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Brady's hair wouldn't cut it.

Byline: Albert B. Southwick


I've been thinking about Tom Brady and Cotton Mather and have concluded that they just wouldn't get along with each other. That grungy look with uncut locks and scraggly beard would be enough to send Rev. Mather into one of his famous three-hour sermons.

In fact, Mr. Brady might find himself in the stocks, were he living in the 17th century in Massachusetts. And so might several of his hirsute fellow football players. Long hair on men was a big no-no in those days.

As any parent who lived through the '60s, '70s and '80s knows, long hair on boys, whether scraggly or done up in braids, can become an issue. Hairstyles or lack thereof have set families into loud arguments. For those early Puritans, uncut male hair was also an invention of the devil, a clever device to lure unsuspecting folk along the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire.

The governor of Massachusetts Bay had hardly got settled in 1630 when he issued a firm injunction against long hair on male heads.

Puritan divines like Cotton Mather railed mightily against flowing locks on men. The General Court issued an injunction that "the men might not wear long hair like women's hair." As Alice Morse Earle, that indefatigable antiquarian, put it: "Exact rules were given from the pulpit as to the properly Puritan length - that the hair should not be over the neck, the band, or the doublet collar; in the winter it might be suffered to grow a little below the ear for warmth."

And more: "Personal pride and dignity were appealed to, that no Christian gentleman would wish to look like every Ruffian, every wild-Irish, every hang-man, every varlet and vagabond." Men doing time in the stocks were sometimes offered their freedom if they agreed to get a haircut.

Facial hair, and how it is cultivated, has been a perennial issue, perhaps since the Babylonians or even before. Busts of ancient Romans show hair that is curled artificially. Egyptian pharaohs wore jet-black wigs. Persian men a thousand years ago curled their hair with henna. Hairstyles then and now sometimes had political and religious significance.

For the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries, short hair was in line with the divine will. The civil war in England pitted Oliver Cromwell's Puritan troops against those loyal to King Charles I. The rebels were often called "Roundheads" because of their short haircuts, whereas the royalist Cavaliers flaunted their long, perfumed locks. During those bitter struggles, the king was deposed and beheaded and Mr. Cromwell presided over a Puritan commonwealth for a few years. That was the background to the Puritan commonwealth set up in Massachusetts in 1630.

Women and their hairdos were also a matter of concern in early Massachusetts. Authorities feared that females might succumb to ungodly "luxury." As one Puritan minister put it: "The special sin of women is pride and haughtiness, and that because they are more ignorant and worthless." Another divine declared that women "showed the vile note of impudency" when their pride "vented itself in gesture, hair, behavior and apparel."

In fact, it seems that the women engaged in a sort of running rebellion against the Puritan strictures. In 1683, the Rev. Increase Mather (father of Cotton Mather) reproached those Jezebels in no uncertain terms:

"Will not the haughty daughters of Zion refrain their pride in apparel? Will they lay out their hair, and wear false locks, their borders, their towers like comets about their heads?" Another clergyman called them "Apes of Fancy, friziling and curlying of their hair." (Webster's Dictionary was far in the future. Seventeenth-century American English was a haphazard thing, grammar- and spelling-wise.)

Those "towers like comets" referred to frames of wire perched on ladies' heads to support large wigs. Such devices came to be quite the fashion with women, Puritan or otherwise.

Alice Morse Earle quotes a letter written in England about the hairstyle fashioned for Mary Queen of the Scots: "She did set such a curled hair upon the Queen that was said to be a Peruke, that showed very delicately, and every other day she hath a new device of head dressing without any cost, and yet setteth forth a woman gaylie well."

Mary Queen of the Scots was no Puritan, but many women paid attention to her wardrobe and style. Even those sober women of Massachusetts were influenced by such ungodly trends.

By the middle of the 1700s, from the Puritan point of view, all was lost. Women were doing fantastic things with their hair and dress. The Revolution era saw wigs, powder, "pomatum," ribbons, pom-poms, algrettes, jewels, gauze, flowers, feathers, rolls and other devices to enhance women's tresses.

There has been no letup since.

And men? Let's remember that in 1840, Joseph Palmer ("Old Jew Palmer") spent a year in the Worcester jail for refusing to shave his beard. But 20 years later, Abraham Lincoln grew a beard during his 1860 campaign because he thought it made him look more presidential.

Go figure.

Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 16, 2010
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