In my endless procrastination in order to avoid doing university work over the summer, I spend a fair bit of time perusing Wikipedia. For whatever reason, I somehow managed to get to reading about U.S. Presidents. By reading, of course, I mean looking at their Wikipedia portraits and noting how they have changed over time. Interestingly, the Presidential fashion sense has gone through some distinct phases with relatively clear boundaries. I encourage everyone to also go through the Wikipedia pages of the United States Presidents, and see what they think of my following Eras of Presidential Hair Fashion. For best reading results, please open up the Wikipedia page of George Washington, and look at the portraits as we go.
The Wigged Old Men: George Washington to James Madison
In the early days of the United States Presidency, the American heads of state took their cues from England, and retained their odd penchant for uncomfortable looking wigs and serious looks on their faces. These Presidents include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – the first four. Or, perhaps we should call them the Fab Four?
The Slick Men With Prominent Foreheads: James Monroe to Andrew Jackson
These men used large amounts of hair gel, and likely combed their hair back not only to cover their bald spots, but also to proudly show off their large, well-developed, sometimes-shiny foreheads. Their hair was all nicely combed back, giving their hair a nice, slick look to complement their beautiful skulls. John Quincy Adams falls into this category not so much for the slicked-back hair, but because he was unafraid to lose his hair in order to flaunt his forehead. James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson were all men with slicked back hair and really nice foreheads.
Van Buren, Mad Scientist: Martin van Buren
It is only fitting that the only President not born on American soil have his own category. To be fair, John Quincy Adams in many ways resembles Van Buren, but Van Buren takes Adams’ mad scientist look even further, leaving Adams with his cronies in the large forehead department while catapulting himself into a category all on his own, with crazy hair on either side of his head, and very little of it in the middle. He looks quite the mad scientist.
Men With Almost-Bangs: William Henry Harrison and John Tyler
In contrast to the slicked-back hair of their predecessors, both William H. Harrison and John Tyler let their hair grow forwards, and while that hair might not be quite long enough to hide their elegant foreheads, they certainly made an effort to grow those bands! William Henry Harrison and John Tyler are the only presidents in this category.
The Slicked-back Renaissance: James Polk
James Polk, for whatever reason, rejected the bang-growing ways of his predecessors and returned to the days of Monroe, Adams II, and Jackson, and represents the culmination of the look.
Crazy Hair Taylor and Slick Fillmore: Zachary Taylor to Millard Fillmore
His hair is crazy. No one liked it at the time, so he was replaced by another President with slicked-back hair, Millard Fillmore. Fillmore, unfortunately, was unable to effectively revive the slicked-back look, and lost his election, surprisingly, to another president with crazy hair.
The New Crazy Hair Party: Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan
It turned out that Zachary Taylor was ahead of his time, and when the young and dashing Franklin Pierce adopted his long, scraggly, wild hairstyle, everyone went wild for it, and he probably won the election in a landslide. The older generation picked up on the craze, and James Buchanan attempted to emulate him, but instead got a very strange, wild head of short hair. Nice try, though; A for effort!
The Bearded Generation and Slicked-back Interregnum: Abraham Lincoln to James A. Garfield
Abraham Lincoln began a new craze, but like President Taylor, he was ahead of his time. Lincoln was the first president to sport a beard while in office, but following his assassination, his successor was afraid to grow one. Andrew Johnson, instead, returned to more conservative fashions, fearing for his safety. His hair embodies the old “slicked-back forehead” style, and he ruled well during the Bearded Interregnum. The bearded Ulysses S. Grant revived the bearded style following Johnson’s removal from office on account of too much hair gel, and he began a generation of bearded presidents, with Rutherford B. Hayes representing the Golden Age of Presidential Beards. After Grant, Presidents of the bearded generation include Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield.
The Mustachioed Revolution: Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland
Chester A. Arthur began to Mustachioed state, where all men addressed each other as “mustachioed comrade.” Arthur pioneered the look, and he was emulated by his lesser successor Grover Cleveland, much like Stalin pretended to emulate Lenin. Unfortunately, like the Soviet Union, the mustachioed men could not hold the nation together, and so lost the presidency.
The Facial Hair Wars: Benjamin Harrison to William McKinley
The more conservative Benjamin Harrison revived the bearded tradition, but a second mustachioed revolution overthrew his hegemony and Grover Cleveland’s mustache again took center stage as he became the only President to rule twice nonconsecutively. Unfortunately, like before, Cleveland was unable to hold onto power for a long time, and so he was overthrown in a coup by William McKinley, who had neither beard nor mustache, and for a brief time ended the dominance of facial hair.
The Mustachioed Resurgence
Following William McKinley’s death at the hand of an ardent (if slightly deranged) mustache-supporter, the mustachioed men again gained dominance, with Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt leading the charge, in the process also making glasses look awesome. His successor, William Howard Taft, continued the mustachioed tradition, and even exceeded his predecessor’s mustachioed talents with the greatest Presidential Mustache of all time. Taft was the last President to wear facial hair.
The Decline of Facial Hair and the Dynasty of Presidents Without Facial Hair: Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower
Unfortunately, the glorious mustache would not last long. Woodrow Wilson, in honor of McKinley, denounced mustachioed violence and went clean-shaven to show his support for the mustache-less underclass of America. As a result, facial hair declined in the United States, with his successors Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower also refusing to sport a mustache. The Dynasty of Presidents Without Facial Hair, founded by Wilson, was the longest-lasting American Presidential Dynasty. A second, less commonly-noted fact about this Dynasty is that they revived the slicked-back hair tradition of the Monroe area, many of them taking the style to new extremes. Their foreheads became shinier and their hair slicker during this area as fashions returned to more conservative values.
A Man With Slicked Bangs: John F. Kennedy
Not only did this man’s life end with a bang, but he also had bangs. Unfortunately for bang-lovers, he slicked his bangs back so that the beloved JFK did not look too liberal. However, his hairstyle also had the effect of making his forehead far less prominent than his hair, which represents the height of presidential hair fashion.
A Foreheaded Revival: Lyndon B. Johnson to Gerald Ford
Following Kennedy’s semi-daring almost-bangs – and then the bang that ended JFK’s life – his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, who had always hated that hair style,returned once more to the traditional slicked-back hair, shining forehead that so many Americans were used to. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford also kept this old tradition alive.
The Man With Bangs: Jimmy Carter
For the first time in the entire history of the Presidency, a man with bangs was elected, giving banged people across the country something to celebrate for once. Carter was unafraid to hide his forehead, and did so proudly, his hair falling over the upper part of his head, unencumbered by gel. Unfortunately for him, the American populace did not appreciate this look, and got rid of him for someone with more gel.
The Gel Duo: Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush
Unappreciative of Carter’s experimentation, the American public decided that Ronald Reagan, whose hair gel probably weighed more than he did, was better suited for the job. His successor, George H. W. Bushed, tried to emulate his master, but his neck was not strong enough to sustain the same weight of gel, so he had to make do with less, in a still-impressive attempt to look like Reagan. Both men also had prominent foreheads that their slick, gelled hair showed off.
A Man With a Lot of Hair: Bill Clinton
Like Franklin Pierce, Bill Clinton had a lot of hair. Unlike President Pierce, Clinton’s hair was not long and wild: it was thick and tamed. Weighed down with a considerable amount of gel, Bill Clinton’s hair rivaled and possibly exceeded Reagan’s. However, he did not use nearly as much gel, and that is where he fell short.
A Gelled Revolution: George W. Bush
Like father, like son. George W. Bush attempted to emulate his father’s (and Reagan’s) gelled style, but used even less gel than Clinton did with even more hair than his father. The result was a strange style never before seen in the history of the Presidency, where it almost seems as if George Bush’s forehead was framed by his hair. The style seemed popular, though, and it was eight years before he was overthrown.
That’s Hair? My, What Big Ears You Have!: Barack Obama
Barack Obama has very little hair. He also has large ears. His fashion sense is dangerous, as it is so unlike the Presidents preceding him. This upcoming election year, we will see if he has what it takes to survive on the 2012 Presidential Runway against Mitt Romney, whose hair seems to promise a return to the forehead-framing days of Bush and his ilk.
What fashion direction will the Presidential Hair take next? Comment and weigh in!