My daughter once asked: “Do women have to cut their hair when they get married?”
Honestly? I didn’t know what she was talking about. I knew some Jewish women cut their hair when married but, as for the average Irish woman, I simply had no idea. Over the years, I’d often heard derogatory remarks about women sporting long hair, how they should know better at their age “and they a married woman.” I dismissed such remarks, thinking little more about the subject.
It was my daughter’s question which got me thinking. I became increasingly aware of the hairstyle preferences of the married gal. I was surprised when I realised how many had indeed shortened their hair after marriage to the point of absolute horror when I learnt one lady cut her luscious locks a day into her honeymoon. And all this made me wonder where the ‘trend’ came from?
Many Jewish women cut their hair very soon after they marry so I wondered if, in Ireland, cutting married hair was some remnant of Judeo-Christianity? It’s common for women to shave off, or cut short, their hair and then cover their head – with a wig, scarf or shawl. It’s difficult to say where this custom actually comes from in the Jewish faith. The Talmud, for example, suggests that women’s hair exudes some form of sexual energy and to be modest is to remove it from view; doing so will save men from ‘unholy thoughts’. Others believe covering a woman’s head is a sign of a woman’s shame and guilt for the sin Eve committed; that her hair contributed to her temptation and seduction of man. And for Leila Leah Bonner, another explanation is that the Bible indicates that cutting off a woman’s hair often rendered her unattractive. In today’s world, however, it’s often seen simply as a symbol of transition from maidenhood to womanhood, from solitary life to married unity.
But this refers to women cutting their hair with the intention of covering it. Only the timeline for the act has any connection to Irish women today and their desire for shrinking hair length. It’s true, however, that long, luxurious, hair is often seen as symbolising strength, sensuality and passion. Relationship expert, Anjula Mutanda, believes it’s a ‘powerful symbol of femininity.’ Men are instinctively drawn to it, preferring it over the cropped alternative. According to Mutanda, if a man is given pictures of a woman with short hair and then with long hair, he opts for the latter; ‘his reaction is primeval.’ Shampoo ads use models with long hair, showing long locks oozing with sensuality. Depictions of washing short hair simply don’t have the same visual impact or consumer appeal.
If long hair contains all these wonderful properties and appeals more to men, why then do women continue to shorten their hair? Surely, it can’t be a case of “Now that I’m married, I can let myself go?” For Writer and Broadcaster, Fiona Looney, it seems that, once a woman had her man, there was no need for such frivolities. In a television programme for RTE, she said it was as if women were allowed to marry with long hair but then mysteriously returned from honeymoon without it. Not an attractive pixie cut but simply blunted short hair. “To me”, Looney continued, “it suggested an end of sexuality. It was like you’re now married. You need to get out of the high heels, put the flat shoes on…and crucially, cut your hair ‘cause it’s Samson and Delilah, your strength. Your attraction is in your long hair. You’re now married. You’re off the market…Game over.”
More reasons are given to explain this act of chopping. Some see short hair as symbolising a loss of interest in sex but this is rather an individual thing. Far too many beautiful and sensual women have sported short hair through the years for this to be taken as applying to all. Others believe that, like many Jews, it symbolises moving from single to married life, from girl to woman. Cutting hair can be for convenience or practicality. Or quite simply because a woman just feels like it.
Time to turn to the experts – the hairdressers. Many accept there is indeed a common pattern. On becoming engaged, women invariably start growing their hair for the wedding day. The more hair the better and keeping hair long prevents all possibility of a pre-wedding disastrous haircut which can never be reversed in time. They simply want to avoid mistakes in precious photographs but once the flashes are gone, many can’t wait to hear snip, snip, snip.
New York stylist, Tyson Kennedy thinks cutting hair so soon after the wedding is very understandable. Months, maybe even years of hair growing, is tedious and when the event is over, the desire to chop and change is at its greatest. “Plus”, as Kennedy says, “big life changes tend to call for extreme hair switch-ups too.” Lydia Sheaks’ experience mirrors this. Thinking about this very question ‘why do married women cut their hair?’ she responds: “Who knows? I wouldn’t speak for all womankind but for me it feels like a New Beginning is in order, to go along with my new responsibilities as Best Wife Ever.”
So, in answer to my daughter’s question, there is no rule, custom or tradition. It simply seems to be something women do when they get married. No great mystery then, no religious throwback and highly unlikely to be a demand from a husband. It does make you wonder though why so many keep it short thereafter…?
Published online: 2014