Opinion

How Donald Trump's hair bewitched America

His entire, improbable campaign is too much to contemplate now. His brand of power is too real to mock. But his hair!

It's been described as a "complex superstructure," "the male equivalent of a push-up bra," "a flourish," "an actual, live woodchuck," and "that thing." We are so struck by its ineffable qualities that we often can't remember what color it is: We've described it as gold, ginger, salmon, butter, and the yellow of both nicotine stains and baby chicks — shades of luxury, nausea, and vulnerability. Sometimes, our descriptions of it belie our apparent suspicion that a man can only grow so wealthy before he trains his body to excrete precious substances as well: We have called it "gossamer," "spun sugar," "golden fleece," and "gold-plated fur."

Whatever you call it, you know what it looks like, and now more clearly than ever. Today, perhaps the only question more vexing than whether Donald Trump may actually win the presidency is what is the deal with that hair?

It's a good time to be an investigative journalist with a background in toupees and weaves. This May, a Gawker story that argued Trump's hair was "a $60,000 weave" inspired heated debate and drew the threat of lawsuit.

"Trump often makes a great show of letting people touch his hair to prove it's not a toupee," baldness cure chronicler Gersh Kuntzman remarked in a takedown of the Gawker article. "But that proves nothing: Hair transplants feel like real hair because they consist of real hair."

This kind of fervid attention to detail is reminiscent of the back-and-to-the-left ballistics theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The tone we've adopted is eerily similar: They don't want you to know the truth, it says, but look closely and you'll find it. In this case, however, the object of our obsession is not a man's head, but his hair.

Putting aside the question of whether you can call Donald Trump a politician, we have to note that it is rare for a male politician to give us this much material to work with. This holds not just for hair, but for a man's entire physical presence. The ideal statesman is supposed to be oddly abstract, his body a vestigial container for his mind, except for the rare occasions when it has be called forth to eat corndogs on the campaign trail or roll up its shirtsleeves before a stump speech.

Back when he still had any competitors within his party, Trump was unique among GOP candidates for seeming not just to tolerate his body, but to delight in it. "My hair look OK?" he asked a whooping crowd in West Virginia after quickly trying on and then removing a mining helmet of the kind his constituents wore every day. "And by the way," he added, "look: It really is mine. Lookit," he said, and smoothed his fluff of bangs away from his forehead in a gesture that seemed almost flirtatious.

In that moment, Trump's hair seemed, more than anything, to be reminiscent of the cotton-candy halo that was Marilyn Monroe's. Trump's campaign, when it isn't about ranting and rhetorical violence, is all about the shimmy, the bump-and-grind, the not-so-subtle seduction. His approach to every crowd is I'll be whoever you want me to be. Whatever rage you harbor, I'll double it. The surreally feminizing effect of his hairstyle resonates with this approach. He's not America's next father figure, but our mistress.

Doubtless, the study of Donald Trump's hair also has something to offer to his detractors. His entire, improbable campaign — to say nothing of whatever the next few months might hold — is too much to contemplate now. His brand of power is too real to mock. But his hair! Donald Trump's hair remains as ridiculous as ever. Its color and texture and perhaps even its provenance have changed over the years, but it still manages to take up the same cultural space it has since the '80s: a touch of visible absurdity gracing a man who is, for the most part, terrifying.

As to the $60,000 question — a.k.a. to weave or not to weave — this bit of journalism may still be even more crucial than we appreciate. American voters haven't let a bald president into the White House since 1952. If Trump's hair really is artificial, who knows what this intelligence could do his chances — or to his pride?

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