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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

In honor of April 30's Hairstyle Appreciation Day, I started to reflect on how helpful hairstyles and color are for a historian in analyzing historic materials. Often, I am looking through a box of primary sources and stumble across an image that lends insight to the materials that I am working with. After checking the back of the image for a date, one of the next thoughts I have is what is the person wearing and how is their hair styled. In addition to giving away an approximate date to when the person posed for the picture, hairstyles can also help in constructing an analysis of the individuals personality, social class (or the class they tried to emulate when being photographed), customs they followed, and what occupation they may have been involved in.


For example, when looking at the images of William Henry Holmes, artist, geologist, anthropologist, and long time Smithsonian employee, below, it is easy to identify the evolution of his hairstyles and what each style implicated.



The first image shows Holmes, age 27, during the Hayden Survey of Colorado expedition in 1873. In this image Holmes (highlighted) has full, dark hair and a small mustached and sole patch. His hair is unkempt since he is out in the field and more interested in science, than style.










The second image jumps to 1902, where Holmes, age 57, is participating in a meeting of geologists at the Smithsonian Institution. Recently promoted to Director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Holmes' hairstyle is a closer cut when compared to the previous image. His style is that of a gentlemen and professional, not of a young naturalist in the field. He has also lost more hair on the top of this head, but has grown a fuller beard and longer mustache.








No date was known for the third image. However, when comparing the images that we have dates for, we were able to fit the image into the sequence. In this third image, which we have dated around 1915, Holmes is nearing seventy years of age and is serving as Director of the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, NGA, (now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Curator of Anthropology. His hair has grown white, but hints of the darker pigment can be seen in his eyebrows and beard when carefully looked for. His mustache extends out past his cheeks and the hair on the sides of his head is longer.




The final image shows Holmes at age 74. Still working at the Smithsonian both as Director of the NGA and Curator of Anthropology, (he retires at the age of 86!), Holmes is now sporting a much more trimmed hairstyle. His hair as grown whiter, and receded further. The sides of his head are brushed back into a tidier look. He has ever trimmed his moustache and beard, giving him a more dignified style.







By quickly analyzing the changes, subtle as they sometimes are, a host of information can be unveiled or used as supportive evidence in the research process. For some other fun images of people with interesting hair-dos check out this Collections Center search. And remember...

"Those curious locks so aptly twin'd, Whose every hair a soul doth bind."
~Thomas Carew



Courtney Esposito, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives

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