Residence: Beverly, IL
Date of Performance/Collection: April 15, 2019
Primary Language: English
“Leaving the house with wet hair is bad luck.”
Context: The informant is the grandmother to the collector and this spoken superstition occurred naturally during her visit to Los Angeles from Chicago. When the collector was leaving their house with wet hair after taking a shower, the informant remarked on their appearance poorly, by stating that wet hair outside is bad luck. The collector has heard this superstition on multiple occasions from the informant.
Informant Analysis: The informant said that when you get ready to leave the house after taking a shower, you should dry your hair with a blow dryer so that it is not wet outside. Although she did not say she believed it would cause bad things to happen, this little superstition was told to her from an early age. She noted that, while it may not be an omen of bad luck, having wet hair when you go outside is unmannered and sloppy. Every person, according to her, should learn these simple tasks as a child. By making it a superstition, it was her assumption that children would be more likely to listen.
Collector Analysis: Although I am no longer a child, I have heard her say this to me many times. I believe there are three ways to analyze this superstition: its formation, its content, and the speaker’s identity. To begin with its formation, it is interesting that this superstition is perhaps not meant to be viewed as a superstition at all, but a trick played on children. It is often the case that children choose to not follow the command of their parents or grandparents either out of the urge to rebel or the disapproval in the purpose of the command. In many ways, it may be seen as easier to have a child do something if it is not coming from the mouth of the parental figure. In providing a make-belief statement, that wet hair outside is bad luck, the command becomes an implication to act a certain way. The statement itself then sounds like an self-beneficial objective belief rather than a subjective parental belief on what one should do. Furthermore, if the audience of this command is for children, it is perhaps more likely that a child would believe in a superstition and act upon it than an adult would. If a child has greater tendency to believe in superstition, it would only follow that the utilization of superstition would work well in guiding their actions. While the formation of command into superstition changes the meaning completely, we can also look at the substance of the superstition itself– wet hair and outside.
The informant had grown up in New York and had moved to Chicago as an adult. One commonality between these places is that they both have extremely cold winters. Leaving the house with wet hair could be seen as dangerous and ill-advised if there is a greater likelihood of getting sick from the cold by doing it. If we parallel this idea to the common folk belief of putting on more clothes or, you are going to catch a cold! , there seems to be some similarity between the two pieces of folk speech; specifically, the danger of being needlessly colder than one has to and cold being the cause of sickness.
Lastly, it is very informative to note the relation of the informant to the superstition. The informant was born in 1946 in a Irish Roman Catholic neighborhood where there were strict rules on how one should dress and style themselves. Her family was not wealthy by any means, so there was some emphasis on trying to not appear poor. Part of the not-poor-look was to always leave the house well-dressed with your hair styled and dry. In this time period, perhaps too generally speaking, there was more emphasis on presenting oneself to the world in a mannered way. In this regard, having wet hair when leaving the house was looked upon poorly because it could be mistaken for not having time, money, or self-respect. Today, the code of manners in the United States is much laxer. Wet hair would currently, at most, connote that an individual took a shower.