Would you go to war over your hair?
Some of us did. When we fought to stop the war in Vietnam and tried to overthrow “mainstream culture” in the process, hair became one of the battlegrounds.
The Beatles started it. Previously, boys had short hair and a “longhair” was a professor or a “classical music snob.” After the Beatles first appeared on TV on February 9th, 1964, long hair became a symbol – first among musicians, then among the rebels we called hippies, and then it became a symbol of rebellion, especially against the war.
Along the way, the symbol became an “issue.” Boys with long hair were called “fags” and “queers,” a curious proposition when most gays were trying desperately to blend into the mainstream. Adults often assumed that boys with long hair were drug users. (OK, some of us were, but hey, they were alcohol-users, right?)
Some of us fought screaming battles with our parents about who was in control. School dress codes were enforced with rulers and sometimes with scissors. You could be sent home – or to the barber in the case of a friend – if your hair touched your ear or your collar.
Girls’ hair wasn’t judged by length, but it was still a symbol. At a time when girls routinely rolled and twisted their hair into carefully concocted styles, long, straight hair was a symbol of rebellion. If it wasn’t naturally straight, it could be ironed to look “natural.”
When a play about the antiwar movement and the “counterculture” arrived on Broadway, it was called – what else? – “Hair.”
A camaraderie grew among longhairs. You felt you could trust someone who had long hair, especially if it was a little scraggly. It meant you had similar values, liked the same music, and spoke the same language. “Far out,” “right on,” and “outasite,” were good…but even your hair wouldn’t help you if you said “groovy.”
And then suddenly, as we turned the corner into the 1970s, everyone had long hair. At first, it seemed like we had won, and that peace and love would reign. Instead, the symbols of rebellion had become the new normal. The war wound down, and the sense of rebellion passed. Eventually, long hair became unremarkable, found most predictably on rock stars.
Hair is still a potent symbol of who we are. But it rarely starts fights or inspires revolutions any more.
You can read about my own hair wars – and how we won – in Some Way Outa Here.
Got any good hair stories of your own? Reply below!