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Hair matters in politics. But politicians can’t let you think hair matters in politics, so their hairstyles have to be so masterfully planned and executed that each highlight, zany cowlick, and pomade-plastered strand must seem like the product of some stage of meiosis that took place 50 years ago in the womb. The benchmark for good politician hair is that it adds to their message about foreign policy without leading you to believe they even realize they have hair on top of their heads.
Celebrity hairstylist Cristophe Schatteman, who cuts Hillary Clinton’s hair and whose clients have included Bill Clinton and former President George Bush, explains, "As politicians have many priorities they typically go for a hairstyle that is very controlled and low maintenance." Priorities, that is, other than but still including their hair.
Conservative candidates and their hair requests haven’t changed over the years, Schatteman says. Search for old photos of former candidate Marco Rubio and you’ll find the man has had the same 1950s version of a "good boy" style since high school.
There are, however, exceptions to the conservative rule. Kasich, for one, "is trying to have more of a youthful and fashionable appeal to his style," Schatteman says. It wasn’t just your imagination — everyone else in America was also talking about the Ohio governor’s choppier, more, uh, animated ‘do at the last few debates.
As the Cincinnati Enquirer hilariously pointed out back in March, Twitter users had a field day debating whether Kasich’s hair was proof he was currently suffering from an existential crisis. Extra credit points go to Brookes Shelton for positing that, "The local Ohio preschoolers take turns cutting Kasich hair with Kraft scissors," and the brilliantAna Marie Cox for her compassionate, "I just want to take Kasich’s hair home and give it a shower and a meal."
Speaking of Republican candidates, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on pomade. Specifically, Ted Cruz’s excessive use of pomade. His familiar side part and slick comb-over are as conservative as his politics — if I were a poet and a Republican, this is where I’d insert an analogy comparing pomade to Cruz, the presidential hopeful who wants to glue our fractured country together.
"Ted Cruz is clearly trying to come off as very put together and organized by having not a hair out of place," Celebrity hairstylist and Harper co-founder Nicole Hartmann says. "Perhaps even a bit controlling. "
And then there’s the exception to end all exceptions: The Donald. Even if you love the idea of Trump the President, there’s a solid chance you’ve had at least one visceral reaction to Trump the Incomprehensible Cantaloupe Hair. Why would a man worth billions opt for a comb-over and unnatural color when he has the best hairdressers in the world at his beck and call?
For one thing, rumor has it he dislikes being touched and insists on styling his own hair. Another: Hartmann says he’s trying to cover male pattern baldness. But Trump’s hair is as much about serving as a nostalgic timepiece for voters who feel like they’ve grown up with him.
"Donald Trump is obviously not the ordinary candidate," Schatteman says. "His hairstyle is reminiscent of the same style he had 20 years ago. It is a style that he probably feels suits him. From looking at the polls right now I wouldn’t change that if I was him."
But even a dogged candidate like Trump isn’t digging in his heels when it comes to slight hair changes — most noticeably, his hair has been toned down to an ashier shade of blonde. "Donald Trump probably has someone behind the scenes pointing him in a different direction in a very subtle way," Schatteman says. "It is very possible a professional colorist slightly tweaked the color to bring him to a more realistic final product by September."
For both Republican and Democrats, the mantra is: the more their hair changes, the more it should stay the same. "For Hillary, her style is simple but still looks presidential — coiffed and organized," Schatteman says. "Consistency is important. It is key to have a style that has the ability to hold all day."
Clinton’s sublimely controlled style might explain why she often sports extreme volume — her hair is so thick, stately, and impervious to the elements of nature that some have suggested the former secretary of state is wearing a wig (for the record, Clinton’s Chappaqua hairdresser Santa Nikkels shot down the rumors with an emphatic, "She has the most amazing hair in the world").
Throughout the years, Clinton has been attacked for her ever-changing hairstyles. Unlike regular folk, who have the luxury of deciding they want bangs at age 32 and a bob at 34, Clinton nabbed headlines with every trip to a salon. In 1994, an article in the San Jose Mercury News went as far as saying "Clinton watchers" find her chameleon hair "most discomforting for the national sense of identity … After all, you wouldn’t want the Statue of Liberty changing her hemline every other week." You’d think she was going from mermaid hair to Mohawk instead of sliding her part over an inch.
When political candidates change their ‘do, the message they’re conveying is: I have a difficult time making up my mind. I’ll have just as difficult a time making up my mind as president.
"Candidates cannot have a dramatic makeover during the middle of a campaign," Schatteman says. "If changes are made, they need to be so slight that they are barely [perceptible]."
In Clinton’s case, this means a cut that is shorter and blonder than ever before, with slight tweaks along the way. "Sometimes it’s off her face, other times she wears a soft fringe," Hartmann says. "I think it shows that she is modern and not afraid of change as long as it is within her realm."
If Cruz’s hair makes him the George McFly of politics, Bernie Sanders is Doc Brown. In complete contrast to styles sported by the Republicans, the Vermont senator’s hair is downright feral and seems purposely disheveled, as if he never met a brush he liked. "Bernie Sanders is the rebel in this campaign and comes from a different era," Schatteman says. "He wants to revolutionize and change Washington, and his hairstyle reflects that. His style is unconventional for Washington." Let’s be honest. His style is unconventional for someone who wants to revolutionize the faculty room at your community college, nevermind Washington.
To be fair, it’s possible Sanders is so focused on stopping corporations from sheltering income overseas that his hair is the last thing on his mind. It’s equally possible that he knows damn well his hair (and the bald spot he refuses to cover up) only enhances his credibility.
But there’s one thing renegade Sanders shares with all male politicians of a certain age: the ability to reap the benefit of society’s "primal" belief that grey hair reflects wealth, power, and success, Hartmann says.
"A woman with grey hair is seen as past her prime," Hartmann says. "Although this way of looking at the issue is slowly disintegrating, it still plays a role. Unfortunately, if a female politician wants to be looked at as successful and powerful it is in her best interest to color her hair."
Gives new meaning to the phrase "won by a hair."