Tresses in Texts

Five fantastic literary hair moments.

There’s nothing more precious than seeing someone grin or chuckle when reading a book. It makes you want to interrupt their reading, asking, What? What’s so funny? Tell meee.

I set out to accomplish the insurmountable task of selecting the greatest hair scenes in literature, ones that induce those grins and chuckles. At first I looked for moments that perfectly encapsulate the cultural landscape in which they were written (if the word “literature” doesn’t carry highbrow connotations, then what does?). In the end, I went with five hair disasters. My reasoning as to why I was drawn to these scenes can be concluded thusly: 1. They were hella funny and 2. Let’s face it, who doesn’t delight in a little in laughing at another’s misfortune? (What? It’s fiction.)

That’s not to say that these hair disasters existed in their literary contexts purely for the schadenfreude. As your high school English teacher would be all too happy to point out, these scenes of hair gone awry are actually momentous turning points in these characters’ lives. Bad hair days can teach very important life lessons. If it weren’t for these moments, we would never know that even nice domestic girls can get caught up in their looks; that attacking one’s vanity can be a powerful weapon; that Prince Humperdink is a big-time douchebag.

So without further ado, I present to you five of the very best hair scenes in literary history. I realize five is nothing in a sea of stories, so if you have any of your own favourites, please share them in the comments.

Matilda (1988) by Roald Dahl

Matilda is a mostly charming story with some pretty disturbing child abuse thrown in, because Roald Dahl had a twisted mind. Matilda (the character) was a vindictive bookworm with telekinetic powers who lived with awful, idiotic parents. Her dad, Mr. Wormwood, was particularly sadistic. I mean, the man tore up her library copy of The Red Pony in front of her. Pure evil. In retaliation, Matilda set out one morning to ruin his nice mop of black hair. She mixed his “Oil of Violets” hair tonic with her mom’s platinum blonde hair dye and waited for the magic of peroxide to happen:

Mrs. Wormwood looked up. She caught sight of her husband. She stopped dead. Then she let out a scream that seemed to lift her right up into the air and she dropped the plate with a crash and a splash on to the floor. Everyone jumped, including Mr. Wormwood.

“What the heck’s the matter with you, woman?” he shouted. “Look at the mess you’ve made on the carpet!”

“Your hair!” the mother was shrieking, pointing a quivering finger at her husband. “Look at your hair! What’ve you done to your hair?”

“What’s wrong with my hair, for heaven’s sake?” he said.

“Oh my God dad, what’ve you done to your hair?” the son shouted.

A splendid noisy scene was building up nicely in the breakfast room. Matilda said nothing. She simply sat there admiring the wonderful effect of her own handiwork. Mr. Wormwood’s fine crop of black hair was now a dirty silver, the colour this time of a tightrope walker’s tights that had not been washed for the entire circus season.

Anne of Green Gables (1908) by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne Shirley would not be Anne Shirley without her red braids. Anne without her signature ‘do would be akin to Bonnie without Clyde, Thelma without Louise, Dumb without Dumber (I’ll stop with the road trip movies). But throughout the series, Anne always struggled to love her locks. In L.M. Montgomery’s first novel, future-dreamboat Gilbert Blythe teases Anne for having red hair by calling her “Carrots.” (Boys are just the worst.) Anne is convinced her red hair is a curse, so she buys a bottle of hair dye from a peddler to turn her hair a bold black. Instead, it turned green (the characters react in horror, but you know Anne would be on trend today). Anne comes homes to her guardian, Marilla, and fesses up to her silly mistake:

“Anne Shirley, what have you done to your hair? Why, it’s GREEN!”

Green it might be called, if it were any earthly colour—a queer, dull, bronzy green, with streaks here and there of the original red to heighten the ghastly effect. Never in all her life had Marilla seen anything so grotesque as Anne’s hair at that moment.

“Yes, it’s green,” moaned Anne. “I thought nothing could be as bad as red hair. But now I know it’s ten times worse to have green hair. Oh, Marilla, you little know how utterly wretched I am.”

The Princess Bride (1973) by William Goldman
Chances are, you know the movie version of The Princess Bride by heart. Heck, if you’re anything like me, you probably weave the quotes into everyday conversations (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means). But did you know the movie skipped out on a pretty great hair scene in William Goldman’s novel? Before Buttercup, Prince Humperdink was supposed to marry Princess Noreena of Guilder. At a grand feast, Humberdink is about to propose to Noreena until suddenly, a breeze blows through the castle and Noreena’s hat comes off to reveal that she is—gasp!—bald. A bald princess! Humperdink refuses to marry such an ugly woman and in his true-to-nature assholery style, he threatens to wage a heavy war with her country for the embarrassment it has caused him:

Prince Humperdinck made his angry way to the balcony above the Great Hall and stared down at the chaos. The fires were still in places flaming red, guests were pouring out through the doors and Princess Noreena, hatted and faint, was being carried by her servants far from view.

Queen Bella finally caught up with the Prince, who stormed along the balcony clearly not yet in control. “I do wish you hadn’t been quite so blunt,” Queen Bella said.

The Prince whirled on her. “I’m not marrying any bald princess, and that’s that!”

“No one would know,” Queen Bella explained. “She has hats even for sleeping.”

“I would know,” cried the Prince. “Did you see the candlelight reflecting off her skull?”

The Outsiders (1967) by S. E. Hinton
Confession: Ponyboy Curtis stole my heart in the eighth grade. He digged sunsets, cited poems by Robert Frost, and his association with fellow Greasers gave him brooding undertones of danger. Could you blame me? I would have run from the law with him, curfew be damned. In all seriousness, if you look past the dreamy boys and the fights, you’ll find that hair played a crucial role in The Outsiders. After the incident with the Socs (no spoilers here), Ponyboy and Johnny attempt to disguise themselves. Ponyboy gets his hair bleached, while Johnny gets his greasy hair cut off. The hair change was symbolic of their new identities as fugitives and no longer that of Greasers. After it happens, Ponyboy bemoans the loss of his greaser hair:

“It was my pride. It was long and silky, just like Soda’s, only a little redder. Our hair was tough—we didn’t have to use much grease on it. Our hair labeled us greasers, too—it was our trademark. The one thing we were proud of. Maybe we couldn’t have Corvairs or madras shirts, but we could have hair.”

Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott
I re-read the classic tale this year and was reminded of a darling scene when Jo March, second eldest sister-slash-writer-slash-rebel (she was portrayed by both Katharine Hepburn AND Winona Ryder onscreen), convinces a barber to buy her hair for $25 so dear Marmee can take the train to see an injured Papa. When Jo comes home, she removes her bonnet and to the horror of the sisters, reveals her newly-cropped hair. Jo is so proud of her boyish ’do and gloats that it will be good for her vanity. Later that night, she sobs herself to sleep and confesses to big sis that vanity isn’t so easy to chop off:

“Jo, dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?” says Meg.

“No, not now,” says Jo.

“What then?”

“My… My hair!” burst out poor Jo, trying vainly not to smother her emotion in the pillow.

It did not seem at all comical to Meg, who kissed and caressed the afflicted heroine in the tenderest manner.

“I’m not sorry,” protested Jo, with a choke. “I’d do it again tomorrow, if I could. It’s only the vain part of me that goes and cries in this silly way. Don’t tell anyone, it’s all over now. I thought you were asleep, so I just made a little private moan for my one beauty.”


illustration //
Jenn Woodall

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The Stories We Tell

Five Wornettes revisit the fictional characters that inspired their closets growing up

Moon Prism Power!
When I was about 10 years old (pushing the limits of an appropriate age for a cartoon obsession), I loved Sailor Moon. She was my moon goddess of style. Though my love may have shifted from Sailor Scout to Sailor Scout, it was the idea of a sassy uniform only put on through an intense and magical costume change that I found most appealing.

The fantasy driven schoolgirl fashions had me acting like a fool as I begged my parents for the whole kit and kaboodle of consumer products marketed to my tween self. I remember the tense Christmas morning phone call between a friend and I as we discussed who had gotten what under the tree that morning. It was as if we thought it made us better people to have added to our growing collection of imported plastic accessories that made us “feel” like we really were “Super Sailor Scouts”—stylish schoolgirls with badass super powers.

As I got a bit older, my obsession stuck in the back of my mind. I couldn’t bear to part with the dolls, t-shirts, and plastic wands that hung around collecting dust in my closet. The cool punk girls I met in high school shared my secret love. We regularly discussed how awesome our animated hero and her friends were.

How did this totally fanciful, junk-food TV show fit in with my new found, anti-consumerist, teenage feminist rants? I began to reposition my fascination, turning my old Sailor Moon nightgown into a hot butch muscle tee and mixing the cutesy Sailor Moon-inspired pigtails of my youth into a riot grrrl-inspired statement. Perhaps the rumours of a lesbian love affair between Sailor Neptune and Uranus had even had an influence on my queerness. Even though I’ve more or less retired this obsession, I still get giddy every time I see a Japanese school uniform, excited at the thought of the magic that the girls who sport these get-ups possess. // Jenna Danchuk

Ten Points for Slytherin
I was obsessed with Harry Potter as a kid to the point that I managed to convince myself that a) I was his sister and b) Voldemort was stalking me. Okay, I’ll admit—I’m still obsessed. I couldn’t watch the last part of the last movie because I couldn’t deal with the fact that the series was ending. Before, when I identified as Gryffindor, I was partial to their house colours of red and gold. I was really big on wearing men’s ties as accessories (eat your heart out, Avril Lavigne). I used to carry a wand around until I was, like, 12. My mom claimed it was just a stick and told me to grow up. (Muggles, am I right?) Unfortunately, I haven’t. I still have the wand (yew, dragon heartstring core, inflexible), lying around somewhere.

When I was 10, I got glasses for the first time, and I didn’t feel like a Horrible Nerd Dorkasaurus as I might have had I got them at an earlier stage. I felt like this further confirmed my assumption that Harry Potter and I were related and I was actually a witch. The reason I wasn’t accepted to Hogwarts, I told myself on my 11th birthday, was because it is in England, and I lived in Canada, and Hogwarts Express doesn’t cross the ocean. Obviously. Anyway, Harry Potter made me feel cool about my glasses. I was in good company.

As I got older, I started to get into Harry Potter from a different perpective. I realized that I was cleary a Slytherin, and that green and silver were the way to go. I still like red and don’t hate Gryffindors, but I avoid gold clothing if I can help it and wear silver instead. // Sofie Mikhaylova

Here. Swear. Swear on Chanel.
I can’t remember being obsessed with anything other than dalmatians as a child, but in Grade 10 I fell under the spell of Carrie Bradshaw. The obsession spilled over to Sarah Jessica Parker (does anybody really differentiate between the two?) and I can remember going to school wearing my Great Grandmother’s broaches as fasteners on an asymmetrical grey cardigan, an homage to her Gap campaign.

My all-time favourite outfit during this phase was based on a dress from the final episode of the series. It was a sea-foam green tulle skirt which I made myself and layered over a structured black halter dress, meant to emulate the dress Carrie runs across Paris in, eventually reuniting with Big (gush). I wore it to our high school’s drama and dance awards.

I think the only problem my obsession with Carrie’s fashion might have caused was that it was so different from what everyone else was wearing in my high school, and so I sort of stuck out like a sore satin-gloved thumb. While everyone was showing up for class in jeans or sweatpants, I was wearing chiffon floral skirts and oversized fake flowers pinned to my cardigan. // Casie Brown

“Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed.”
Growing up, I always got the idea that my peers didn’t think I was very smart. No matter how high my grades, my optimistic attitude combined with my affinity to wear pink matching outfits and my blonde streaked hair made me an easy target for dumb blonde jokes. I felt destined to be intellectually downtrodden until the day I saw Legally Blonde. Elle Woods was just like me: fun, girly, and smarter than she looked. I faked an eye exam and got cute glasses, paired knee socks with heels, and began telling everyone I would go to McGill, to which one boy said, “Alyssa, you’ll never be smart enough to go to McGill.” But, like Elle, I studied hard and tried to be best friends with everyone regardless of their judgment. The climax of my Elle Woods phase involved a head to toe hot pink Betsey Johnson corduroy outfit, complete with hot pink knee boots my mother acquired in Las Vegas, accessorized with a pink basket full of pink cookies which I spent my high school day handing out to students. After that I started dating a drama guy and went from Pretty in Pink to Checkerboard Ska. It was a rocky transition.

I never did get to McGill, but only because they didn’t offer a program as well known and successful as the Ryerson School of Journalism, where I am currently finishing my degree. I do, however, still wear pink with pride, and sometimes when I get to class and take out my floral notebook and rainbow pen set, I smile to myself and silently thank Elle for helping me find my smart self. // Alyssa Garisson

All I want is a dress with puffy sleeves.
Anne of Green Gables was a really important book for me as a child. I just liked how she was so herself, even though that self was a little weird and loud and prone to unfortunate accidents. I’ve never dyed my hair green (by accident, that is), I’ve never gotten my best friend drunk (by accident, that is), and I’ve never floated away in a lake and been rescued by a mischievous, handsome boy from school (not yet, that is). I might not have had flaming red hair, but I did have big, bushy, brown curls—I stuck out in the sea of sleek blonde hair that was the style for all the pretty girls in elementary school.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I didn’t fully understand what “puffed sleeves” were—I remember looking in a mirror and holding my sleeves up off my shoulder in an attempt to visualize what Anne was talking about—but I definitely sympathized with Anne’s yearning for trendy clothes that her adopted guardians couldn’t afford. As a child, all my clothes came from the sale section of a local discount outlet store. I always wanted what I couldn’t have: designer purses, t-shirts with logos printed on them, $30 lipgloss from department stores. My mother had a very Marilla Cuthbert attitude towards the whole thing. They’re both very practical women who work hard to balance a small budget and are seemingly impervious to trends or impractical wants. I’m the complete opposite—as soon as I was old enough to work, I worked in the trendiest boutiques and department stores, spending my minimum wage earnings on the latest styles.

Once, when I was working at a law firm and had lots of disposable income, I came across a cardigan that had legitimately puffed sleeves. It was a black button-down sweater with ruched stitching on the shoulders, giving them a raised, “puffed,” look. I don’t know if the designers had Anne of Green Gables in mind when they designed it, but I bought it immediately. I never wore it. It’s not really my style. I didn’t relate to the actual puffed sleeves—I related to Anne’s wanting. I understood desiring what you can’t really have. Besides, buying those items for yourself rarely fills a void. When Anne finally gets her puffed sleeves, it’s because Matthew, her guardian and best friend, knows that puffed sleeves will make Anne happy and sets out to get them for her. I’ll always remember how I felt reading about Anne unwrapping the paper on her beautiful brown dress that Matthew got Mrs. Lynde to make. Anne had someone who really understood her and who would have done anything to make her happy. I like to imagine that Anne never gave away or threw out that dress because it reminded her of how much she and Matthew loved each other. She outgrew the puffed sleeves, but she never outgrew their relationship. BRB, crying forever. // Haley Mlotek

photography// brianne burnell