A Hairy Situation

Mike Blake / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In response to Olga’s callout for weird dress code rules, several readers share stories of hair regulation—restrictions on both length and color. Marcus couldn’t have a mullet:

This was suburban Atlanta in the very late ‘80s. The Billy Ray Cyrus-style mullet was the trend (along with hair metal styles) for guys at the time, but the very conservative school board decided to pass a rule that boys’ hair couldn’t touch the collar. The rule was intended to force guys into the traditional conservative short haircut. The crazy thing was, the guy with the weirdest hairstyle at the school (a punk-rock devotee of Sid Vicious) used toothpaste to spike his equally long hair straight up or straight back so that it never touched his collar.

In any case, there was a school board meeting shortly after the rule was introduced and a large group of male students showed up to protest it, to no avail. Eventually the rule changed, long after I had graduated. It never did make sense in any of the traditional reasons for dress codes (distraction or provocative).

No mop top for John Ware:

When the new Beatles haircut became all the rage in the ‘60s, our school tried to measure hair length (not unlike the military). At my school, hair could not “drape over the ears,” and the neck had to “be neatly trimmed.”

Still too long? Put it in a ribbon. That’s what Georgia’s classmates in Melbourne had to do in the ‘90s:

If your hair touched your collar, you had to wear it tied up with a red ribbon that was at least 30 centimeters long. Teachers would actually carry rulers with them and periodically ask to check.

But what if it’s too short? Paul Lorigan knows all too well:

I was given detention because my hair was too short. They told me I had to go get a haircut or else. WTH kind of haircut regrows hair!

This anonymous reader was simply judged:

While it wasn’t a rule, one teacher told us that women should be required to have long hair because it showed lack of morals to cut your hair short. (??)

When it comes to tints and tones, several readers noted restrictions to “color that occurs in nature.” From a Texan in the early ‘00s:

“No unnatural hair.” This rule was prone to abuse at my Catholic, all-girls school. Not only was it used to outlaw coloring your hair, it was used to outlaw mousse in your hair and haircuts deemed too “modern.” Basically, it made it so if a teacher didn’t like your hair, you could get detention. Teachers tended to not like the hair of students they already disliked.

On a personal note, the private high school I attended in Maryland, Severn School, still regulates students’ hair: “Hairstyles and hair color must be neat and not be extreme,” reads the 2015-2016 upper school dress code explainer. Whatever that means.