“Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), to which this column owes its title, devotes a chapter to the subject of men’s hair and beards. However, while Mackay locates the fashion for western men to wear their hair short in St Paul’s declaration that ‘long hair was a shame unto man’, his reticence when it comes to the mass follies of religion means that he only dichotomises his way through history, noting that this faction wore theirs long, while that one went for the No 1.
“Mackay is unwilling to venture into the semiotics of hairstyle, although he concedes that during the English civil war ‘every species of vice and iniquity was thought by the Puritans to lurk in the long curly tresses of the monarchists, while the latter imagined that their opponents were as destitute of wit, wisdom, and of virtue, as they were of hair’.
“The association between plentiful hair and the farouche is easy to divine, as is its paradoxical tangling of effeminacy and machismo. In our own era, the Janus-faced view of hippies – at once filthily feral and girlishly gentle – would seem to have been the apogee; by the mid-1970s, one might have hoped, the tedious go-round between long and short hair would have been abolished, peace and prosperity having been instantiated in the valiant figure of Richard Branson, with his carefully oiled locks flowing over his well-laundered collar.”
Read the rest of the latest Madness of Crowds column at the New Statesman here.