Tag Archives: hair

Playoff Haircuts

In high school sports, playoffs are consistently a big deal and represent a payoff for hard work and a good record during the sports season. This form folklore is both a folk practice and afterward, a folk object. The practice is giving certain haircuts during the time after the regular season but before playoffs begin. These are not normal haircuts but wild ones with different patterns and styles. Some of them include mohawks, bald heads, bowl cuts, words shaved into heads, monk haircuts, old man haircuts, and a plethora of others. They are not set haircuts but rather up to the imagination. This practice is similarly performed in other high schools across the United States, sometimes with other variations.

This folk practice is traditionally done by the upperclassmen within a team. The lowerclassmen get worse haircuts while the upperclassmen get better ones. In this way, it is a form of hazing. The informant said that the haircuts are typically shaved off or bettered once the playoff streak end because they are only to remain during the postseason. They learned it from the upperclassmen when they were younger and then performed this practice as an upperclassman. This is only typically done on varsity sports. The sports observed to do this include baseball, football, lacrosse, and some others. They remember it wholly fondly, even as a lower classman. It is not meant to be malicious but more a harmless rite of passage because it makes the kids feel like more of a coherent group. Another instance of this at different schools include bleaching the team’s hair during playoff time.

It seems to me that this sometimes is about a dynamic of power. Younger kids may be intimidated into doing this, but other kids may enjoy it because they are a part of a larger group and help self-identify with that. It is a physical way of making teammates more similar and improves as the kids get older, causing interest to do it for the first time.

Hair in a Bird’s Nest

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Informant: So my – so my grandmother, on my moms side… was a…. Old German lady. She had German – half German, but anyway. She was staunch Catholic but, my mom would tell me this story that, you know, she would never – she yelled at her once because she was cleaning out her brush and she was gonna throw it out like the window of the car. She told – cleaning out – gonna throw her hair out the window, that is, not the brush. And she said you know, you never – never throw your hair away, you gotta burn it, like if you clean out your brush or anything like that, because if you throw it away and a bird gets it, puts it in their nest, build their nest with it you’ll have headaches for the rest of you life.

Interviewer: Do you know why?

Informant: Nope. Just something to do with the birds and bad luck, I guess.

Interviewer: And did your mom enforce this on you, or like, tell it as a joke?

Informant: No, no! My mom told me the same story, so…

Interviewer: Wait so you did have to follow it.

Informant: No, she just-

Interviewer: Oh. So for your grandma it was a belief but for your mom it was just a saying.

Informant: Yeah, yep.

Background: My informant was raised by a very religious but not too strict Catholic family. They were not very wealthy growing up, and he has heard a great deal of sayings like these growing up in a rural area on a farm.

Context: This piece of folklore was collected when I asked the informant to tell me about the stories and sayings they remembered from their mother. The informant is my father, and he is a very outspoken person so the setting was relaxed.

Thoughts: I enjoy collecting pieces of folklore that reveal contradictory aspects of a person. That a staunchly religious person would believe and enforce a superstition – a bit of magic – in this way is funny to me. The concept of this is directly tied to contagious magic, and it even evokes classic cliches of voodoo. It is a good example of the nature of belief being flexible and form fitting.

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

Signs of Drug Addicts Among Hairdressers

” *whispering* You can totally tell if someone does hard drugs just by bleaching their hair. Like your hair is processing normally and if I leave it in long enough, all the color will come out and you will have this fabulous platinum. But, like for example, I had this one client who clearly seemed out of it– like could not make eye contact and was slurring his words. Ok, first, I was worried and we got him some cookies. We only have sugar-free cookies here so I’m not sure it helped much. *laughs* But his hair, and this is true for anyone who takes hard drugs, not like marijuana, but like real drugs, just would not bleach out. It gets to this highlighter yellow color and no matter how long the bleach is in there, it stays this horrible color. Like, I’m not saying he was using drugs, but like… It can also happen on certain types of strong antibiotics.”

Context: This piece of folk science was collected at a hair salon in Studio City during the collector’s experience bleaching their hair with their regular hairdresser. This information was brought up while the hairdresser, who identifies as gay and has been living in Los Angeles his whole life, looked at the processing of the bleach in the hair to note how much longer the bleach had to stay on. After hearing the folk science from the informant, the piece was then asked to be recorded.

 

Informant Analysis: He said that this is common knowledge among any hairdresser who has dyed hair for sometime, noting that he had experienced a handful of clients who were upset with the final bleached color when the brassy highlighter yellow color was the lightest color they could achieve. The hairdresser did not know the science behind why the color would not lift from the hair, only that it is hairdresser’s gossip about their clients if the color does not lift.

Collector Analysis: Although I cannot speak to the science behind hard drugs or antibiotics effecting the bleaching process of hair, I can say that there are two main reasons I can think of that may be the reason for this piece of folk science to be carried on between hairdressers. The first reason is the perhaps unacknowledged botched up hair dying job of a hairdresser. It seems possible, and I have seen in other hairdressers, that when the client becomes enraged with the end product of the hairdresser’s work, the blame will often go on the client instead of the hairdresser. Since these stories are often shared to different clients as entertaining gossip, it seems as though hairdresser’s would be more likely to tell new clients that it was not their fault, but perhaps some chemical problem in the other client’s hair. Another reason for this piece to be shared is in part do to the environment of a hair salon. Much of the talk at hair salons is gossip or hearsay that can either be racy or somehow make someone else look bad. A client will often hear their hairdresser gossip about the other hairdressers they work with, but the client will not usually hear the gossip the hairdressers speak to each other about the client.

 

Italian Witch Story

A story goes as follows: A young woman is known to have beautiful hair, black, silky, and shiny; it was so beautiful that it was something that every resident in the town knew about and admired. One day an unknown old lady came over to her house and started to stroke her hair, commenting on how gorgeous and rare it was. Her father found out what was happening and ordered that she go away. He was alarmed and struck with a protective fear, claiming that the old lady was a strega, or witch. Solely with the touch of her hands, she was able to curse the young woman and her hair ended up falling out day by day, eventually leaving her with no hair. She had to wear a hat for the rest of her life because of the powers of the witch.


The interlocutor recalled this story because of his personal recollection of the fear that it incited in him as a child. His father would occasionally tell this story, as he had heard it a few times; this was enough to make him wary of the power that strangers’ hands possess. By way of this, the story was usually directed at the interlocutor’s sister because of the value that is placed on particularly a female’s hair. The interlocutor mentioned that she still lives in fear of others touching her hair and is reluctant to even receive haircuts.

This story, while probably used at certain occasions to entertain youth, obtains even stronger undertones of a message of privacy and self-reliance. On the very surface, it seems to underline the value of hair in Italian society, especially hair that is kept in good health naturally, signifying a sort of blessing on people with beautiful hair. Yet, the general fear that this story incites demonstrates the value placed on privacy and reliance on oneself. The hands of a stranger have enough power to cause someone harm, and it is by way of this knowledge that young men and especially young women learn to be wary of the influence and malicious intent of others outside of the family. Their magic is contagious and has the power to infect anyone just by touch.