The Physics of Bad Hair Days

Why is it some days your hair turns out fine and others it looks like a hurricane set up on your head? I think some scientist somewhere needs to research this phenomenon. For anyone with even a decent mop of hair, you often wake up with it swirled in bizarre ways. And those swirls are damn stubborn. Water and a comb are not enough. Typically I need to slop on some hair gel or pomade.

Which gets me thinking about Ulysses Everett McGill from O Brother, Where Art Thou. He’s a tried and true Dapper Dan Man.

I poked about on the internet. It turns out that the first pomade came about in the early 1800s when people slathered a pomade with bear fat into their hair. Now I ask you, who was the first person to decide to throw some smelly bear fat up in their do? Eventually, the fat gave way to lard (pig fat), beeswax (impossible to get out of your hair) and petroleum jelly.

Then there’s Macassar oil. I’ve never heard of this stuff, but it does explain why airplane seats look the way they do. This oil is whipped up with coconut or palm oil combined with ylang-ylang oil (from a fragrant flower). This was used in the late 1800s and the stuff dribbled down the back of your hair and onto any seat you sat in. Thus the development of the “antimacassar”. This is a small cloth (usually crocheted) that sat at the top of the chair to catch the oily grease and protect the upholstery. Wow, this has got to be one of the only inventions to mask the ill effects of another.

So the next time you’re having a bad hair day, just slip on your hair net and remember the words of one Ulysses Everett McGill: “I don’t want Fop, goddammit. I’m a Dapper Dan man.”

Tim Kane