This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 6 November 2015.
Whenever I go to a new barber’s and ask for my head shaved, I always get some variation on ‘Are you sure? That will leave your hair very short’. Aside from the fact that making my hair shorter is rather the point of a haircut, there’s often a slightly uneasy edge to these moments, polite as they usually are. They seem to be wondering if I know what I’m letting myself in for, as if having short hair was some sort of weird, extraordinary burden. I’ve been shaving my head for over a decade now, and I can confirm that it isn’t. But still this slight sense of stylistic stigma persists. Why?
People with shaved heads are often viewed as either tough-as-nails skinheads or slightly nonconformist rebels, or some combination of the two, like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. Although this comparison also gets at the other, rather less pleasant view of people with shaved heads, particularly women, that they must be the victims of some horrible trauma. Seeing Anne Hathaway’s hair cut off in Les Misérables is meant to be shocking and tragic, because it relies on the visual shorthand of very short hair signifying some kind of lack.
This is, of course, nonsense. A shaved head is a haircut like any other, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough credit in mainstream fashion. It’s a hairstyle whose elegant simplicity lends itself to a number of occasions and outfits, and which does not deserve the slightly freakish ghetto it’s shoved into. Any hairstyle adopted by such a wide-ranging bunch as Sigourney Weaver, Grant Morrison, Charlize Theron, Britney Spears and Heston Blumenthal is clearly a bit more versatile than we’re led to believe.
Personally, the attraction of shaving my head is two-fold. First of all is sheer convenience or, less charitably, laziness. The fact is, a shaved head is the definition of low-maintenance. It’s quick to wash, quick to dry, and thus frees up a fair amount of time. Rather like shaving the lower part of my head; I respect those who grow it long, but it always seemed a bit of a hassle to me. Plus, there’s the weird pleasure of being able to order a haircut by number, like at a Chinese restaurant.
But the other thing I like is the ability to minimise one aspect of my appearance, in order to accentuate others. As a ginger I’m all to used to people paying a bit too much attention to my hair, so I appreciate the opportunity to pare it down, allowing people to focus on other things, such as my (if I may say so) excellent taste in shirts. With a shaved head, hair stops being a central feature, and becomes something more like a pair of socks; visible, but in no way the defining part of an ensemble.
So that’s the power of a shaved head. It allows me to turn hair into socks. Now what’s so weird about that?