Hitler's Hair

Hair brings one's self-image into focus; it is vanity's proving ground.  Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices.  ~Shana Alexander
Adolf Hitler
When I look at old black and white film clips, of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, I'm struck, not only by the intense light eyes and animated histrionics but also by his hair and moustache - features which ultimately became the defining physical characteristics of modern history's most notorious political figure. Anyone wishing to portray Hitler need only don the distinctive short, fat moustache and flickable asymmetrical dark hair and everyone will get it.

It's a very stylized look he cultivated and I can't help wondering what was behind it. Physically, Hitler was fairly unremarkable, apart from the intense eyes which hinted at disturbances beneath the surface.  Did he feel an egotistical need to develop a recognizable, designer identity through the plainness? If so, it was a look he clung to.

The whole Nazi propaganda machine was notable for its bold, Art Deco-influenced design features - the striking uniforms, boots, black leather Gestapo coats, the red and black emblems of eagles and swastikas (the latter borrowed from Indian culture) - and it wasn't merely the uniforms. Nazi architecture, which melded Neo-classicism and Art Deco, was all designed to foster a cult like worship of perverted German idealism.

Certainly it's an understatement to say Hitler was a strange character. A non-smoking, vegetarian teetotaller who reviled hedonism, he held rigidly puritan lifestyle views, yet he also fancied himself as an expressive artist who dabbled in architecture and once had visions of a career in art. Is this conflict evident in his self-chosen appearance? The moustache, in it's squat and restrained form, suggests the anal retentiveness of an unbending personality, while the long side-parted hair  hints faintly at an almost effeminate,  loose foppishness. Not a soft foppiness but rather a calculated design element.

Charlie Chaplin's Tramp
Some have claimed that Hitler, having had an alleged fascination with Charlie Chaplin's, deliberately took on a defining characteristic of Chaplins legendary comic creation, The Tramp, by copying his toothbrush moustache. This is highly doubtful. For one thing, it's difficult to imagine Hitler posessing that kind of ironic humour. Another suggestion is that in WWI Germany, soldiers were required to trim their moustaches in order to accomodate gas masks - if so, could Hitler have kept his shortened moustache as an emblem of his military past? Quite possibly.

So what does this signify? Possibly nothing, except to indicate that perhaps Hitler's early aspirational failures may be echoed in his appearance.  It was a highly individual look, that none of his peers cultivated and which he maintained for many years....was he hoping to suggest what he believed  was the artist  within?  Combined with his theatrical speeches and gesturing, the hair almost takes on a momentum of its own..it becomes messy, dishevilled...wild.

Once having conceived Mein Kampf  and internally declared himself a visionary on a mission, Hitler set out to  design himself and Germany with all the passion that only a fanatic could muster. The fact that for a time he and the whole Nazi machine succeeded, is, at least in part, testament to the power of design.

Incredibly, there are still those who appear to be captivated by Nazi "style" - pockets of Neo Nazi groups, whose aesthetic tendencies run to Third Reich paraphernalia such as swastika tattoos and aggressive gestapo-like boots. In 2009, infamous holocaust denier David Irving got himself into more hot water by attempting to sell, what he alleged, were locks of Hitler's hair through a website, despite the fact that trading in Nazi memorabilia is illegal in many European countries. On the flip side, for the majority, Hitler has single handedly destroyed not only a 3000 year old Indian cultural symbol, but a style of moustache, forever linking it to one universally disgraced individual and a barbaric political  regime.

In the end, substance does triumph over style....

Hitler's hairstyle is unmistakable...even when it appears on a cat. Image from The Sun

Hitler's Filmmaker: Leni Riefenstahl
Arched Eyebrows
The Crew Cut
Pencil Thin Moustache
Handle Bar Moustache
Great Vintage Hairstyles
Hot Hairstyles of the 1960s