Posted by a Contributor in March's Magazine
Margaret Thatcher and Nancy Reagan shared not only an admiration for Mr Reagan but also a fondness for stiffly lacquered hairstyles. When visiting a polo match at Windsor in 1981 TV cameras recorded the First Lady’s arrival and one sports commentator observed: “I do hope she doesn’t fall and break her hair.” In more recent times Donald Trump and Boris Johnson became as famous for their hairdos as their politics.
When trainspotter Michael Portillo unveiled a new hairdo – the quiff from hell – John Lyttle a critic at The Modern Review said, “that tower of power hair is a far cry from his early super bowl cut and hints at a deep, defensive vanity.”
Not since 1964 has America had a balding president (Lyndon Johnson) all others have been luxuriantly locked. No one can deny the importance of politicians’ personal grooming and hair comes tops. John F Kennedy’s immaculate style was a well-known asset and it was once revealed that Ronald Reagan dyed his hair a rich dark mahogany – despite vigorous denials – when he was in the White House.
American politicians are acutely aware of the significance of personal appearance; roll calls of the hundred members of the US Senate reveals an eerie collection of middle-aged men with a thick neat sculpted coiffure and suspiciously perfect white teeth.
Tony Blair was once accused of inordinate profligacy in spending £60 on a cut-and-blow-dry and in 1993 there was a great furore when the Belgian-born Beverly Hills crimper Christophe charged Bill Clinton over $200 to give him a quick trim. So important did Clinton consider neat hair that Christophe was unexpectedly hurried out to Air Force One as it stood on the tarmac at LA airport, while numerous passenger flights were forced to circle the airport because of the presidential delay. Public and press reaction was furious.
Christophe was also hired to do Hillary Clinton’s mop and he was once asked what the President like to chat about. The hairdresser replied: “Christophe”. When asked what First Lady Hillary liked to chat about he said: “Foreign affairs”. With Hillary hair care was only part of an amazingly effective makeover that transformed her from a plump, badly dressed bluestocking with little dress sense to a sleek blonde First Lady (and years later presidential hopeful). Cynics soon criticised Bill for changing his policies as often as Hillary changed her hairdo.
Tory politician Michael Heseltine memorably hired his wife’s hairdresser to give his celebrated mane an extra something. During the 1995 Tory leadership contest one Sunday newspaper created the perfect Tory leader using an amalgam of facial features from Conservative cabinet ministers. Atop this identikit picture were Heseltine’s tresses described as ‘the most distinctive and exciting coiffure in modern political history, expensive to maintain, perhaps, but worth it for sheer panache’.
Margaret Thatcher began to dye her naturally dark curls years before she became Tory leader in 1975. Once a shrill peroxide bottle blonde she took counselling on how to present a more mature and softer image. As part of this process her hair colour gradually softened to assume the warm buttery tones of the last years of her rule. Style guru Peter York once wrote of Thatcher’s hairdo ‘it expressed the quintessential nature of Tory womanhood – hard and set and classy and old-fashioned’.
Mrs Thatcher’s legacy can still be seen in female politicians who go for ironclad lacquer that prevents them looking mussed-up. Even in the most blustery weather, Nicola Sturgeon’s immovable hairdo is rarely troubled by high winds.
Beards and moustaches, like comb-overs and toupees, are not advisable for politicians. Any sign of fakery or covering up does not go down well with the electorate. That said it is notable that those of the left favour facial fuzz. Think of Robin Cook, David Blunkett, Lenin, Fidel Castro and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn.
Big hair often finds favour with male politicians wishing to create a stir. Think of Kenneth Kaunda’s vertical do or Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s great shock of grey. The latter was once photographed having his locks blow-dried, the effect was rather similar to seeing Nero fiddle while Rome burned.
Boris Johnson is as famous for his gaffes as his flaxen flyaway mop top. And Donald Trump’s candyfloss concoction has become part of his branding. The Donald’s hair has become a guessing game as to its precise nature. In windy weather he almost always wears a baseball cap. During demonstrations last month a placard held aloft proclaimed ‘grab his toupee’.
One of the reasons male MPs take such a battering for appearing to take trouble over something as inconsequential as their hair is that they will be considered vain – a worse crime in the eyes of many than moral lapses or financial irregularity. MPs should be hard working ‘Honest Joe’s’ who endure long meetings and late nights in order to better the lot of the constituents. The politician who is seen to be spending too much time on his appearance is almost certainly riding for a fall.