Hair! Human Stories

Jane Hoodless, Hair Receivers, 2017

A journey into the unexpected worlds of hair

Beyond the Personal and Cultural

Hair is a natural fibre but it is rarely left in a natural state. Throughout our lives we groom it, shape it, shed it, cut it, style it, shave it, colour it, straighten it, curl it, loose it and, in some cases, cover or supplement it. But hair is not a neutral material. It comes fraught with expectations about beauty, identity, gender and race. At once seductive and demanding, it offers multiple possibilities of conformity and dissent.

Through how we style our hair we express who we are and how we wish others to see us. But once hair is removed from the head, does it still represent us? Is it forever haunted by memories of past lives?

curved-front showcase with hairballs

Hairballs for All Seasons, Emma Tarlo 2018 in collaboration with clients from Hacketts Salon

In Hair Balls for All Seasons, clients at Hacketts Salon in North London were invited to offer their hair along with comments about their feelings towards it. The hair balls become an archive of the salon, showcasing the diversity of colours and textures of hair and revealing the complexity of our emotions towards it.

closeups of hairballs showcase

Hairballs for All Seasons, detail

Hair balls remind us of the strangeness of detached hair – a body part that has become a body product - and invites us to explore hair’s lingering relationship to ourselves.

Hair Play: Hair is the stuff of dreams, fantasies, expectations, frustrations and excess. Many children spend hours running their fingers through hair, exploring different colours and textures and imagining alternative selves. Above all, hair seems to offer endless possibilities of transformation.

Mixed Chicks dolls and Japanese doll in a wig

Japanese doll without her wig

Afro sponge

Hairdresser's diary

Mother and Daughter

Mum went into town without telling anyone and had her hair cut off when she was 19 and her dad was cross and when he saw it he threw it on the floor with some vigour. But after, it was carefully wrapped up in a cloth and put in a drawer. I had my plait cut off when I was about 14. My mum went with me. Mine too was brought home and wrapped in a scarf and put in a drawer with my mum’s.

— Jo Doyland

French and German real hair postcards, 1920-1930

French and German real hair postcards, 1920-1930

French and German real hair postcards, 1920-1930

French and German real hair postcards, 1920-1930

Jane Hoodless, Shorn out of Wedlock; hair, canvas, wire, foam, 2011.

The Victorians were obsessed with hair, often embellishing its symbolism to fetishistic levels, and generating new commercial values. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards the codes and imagery associated with hairstyling grew in significance, reflecting the changing roles of women in society. Married women who let their hair flow out in public were frowned upon, this being normally reserved for the unwed, although they were allowed to let it out in mourning, to show their distressed state. The queen’s highly publicised widowhood, and the short life expectancy of the age, also created a vogue for jewellery and artefacts made from the hair of the loved and lost.

— Jane Hoodless

Jane Hoodless, Hairfelts; hair, canvas, 2011.

Ridiculing the bob, 19c. 20

On the back is a daughter’s plea in childish writing: Dear Mother, Hoping you have not gone to Kerries and got your hair bobbed because if you do not like it you cannot stick your hair on again. Having fine weather, enjoying myself, Peggy