history.
      • Czar Peter the Great of Russia decided that long beards were old-fashioned and not Western enough and forbade them in his court, going so far as forcibly cutting off the beards of his courtiers.
  • The dubious world of hair extensions
    • Hair extensions are primarily marketed to women trying to achieve the ideal set by society and hair product companies.
    • The hair to make the extensions is often sourced from women in dire situations.
      • Venezualan women have created a black market selling their hair and breast milk, which is the only way many of them can afford food.
      • Rural Indian women, whose long hair is often a traditional class or culture marker, have their hair forcibly shaved off by men in their families desperate for income.
      • Khmer women sometimes have their extremely long hair cut off by police as punishment for dubious charges or by family members desperate for food.
      • Northern Russian women with blond hair are particularly prized by buyers because of the versatility of naturally light hair. Several buyers make routine circuits through isolated areas and pressure women (and young girls) to sell their hair repeatedly, paying only a few dollars for hair they sell for hundreds of dollars.

Miscellaneous Hair Facts That May or May Not Be Useful to Writers

  • Regardless of location on the body, hair goes through the stages of growing, resting, and shedding.
  • Trimming does not affect the growth cycle of hair.
  • Head hair can continue to grow for 3-7 years for each follicle, at the rate of 6 inches per month.
  • Chest hair doesn’t grow beyond a certain length, often about 1 inch.
  • Armpit hair can be longer than chest hair and may grow outside the bounds of the armpit.
  • Pubic hair is often trimmed, shaped, or completely removed.
  • Eyebrow hairs stop at about 1 centimeter until they go rogue during older age, sometimes reaching an inch or more untrimmed.

Bottom bottom line for writers:  Use hair more in your characterizations and plots. It is less common and will make your work fresher.

The Hair Has It

the hair has it
Hair has always been recognized as important: Sampson in the Bible, Cleopatra’s thick, black hair, the wigs worn by judges and others. It is one aspect of ourselves—our bodies—which we can control most, with relatively little effort, over decades. Much about hair is a choice. According to author and philosopher Alain de Botton, “We are using our hair to speak. We’re trying, through the syntax of colored protein filaments, to express key aspects of our soul—and to communicate some of the deepest truths about who we are.” So what do those choices say about a person—or character?


Of course, this is a topic that needs to be addressed separately for men and women, though there could be some overlap. Today, there is much more variety for women than for men.


What Women’s Hair Says

  • Side parting: compassionate, caring listener, big heart, empathetic and patient, no ulterior motives, realistic and reliable
  • Loose beach waves: embodiment of confidence, freedom lover, high energy, independent, comfortable around people but likes alone time

loose beach waves

  • Mid-length hair: practical, efficient, values common sense and committed to goals, work smart instead of hard
  • Blonde hair: approachable, friendly, good conversationalist, sexy
  • High ponytail: full of energy, sporty, problem solver, straightforward, good time manager, focused on things that truly matter, looks young
  • Polished high ponytail: goal-oriented, athletic, logical
  • Black hair: feminine, attractive, intelligent, confident, well-formed thoughts and convictions, classy, trustworthy

dark hair

  • Short bob: low maintenance, risk-taker, go-getter, professional looking, efficient and organized
  • Brunette: intelligent, self-sufficient, often consulted for advice, makes sound decisions
  • Red hair: fun, hate boredom, good sense of humor, ablaze with passion, temperamental and fiery, maybe fickle, or a drama queen
  • Bouncy curls: fun-loving, warm-hearted, celebrate uniqueness, courageous and outspoken, resists conformity; for black women, value roots, proud of who they are naturally

bouncy curls

  • Curly hair that is straightened: life is chaotic, seeks calm
  • Wavy hair: innovative and creative, high energy, strong willpower, emotional, easily gets hurt feelings, self-contained, monogamy might be a challenge
  • Thick hair: strong willpower, high energy, maybe stubborn, probably thick eyebrows, maybe lower sex drive
  • Thin hair: delicate, not into extreme sports, conserve energy
  • Straight hair that’s always curled: craves more fun and attention

curled hair

  • Medium-length hair, wash-and-go-style: good thinker, values logic, impatient, easily frustrated, values common sense, maybe competitive
  • Long hair, wash-and-go style: in touch with their feelings, romantic, creative, think hippies
  • Super short wash-and-go hairstyle: don’t want to fuss over things in life, less in touch with your feelings
  • High maintenance style: self-critical, anxious, worry about details, and/or drama queen who wants attention
  • Mumsy braid: put their own needs last

braided hair

  • Blunt cut: go-getter, to the point, values logic, driven and goal oriented
  • Layered cut: perfectionist
  • Unconventional hairstyle: fun, full of surprises, likes getting out of the box, carefree, creative, highly emotional, maybe an artist
  • Shaved head: super romantic, have a huge heart, sparkling personality
  • Hairline goes straight across: rebel, rule breaker or at least challenger, wants to make a positive change in the world
  • Irregular hairline: troubled adolescence, poor mothering
  • Rounded hairline: good girl, rule follower, well-mannered
  • Widow’s peak: sex appeal, mysterious charm, charismatic
crazy hair

What Men’s Hair Says

  • Man bun: practical, someone trying to pretend to be carefree, even though the look is contrived
  • Buzz cut: low maintenance
  • All bald: confident, he knows who he is, not afraid to embrace it; maybe thinks bald looks younger than gray

bald man

  • Same ol’ haircut forever: loves tradition, predictable, dependable, not going to change any time soon
  • The fade (whatever the top, a haircut where the hair on the sides and back taper gradually until there is no hair left on the skin): likely active duty or retired military, high and tight, disciplined; with a funky, spunky top, a with-the-times kind of guy, trendy

fade hair

  • The pompadour: worn by both women and men; for men, often combined with the fade, meaning a bit full of yourself, pay attention to detail, want to do things right the first time
  • Mr. Facial Hair: I’m a man’s man and I know it. Consider fancy mustache, tailored goatee, and full beard and the impression it makes
Note to writers: I found little on this topic relating actual hairstyles to personality tests. Virtually all of this is the impression these styles create. But for the writer, impressions are often what you are going for.


colored hair
[Source: MyWedding]