Is a hairstyle powerful enough to send a nonverbal message? The answer is yes. Your hair speaks volumes about you, even if it's less-than-voluminous, because it's one of those intangibles — it tells people whether you're hip, you're unconventional, you're traditional, you're laid-back, or you just don't care about trends. In addition, the way you treat your hair — at your desk or while walking down the street — can send another set of messages.
Hair is a lot like clothing when it comes to body language: Although it doesn't technically have a set of nonverbal behaviors, it's one of the first things people will notice and judge about you. In addition, the way you touch your hair expresses a whole set of nonverbal messages.
A hairstyle is an amazing thing: It can define you to scores of people you don't even know. Imagine your very conservative grandmother riding the subway, holding on to her purse for dear life. A young man with a purple Mohawk comes along and sits down right next to her. As she tells the tale later, she says, “Well, naturally, I was terrified.” But what was she so scared of? Granted, she may have been uncomfortable being seated next to any young male, but there's little doubt that his unconventional hairstyle may have exacerbated her fear. The Mohawk makes him appear to be someone who has little use for the rules and regulations of society. She was expecting him to be a criminal, of course, and kept her eyes peeled for any signs of suspicious behavior (shifty eyes, for example, or bouncy, twitchy hands and feet).
You're surprised, then, when your grandmother tells you that out of necessity — she dropped her knitting needle and he was kind enough to retrieve it for her — she ended up having a lovely conversation with this guy. She reports that he had the kindest smile she can recall seeing in ages, a body language cue that has obviously won her over and taught her a lesson about not judging a man by his hairdo.
What Your Style Tells the World
There's no one “best” hairstyle, but there are styles that work better for specific ages, occupations, and lifestyles. For example, a CEO is very unlikely to enter the office with a spiky pink hairdo for the simple reason that she would be perceived as being unprofessional (and possibly a tad crazy for trying to pull off this look in the corporate world). In other words, the hair would make a questionable impression, and her body language would be read through this filter.
Donald Trump's hairdo is widely mocked by comedians, and if he were just the average man on the street, he'd probably catch plenty of guff from friends and coworkers for his questionable sense of style. However, his body language lets everyone around him know that he is King Trump: he won't tolerate any criticism surrounding any decision he makes — including the way he combs his hair.
College art students might expect their instructor to display some creative choices with a coif — in fact, they might have a difficult time taking artistic direction from someone who appears to be too conservative. Even if the instructor has an artistic pain — or, conversely, a joie de vivre — that comes through in his body language, his appearance is his first impression, and the thing that's likely to make or break his nonverbal communication, at least initially.
Generally speaking, modern hairstyles carry these messages:
Short hair on women: You're sporty, confident, fun, but not necessarily a highly sexual person.
Medium hair on women: You're intelligent, confident, outgoing, but again, not perceived as a sex object.
Long hair on women: You're confident and completely comfortable with your sexuality.
Now, what's with the long hair and sex, you wonder? Long hair is really an adornment for the body, a way of saying, “Look at me!” which is why most actresses and models wear their hair below their shoulders (and why hair extensions are all the rage among this population). Long hair is especially popular among younger women, who, of course, are supposed to find a mate, procreate, and carry on the human race. Once they've made this contribution to society, the long hair is often the first thing to go. It's no longer needed to attract a mate, and it's not easy to simultaneously care for a baby and super-long tresses, anyway.
Bangs send the message, “I'm young and fun!” (And you thought they were only good for hiding foreheads!) And no matter what the style, keep your head clean! Poor grooming and hygiene skills make you appear sickly, down-on-your-luck, and even depressed.
As for men, baldness is not the scourge it once was. (Think Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson, Andre Agassi, and Michael Jordan — very confident men with very bare heads.) Although males have spent plenty of money and time searching for a cure for the receding hairline, nowadays, it's not unusual to see a guy embrace his thinning hair by shaving it all off. This is a definite move of confidence, a way of saying, “Who cares about hair? My personality is what matters!”
Men who wear their hair in a neat, conservative fashion are widely viewed as competent, mature people; men who opt for wild, long locks, meanwhile, send the message, “I'm slightly wild and don't have much use for society's boundaries.”