Mitt Romney: Hail to the hair
When Mitt Romney visited Britain he couldn’t put a foot right. Then, after slamming London with claims that it wasn’t ready for the Olympics, he got on a plane and set off to offend the Palestinians, the Polish and pretty much everyone except the Americans. It was intended as a charm offensive that would show his home country that he was capable of the same globetrotting, rock star-style statesmanship as Obama.
But as gaffe followed gaffe, there was one thing that was truly A-list about the presidential candidate: his hair. Swept sideways, died a youthful black and gelled heavily into place, Romney’s hairstyle is the style equivalent of the Hoover Dam. Immovable, impregnable and seemingly immune to ravages of nature like gusts of wind or the ageing process, his all-American hairstyle has become integral to his campaign.
In America, hair matters – and a lot of attention is being paid to Romney’s barnet, which should come as no surprise because it gets a lot of love. It cost just enough to ensure it always looks good ($70 from a barber’s in Boston), but not so much that it emphasises exactly how rich Romney is.
After all, he’s bound to remember how Democrat John Edward’s presidential campaign, founded on a claim to represent the working class, was derailed in 2007 by revelations that he’d had not one, but two $400 hairdos.
Dr Allan Peterkin, a psychiatrist from Toronto and the author of One Thousand Beards – A Cultural History of Facial Hair, and the forthcoming One Thousand Mustaches – A Cultural History of the Mo, reckons the American public still wants politicians to have a good thatch. “Hair is still associated with power, attractiveness and even wealth – and the thicker the better,” he says.
“Successful men are expected to have good, short, Mad Men-style practical haircuts. No combovers, Trump blowovers, visible dye-jobs, product excesses or expensive fussiness. Too much fussing can be seen as overly vain or excessively controlled, which can backfire almost as much as being dishevelled.”
Romney clearly puts more thought into his hair than his public proclamations. When he was in Britain, he proudly spoke of being at the “backside of 10 Downing Street” and claimed there “are a few things that were disconcerting” about the London Olympics. Nonetheless, America is content to focus on his good bits and his hair seems more famous than what the Obama camp are calling his “foreign policy fumbles”. When Michele Bachmann, a tea party doyenne who stood in the 2010 Republican leadership contest, was asked what she most associated with Romney, she simply replied: “Hair.”
But are Romney’s ‘just stepped out of the salon’ locks too perfect? Some wags are circulating rumours that he’s undergone a Louis Walsh-style hair transplant to boost his electoral prospects. Almost everyone agrees he’s hit the Just For Men bottle to keep his hair black. Obama, on the other hand, has been content to go grey gracefully – the stresses and strains of working the biggest political job on the planet visible in every follicle. It’s all part of the game, according to Peterkin. Romney’s got to groom if he wants the top job, because his predecessors did the same.
“People speak of JFK hair as being the standard for the presidential mane, and he was really the first truly photogenic, televised president,” says Peterkin. “Reagan and Clinton had good hair, as did many pretenders to the throne thereafter, from Kerry to Santorum to Romney. The last elected bald president was Eisenhower, and one wonders if his baldness would have been a liability in our contemporary celebrity-mad, looks-driven culture.”
In politics, it seems, hair might even indicate the future. One fascinating study released last year suggested that if Donald Trump was seriously considering a presidential bid, he would move away from his “famous crazy hair” and adopt a more serious style. The author of that report, Dr Heather LaMarre from the University of Minnesota, insists that hair can be a vital part of electioneering in America.
If it seems ridiculous that anyone would seriously vote for someone, bear in mind that not everyone is totally clued up about a candidate’s political beliefs. When politicians use their physical image to woo voters, she says, it’s all about winning over the stupid, stupid.
“Research shows that people who are not very politically interested use other cues to form candidate opinions,” she says. “Attractiveness is a powerful cue. There have been studies that show people favour candidates and even vote for them when they find them more attractive.
“News media have made a big deal out of how presidential candidates look, including their hair. It is
worse with female candidates, but male candidates are scrutinised for things like their choice of clothes or hair styles. Sarah Palin was teased for her hair. John Kerry and John Edwards were as well. Mitt Romney won’t be the first or last US politician to draw focus on their hair.”
Not even Britain, home to messy-maned men like Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine, is immune to the power of great hair. Tony Blair famously died his hair when he was in power, although it all went a bit wrong, according to Pat Henshaw, corporate director of the consultants Colour Me Beautiful and co-author of Image Matters for Men. “When a man dyes his hair at home and doesn’t know what to do, the colour doesn’t turn out correctly. So Tony Blair had a spell of being slightly ginger,” she laughs.
Henshaw is more positive about David Cameron’s shift from a “Tory boy, quiffy thing” to his more modern style, and even Boris’ untamed mop. Despite the London mayor being ridiculed in front of millions of Americans during an appearance on the David Letterman show in New York City, his hair has been a winner at home because it sends out the message that he’s “not a typical Tory”.
She’s equally effusive about David Miliband’s refusal to dye out his grey patch, which she says gives him a “distinguished, ‘I’m not bothered about ageing’ look”, but isn’t so keen on his brother’s efforts: “Oh god! There’s something really wrong with that haircut. It needs to be shorter and it’s too stiff. He looks very young.”
Of course, every follically-challenged man reading this is probably wondering whether their lack of hair means that they will never get a statue in Parliament Square, let alone lead the opposition. Britain, as well as America, isn’t exactly known for its bald PMs, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s efforts and Winston Churchill’s celebrated – and bald – spell in power. Happily, Henshaw’s got some good news. “Being bald’s not a problem any more,” she say. “Well, Putin was elected in Russia, wasn’t he? Although that’s probably down to something quite different.”