March 27, 2008

Hair "Memory"/"D'oh!"/Person In Barrel

Stupid Question ™
April 15, 1999
By John Ruch
© 1999

Q: I’ve been combing my hair straight back for four years, but my hair still wants to part on the left in the way I used to wear it. How does hair remember its old pattern, and why is it so hard to train?

A: Gavin Schadwick, education director at the Ohio State College of Barber Styling, stated the obvious for us: “Hair has no memory.”

What hair does have is a unique growth pattern based on where hair follicles are on the scalp and how the hair shafts grow out from them.
This pattern is known as a “hair stream.” A part results at the place two streams, going in opposite directions, meet.

Short of surgery or massive scarring, nothing changes the hair stream permanently. All the cutting and goo-spritzing that hair stylists do are temporary solutions.

The idea of “training” hair by repeated combing is simply a myth. Hair will continue to grow in its same stream forever, eventually destroying any style that doesn’t match the stream.

Your left-hand part was probably close to your hair’s natural stream, which is why it “wants” to maintain that position. Your artificial style will require constant work.

“You can’t train hair,” Schadwick said. “The individual has to train themselves.” He said you’ll have to adopt a regimen of using a setting agent (a gel or mousse), blow-drying while combing, and practicing a new combing technique—part of your trouble may be that you’re unconsciously holding your comb the way you did back when you parted your hair.

Ross Wolfe, a director at the Barber School in Columbus, Ohio, said poor hair care, such as overdrying or improper washing, makes it hard to maintain a style. You may also need a good haircut—stylists know tricks.

Your hair’s texture is also a big factor. Thicker, heavier hair has weight that helps hold a style in place. And some people have very flexible hair that changes position easily. It can be repeatedly combed into a style that it will hold for a while—though this “training” is only temporary.

Consult a barber, and be ready to keep up a constant battle you can never truly win. As Wolfe said, “He’s probably under his destiny, genetically.”

* * * * *

A couple updates:

The April 1 column traced Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” to Scottish film comedian James Finlayson. Graeme Trousdale of the University of Edinburgh’s English department wrote to say that “D’oh!” was probably Finlayson’s personal idiom, not a common Scottish expression.

And an Oct. 22 question on the origin of the image of a poor person wearing a barrel continues to stump me. But I’ve finally found samples of such images: one an editorial cartoon and the other a bazaar ad, both from December 1949 issues of the New York Communist paper the Daily Worker.

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