Hair and history
Off the beaten path in Madrid is the Museo Nacional del Romanticismo, an obscure museum housed in a late 18th-century house, originally established in 1924 as the “Museo Romantico.” Renovated, rebranded, and reopened in 2009, it has mounted some engaging exhibitions, including the one I caught in 2019 on hair, hairstyle, and fashion during the period of Romanticism in Spain.
Portraits were lined up to illustrate the evolution of hairstyles in men and women over time. For men, the focus was not just on hair on the head—short, long, combed, straight, curled, curly, or in wild abandon—but, more importantly, facial hair, starting from the different types of patilla or sideburns as well as beards and moustaches that followed fashions imported from England or France. Society women, of course, used hair as a complement to clothing and jewelry. It required skilled hairdressers to create different hairstyles.
From the paintings and sculptures on display, it was clear that men and women wore wigs in the 18th century, and when these grew out of fashion in the 19th century, they gave way to hair styling.
Women’s hair became elaborate constructions that gained height with wire frames and sparkled with jewelry. I have only seen these in period films like the trending series “Bridgerton” on Netflix. In addition, women had sentimental uses for hair that men did not have. Locks of hair were kept and given out as souvenirs, folded or curled in artful ways. Sometimes human hair was used as thread in rather macabre embroidery that reminded me of two exceptional “hair paintings” in the Bangko Sentral Art Collection, made in 19th-century Manila by Adelaida Paterno.
Walking through this hair exhibition made me wonder if it would be possible to do a similar exhibit on the evolution of Filipino hair styles. From my martial law childhood, I remember stories of abusive soldiers who arrested men with groovy long hair and forcibly cropped their hair into “white side wall” or “chato,” a style hated by generations that had to endure Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). The ROTC had two hair style variants: 3 x 5 or 1 x 2. For 3 x 5, the length of hair was measured by the width of three fingers up from the ears and five fingers or an open palm up from the back of the head; the 1 x 2, meanwhile, also known as “Max Tol” or Maximum Tolerable, required an inch from the ears and two inches from the back of the head as measured by a ruler.
Before the long hair of the 1970s’ hippie generation, Filipino men wore their hair short in a style known as the crew cut, or the Aguinaldo cut for Emilio Aguinaldo’s iconic hair that was shaved clean on the sides, leaving the hair standing on the top of the head, straight and stiff like a shoe brush. We know what the President of the First Republic looked like from monuments, photos, and the old five-peso bills and coins. My father’s generation used historical allusions to criticize people with long hair, telling them “mukha kang Sakay,” referring to Macario Sakay, a patriot who was branded as a bandit by the Americans and hanged in 1907.
Another allusion I heard from my uncles in Pampanga was “itsura kang Macabebe,” a reference to the long-haired Macabebe Scouts who assisted the enemy in the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901. My mother’s allusion was to natural history. She would threaten one of my sisters by saying, “Mukhang sabukot ang buhok ng anak ko, gusto kong sabunutan.” The sabukot is a red-winged Philippine coucal (Centropus viridis) whose hair stands on end when agitated. If my mother only knew or appreciated the time, patience, mousse, and gel it took to get the sabukot to look perfect.
My father’s barber worked at Koken’s in Ermita, a barbershop that got its name from the Japanese-made barber’s chair. He cut my father’s hair twice a month on Sundays, and was in service from the time my dad was a bachelor till my dad became a grandfather. He would have known about men’s hair before the Aguinaldo cut. In prewar times, barbers did “Amadeo” and “Alfonsino” hairstyles, which must have referred to Amadeo of Savoy and the Spanish King Alfonso XII. I think the Alfonsino referred to Alfonso XIII who, as a boy-king, appeared on Philippine coins known as “alfonsinos.” He must have sported long hair in some representations and short or corto in others.
Research on hair in Philippine history will reveal what a “Madawaska” looked like, and why Filipinos sported it.
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