As junior Madison McCloud walks to class, she is immediately bombarded with compliments from friends and strangers about her newest hairstyle. Little do they know the look was achieved by seven hours at a salon, multiple bottles of bleach and a lot of patience. Many people only see the finished product, not the culture and the time spent creating the hairdo that expresses and represents the individual wearing it.
For many community members, hair choices can revitalize one’s style and change how one is viewed, both by others and themselves. Hair is something that most are born with, but is never the same for any one person. Some have short hair, some have long hair and others have no hair at all. Hair allows many students and faculty to define their identity through different styles, colors and lengths of their strands. Hair can bring about a mix of emotions: happiness and independence but also feelings of self doubt and aging.
“It’s really interesting to see what drives people to make the choices for their hair,” independent hairdresser Jacquelyn Banas said. “Sometimes they’re doing it because they want to make a change somewhere in life and hair is an easy thing to change, because it thankfully grows back in most cases. It’s interesting to see how influential other people can be on people’s hair choices. That’s why I always talk to my clients because I want to make sure that it’s something that they actually want and that they understand the maintenance and what it’s going to look like on their hair to make sure it’s the right fit.”
Pandemic Hair and Trends
Being stuck at home during the pandemic caused many people to participate in TikTok trends out of boredom. There were a variety of fads, including baking bread, whipped coffee and the Netflix original “Tiger King,” but one of the most popular trends had to do with hair. People tested new ways to style their hair that included curtain bangs and “Do-It-Yourself” hair dye. Banas has seen old hair trends come back in style over these past years, particularly with her younger clients.
“Since the pandemic, my clients have been wanting to branch out and try different hairstyles,” Banas said. “I am now seeing a lot of requests for curtain bangs. Women are getting more experimental with their hair. I’m seeing a lot of short hair these days, whereas before I felt like a lot of high school girls were wearing their hair all one length.”
Senior Casey Curtis was scrolling through TikTok like most high school students stuck at home during the pandemic, when she continued to see videos of girls cutting their hair into curtain bangs. She was skeptical at first of getting them herself, but as time went on, she finally decided to try out the trend.
“The first few times I went to a hairstylist, but they grew so quickly that I just started trimming them myself,” Curtis said. “I kind of like the curtain bangs; they are kind of comfortable to me now, so I’ll probably keep them for at least a few more months.”
While some used quarantine to try out TikTok hair trends, others used it as a time to try out different hair colors. Junior Annabelle Heppner dyed her hair a variety of different colors at home, and enjoyed creative liberty without having to worry about following school guidelines.
“[The pandemic] definitely made my hair more crazy because I couldn’t get bleach, so I had to strip it with soap,” Heppner said. “Since we weren’t able to go to school, I was able to dye it whatever color I wanted. It was really nice, in all honesty.”
Upper School French and Arabic teacher Laila Kharrat also took time during the pandemic to dye her hair to experiment with more bold colors using semi-permanent dye. For example, Kharrat dyed her hair pink for a vibrant seasonal change.
“I decided to go pink with [my hair] because it was summer time and ‘Covid-19 hair don’t care’ was the thing people were saying,” Kharrat said. “Everyone’s dyeing their hair, so I went all pink with it for the first time ever, just because I had a totally open slate for my dark hair… to go to any color.”
Hair is a way for many people to show off their creativity and to differentiate themselves from a crowd. However, some do not have a deep connection between it and their personal identity.
Fifteen was a special age for Kharrat as it was finally the time when her parents allowed her to experiment with her hair. Two years ago, when she was 37, she began to experiment with color again by dyeing her natural black hair to silver. She began to coordinate the color of her hair to the time of year it was or to an event she was going to, allowing her to be festive during the school year.
“I just quite frankly got bored of having just really long, dark hair, which I had like that for a long time,” Kharrat said. “Before I had kids I used to dye it. I was never really intense about it, and I let maybe a decade go by with no color, so then I kind of went the whole other way.”
“I think it’s become more acceptable to try out different hair styles when you’re sort of finding yourself.”Chris Northrup
Upper school math teacher
Similarly, Heppner, 17, regularly started to dye her hair from a young age. After having long, brown hair that covered most of her back, she finally decided to change it up in eighth grade by cutting her hair and dyeing it pink.
“I’ve done probably every single color in the rainbow to my hair,” Heppner said. “[Dyeing it] was just a thing of expression because, in my family, we’re not really allowed to get tattoos or any of that stuff, so my parents said ‘Well you can always dye your hair back to brown if you really wanted to.’ I really like the pink on me, and the purple has also been a lot of people’s favorite.”
Another common trend has involved the changing of hair for sports events or bets. In order to promote a sense of unity, the varsity football team decided to cut their hair into mullets. Due to the curl of his hair, a mullet wasn’t possible for junior Justin McCray, so he chose to bleach his hair instead.
“I’ve actually grown to get accustomed to the new hair, so I might keep it for a little bit longer, but if not, I’ll cut off the orange parts,” McCray said. “[Hair] definitely makes us come off more as a team, and it brings us all together personally.”
But for some, hair is more than expression. It’s identity. In 2019, the school required all students to participate in drug testing where a strand of hair, the size of a no. 2 pencil lead was cut off and sent to a lab. Some students took the process as an invasion of privacy.
“I didn’t get my hair taken because I refused, so they took my arm hair,” junior Cren Boyd said. “It was very controversial. I didn’t like it because I feel like my hair is a part of my identity.”
Some of the hair specialists doing the cutting of the hair were not trained how to cut all hair types, so some students were forced to have their arm hair shaved.
“I was more offended that the person wasn’t aware of my hair type,” McCloud said. “[The hair specialist] said ‘can I take off your dread?’ When it wasn’t a dread. It would have been nice to find someone that actually knew how to deal with my hair.”
McCloud frequently decides to wear cornrows, a traditional style of braids in which hair is braided in rows very close to the scalp, to help protect her natural curls from styling tools.
Sew-in weaves, which involve cornrows and sewing in extensions into braids, can allow natural hair to grow long and healthy. McCloud prefers to get sew-in weaves as they help protect her hair.
“I like getting sew-ins because it lengthens my hair,” McCloud said. “It also protects my hair because my hair is usually not in the sew-in, except the top. So basically, a lot of my hair is covered and protected.”
But to some, hair doesn’t connect them to their identity. According to Cleveland Clinic, about 70 percent of men will lose hair as they get older and about 25 percent see their first signs of hair loss before age 21. Tired of having to comb and wash his hair patches, Upper School chemistry teacher Walter Warner decided to cut off his hair before all of it had the chance to fall.
“I have never thought of hair as a way of expressing my individuality,” Warner said. “Basically, I think you’ll find that a lot of guys, not even my age but a lot younger than I am, [cut their hair] when they start losing their hair. Oftentimes that’s the choice they’ll make because it’s not worth the time and energy to try to try to make it look good. And it’s just easier to get rid of it and not sweat the small stuff over.”
The pink hair was such an exciting color for Kharrat that she decided to keep it all summer long. But by the time school came along, she worried whether or not the school would accept her new hair color.
The school’s handbook over the past few years has changed to accommodate non-gender based uniforms. The only two restrictions for student’s hair is that it needs to be clean, well kept and that it cannot be dyed an unnatural color. Faculty, on the other hand, does not face the dye restriction.
“The only restrictions on hair, and on all of our uniform policies, are non gender based,’’ assistant head of Upper School Jeff Laba, who wears his hair below the collar, said. “It’s the same across the board. There isn’t a policy for boys or girls hair, it’s just hair.
Students over these past years have questioned the handbook policy as many believe that hair is a way for them to express themselves. Heppner is confused by the policies, finding it unfair that teachers are allowed to dye their hair while students are not.
“I have definitely noticed that teachers come in with very similar colors to my hair color, and they keep it for months on end, but the second I step into school I get yelled at about it,” Heppner said. “I just think it’s very hypocritical. It was really tough.”
One myth is that the hair policy is in place because the school finds dyed hair distracting. In reality, the school does not find the hair distracting, but out of place in a private school community with uniforms.
“I don’t think [dyed hair] is distracting at all,” Laba said. “Certainly people dye their hair all the time, but [uniforms] allow our student body to represent themselves and the school. I just think [unnatural colors] can be abused and go a little too far. I think it might not represent the school well.”
As of right now, the school does not plan on changing the hair policy, but if dyed hair becomes more accepted in the business world, then the school could consider changing it with societal standards. According to a Nov. 1 poll of 172 students, 36 percent have dyed their hair, but only 10 percent have dyed it a bright, unnatural color.
“I could definitely see that in a couple of years we may do away with that [policy],” Laba said. “I think it just has to do with what people perceive as professional, which is kind of another thing we try to do with the uniform, as we try to go for a professional look. Five years from now, [dyed] hair might be considered a professional look, and that would be fine.”
Before the non-gender based uniform, boys had to wear long hair in a ponytail if it was below the collar. Now the rules have gotten softer for the boys, allowing them to wear their long hair down, like sophomore Patrick Adams who has sported long hair ever since a young age.
“I’ve had this style for years now, it’s almost a part of me,” Adams said. “I wouldn’t consider it a defining part of my personality, but a part of me nevertheless. I do get [hair cuts] whenever it gets long or thick enough to be unable to brush easily, but I don’t get them on any sort of schedule.”
Before the non-gender based uniform policies, Patrick Duffner ‘18 was restricted from sporting his long hair. When he first grew out his hair, he was unaware that there was a “no hair below the collar” rule in the handbook.
“To me it seemed silly that the school would put restrictions on something like the length of boys’ hair,” Duffner said. “So inevitably when my hair got to the point of a “violation” I was confused and annoyed.”
Despite the multiple warnings he received, he didn’t change his hair until male faculty followed the rule, too. Once those members cut their hair, he wore his hair up in a bun until the rule was removed during his junior year.
“I really can’t say the reason why I decided to keep my hair long, it just got to a point that I wanted to see how long I could go,” Duffner said. “I believed that as long as there was faculty with long hair, my hair shouldn’t be a problem.”
Upper School math teacher Chris Northrup is one of a number of faculty members who sports long hair. He appreciates the fact that long hair has become more accepted over the years.
“I like to change [my hair] up,” Northrup said. “When it’s short, I like to keep it a little out of the way. When it’s longer, I like to wear it down. I think it’s become more acceptable to try out different hairstyles when you’re sort of finding yourself. When my parents were younger, they would have been kicked out of school or lost jobs for having long hair or anything really different. I think it’s a good thing that people are accepted for being different or looking different.”
Although hair can be an outlet for self expression, it can also stem insecurities, especially with aging and disorders. Many people try to balance dyeing their hair or covering their bald spots to feel more confident with embracing and loving their natural hair.
While many women and men dye their hair to hide the gray as they hit a certain age, Kharrat has welcomed the gray streak in her hair for years. According to the Houston Chronicle, 71 percent of women who dye their hair do so to appear more attractive.
“Many women my age, I’m almost 40, start dyeing their hair as soon as they have any gray, but I’ve always really loved my gray streak,” Kharrat said. “I think it looks cool, and I like the fact that it’s all coming from one spot. I’ve always embraced my gray streak as something that’s kind of unique and different.
Sophomore Cara Lichty, like Kharrat, has embraced her hair differences. Lichty has alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the white blood cells in the hair follicles. Lichty has the type of alopecia called alopecia areata, which means she loses hair randomly all over her body, resulting in circular bald spots appearing on her scalp.
“My dermatologist warned me that I could lose all of my hair,” Lichty said. “I started crying in the doctor’s office because my hair was always so important to me, and I feared losing it all.”
Lichty has had a hard time accepting her bald spots. She frequently tried to cover them up so that no one could see them, but as the years have gone on, she has come to love and accept them.
“I felt like the bald spots came to represent more of an insecurity within me; they represented how I wasn’t really proud of myself and how I would try and hide them all of the time,” Lichty said. “And that really isn’t who I am; I don’t really like hiding who I am as a person. I think I have grown to accept them more and more and accept myself more and more. I realized it is kind of a cool thing about me. It is actually pretty rare for my age group. I am really into science, so I have come to accept it from a medical standpoint more than from a cosmetic standpoint.”
Although hair can bring about insecurities it can also bring this sense of confidence. Hair is one of the main ways that people are able to express themselves. Self love has become the focal point of many peoples lives, and a certain hairstyle and color can create this feeling of happiness and make you feel your best self.
“I just think hair is just one more way of expressing ourselves,” Kharrat. “I consider it a lot like makeup. I mean if we’re allowed to put on makeup and choose what color eyeshadow we have, what color lipstick we have and what color nail polish we use, then why not also do our hair however we want and whatever color we want.”