is wild hair the sign of a bad politician?


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I think we know why you are asking: Boris Johnson, Javier Milei, Geert Wilders and of course the Donald. In the words of the song, “Just one look, and I knew, ooh ooh.” And there is a link. The unconcealed message of crazy hair is that this is an unconventional politician ready to take on the establishment. Not for him (and we are talking “him”, as women would not be allowed to get away with it) the short back and sides or graceful close crop as the old iron dome routs the follicles.

Although even here there are distinctions. Johnson’s may be intentionally unkempt but it is very much the hair with which he was born. The same is roughly true for Argentina’s new president, Milei. In fact, his Wolverine look might even be considered an improvement on the mullet that adorned his younger bonce.

Donald Trump’s bizarre barnet is less about projecting unconventionality than a disastrous effort to disguise baldness. In every other respect his appearance is pretty conventional, if a little old-fashioned, so I think it’s less about preferring wild hair than making the most of thinning hair. Only Geert Wilders can be said to have gone out of his way to choose and project a wild hair-do. His hair is consciously outlandish. For one thing it is dyed blond and for another it is swept back almost in the style of an Austrian court wig. The overall effect is that it is the product of a bombing run by a flock of radioactive pigeons.

So yes, wild hair is a definite tell. The readers who posed this question, the Tidmores of Cork, also included the disastrous centre-parting sometimes sported by Kim Jong Un in their list. But I’ve excluded him as democratic approval is not central to North Korea’s leadership model. I’ve also found fewer examples on the far left. Radical-left hair tends to be less rebellious than one might have expected. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French hard-left leader, is an exception. While his lustrous locks are not exactly unconventional, there is something disconcerting about them that leaves one wondering if perhaps there might be a marmot nestling within.

It is easy to see why these leaders value a look that screams, “I am not like the others”. Mind you, while Johnson sees his hair as a trademark, he often smartens himself up with a cut before elections. This effect is ruined by his ruffling it up before appearances. But he likes the differentiation. Milei appears to have taken the same approach.

You do wonder if there is an opening for a radical-right barber. An international movement of hair salons where aspiring leaders can go to get the “crazy Javier” cut that propels them to greatness.

So, yes, the theory has something to it. But here we need to add a very important caveat. Many populists wish to project reassurance rather than danger. The wild hair is best deployed in a lightning strike at the leadership, the crazy guy who has come from nowhere to shake up and save the country from the swamp/blob/metropolitan morass of ordinary politicians who are only in it for themselves. The full-follicle assault needs a quick win before the hairowner is sunk in mockery.

Others on the radical right favour a very different tonsorial strategy. Nigel Farage boasts a fine and almost conservative haircut, which is appropriate for a man who wants you to believe that description of his politics. In France, Jordan Bardella, the possible new premier, has highly controlled hair. His party, the National Rally, has spent decades trying to shed its far-right image, so Bardella is routinely sharp-suited and well groomed. This style is appropriate for parties that are trying to shed an extreme image and want voters to see them as reassuringly reformed. In fact, the combination of radical-right policies and conventional haircuts may be the more alarming trend.

Even more immune from the wild hair theory are women. Marine Le Pen has an excellent, unthreatening coiffure. Italy’s far-right Giorgia Meloni is similarly conventional. This may be a final frontier of political sexism, which makes voters less forgiving of wild hair-dos. Only when a female leader can get away with a full Milei or Boris can we say our system is finally equal.

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