The politics of hair

Campaigns talk unemployment and national security, but what candidates really care about is hair

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s hair has been getting attention since before the last presidential election.
Reinhold Matay/AP
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s hair has been getting attention since before the last presidential election.

It’s back. It’s black. It’s under control - or is it? It’s Mitt’s hair.

Political junkies remember how Mitt Romney’s hair dominated campaign trail news before the last presidential election. While the former Massachusetts governor was locked in a tight primary race for the Republican nomination with snowy-headed Senator John McCain and addlepated former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, rumors began to surface: that his remarkably youthful tonsure owed more to Grecian Formula than to excellent DNA.

“I don’t dye it. I don’t color it, and you can take a real close camera shot and see there’s a lot of gray mixed in with all that black,’’ Romney declared in Milwaukee four years ago. The 60-year-old Mitt’s fabulous follicles had become Campaign Topic Number One thanks to a secret strategy memo unearthed by Globe reporter Scott Helman. According to the confidential document, Romneyites fretted - “Werewolves of London’’ anyone? - that their man’s hair was too “perfect.’’


Just a few days ago, The New York Times combed through Mitt’s hair yet again, this time with a front-pager anchored by an interview with Mitt’s oft-quoted Belmont barber, Leon de Magistris. “Mr. Romney’s head of impeccably coiffed black hair has become something of a cosmetological Rorschach test on the campaign trail,’’ opineth the Times, “with many seeing in his thick locks everything they love and loathe about the Republican candidate for the White House.’’

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Hot on the heels of the sleepy Times feature comes New Republic columnist Timothy Noah’s (“I’m actually interested in Romney’s hair’’) tart observation that the newspaper of record completely missed the true story of Mitt’s hair.

“Since his early teens, Mitt had patterned his own hairstyle after a man named Edwin Jones, who served as his father’s top aide in running the Detroit operations of the Mormon Church,’’ Noah writes, citing a lengthy Globe series on our former governor. “The hair is Mitt’s North Star. And he owes it all to an enigma of history called Edwin Jones. Did the haircut say, ‘I want to be Dad’s assistant?’ Did it say, ‘My dad isn’t fit to shine his assistant’s shoes’? I have no idea.’’

Who cares about hair? Everyone. A case history of hair in recent American politics would include the story of Bill Clinton’s $200 haircut (Christophe!) in Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport, and “Breck Girl’’ John Edwards’s politically ill-advised $400 wash and trim. “Hair matters,’’ Hillary Clinton told a Yale audience in 2001, only half-joking. “Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.’’

For the record, Secretary of State Clinton, like her husband and daughter, has great hair.


Let’s take a brief tour d’hairizon of the current political field. Among the Red State-heads, Texas Governor Rick Perry is clearly the man to beat, the Jabba the Hutt of Great Hair. How wonderful is Governor Perry’s hair? So wonderful that it briefly had its own Twitter account and Facebook page. It’s so great that Texas troublemaker at large-country music thang-gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, who admires Perry, once said that he would like to be cremated and have his ashes strewn in Governor Perry’s hair. No one is saying that about Newt Gingrich’s oddball retro do, I can assure you.

Across the aisle, the hair news is less sanguine. The Obama-no-fro has been graying from Day One, as is to be expected. Veep Joseph Biden’s hair transplant from hell is beneath contempt. He wanted to be president once, and saw that a bald man hasn’t been elected to the White House since 1956. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the winner that year, won World War II, which is a bit different from battling for Delaware’s credit card companies, the state’s former senator’s martial achievement of note.

Memo to senatorial wannabe Elizabeth Warren: “Little House on the Prairie’’ went off the air in 1982. The Willa Cather look isn’t going to beat Scott Brown’s blowsy do - and Brown is a man who takes hair very seriously.

How do I know? Two years ago I attended a rump meeting of the GOP Hair Club for Men, Willard M. Romney, presiding. Nominally a Republican fund-raising event, the meet-and-greet brought together Romney, the original Carrot Top William Weld, at 64 his orange mane still ablaze - as well as Charlie Baker and Weld’s successor as governor, Paul Cellucci, both superbly endowed, hair-wise.

I couldn’t help noticing, and reporting, that the unknown senatorial candidate, Scott Brown, also had a terrific mane of sandy brown hair.


I bumped into Brown a few days later. He refused to shake my hand and berated me for undignified reporting. This from a guy who posed nude for a women’s magazine. “I can’t believe you wrote about hair,’’ he said.

Believe it, Senator Brown. And I will again.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is