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Hairstyles of the Dictators

Updated on September 19, 2013

20th Century 'Power 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

Why do dictators hardly ever seem to change their hairstyles and why is their hair so often super-stylised or overly coiffed? Dictator hair tends to be very distinctive and personal, rather than fashion driven. Are we looking at an aspect of brand power?

Given the inbuilt megalomania which is so often a prerequisite for dictatorship, it would be reasonable to assume vanity plays a prominent role here and one can imagine the fastidious instructions given to their poor personal hairdressers, perhaps with the added threat of execution at sundown if a single hair was amiss.

While we may never know what particular 'mysterious prejudices' lie behind a dictator's peculiar hairstyle, in this article, we'll be taking a critical peek at the hair of some of the most notorious tyrants of the 20th century.

Early Days

Josef Stalin in his youth, looking quite hipster. Circa 1912
Josef Stalin in his youth, looking quite hipster. Circa 1912 | Source

Josef Stalin's Hair

De facto Leader of the Soviet Union - 1920s -1953

In his youth, Stalin's hair was fetchingly freeform but as a mature man and dictator, he chose to wear it brushed back and controlled, emphasizing the strength of his facial features, which were as heavy as his hair. The possessor of naturally thick locks, he was never tempted, it seems, to apply the thinning scissors or go for a close cut, perhaps because the heavy hair seems calculated to add weight to his dictatorial presence.

The size and shape of of his moustache suggests a certain flamboyancy and it's the most dominating feature on what is a quite distinctive face. Stalin is well-groomed; there's not a tendril out of place and hair, eyebrows and moustache all seem to be held into line by the application of some discreet hair product.

Image was crucial to the dictator, as he was a salient example of 'the cult of personality', utilising the mass media and propaganda to create an idealised, powerful, god-like version of himself to the Soviet public. The people were meant to regard him as the caring Father, making all the decisions on their behalf and his visual representation could be found everywhere - in photographs, paintings, posters, statues, postcards etc . Sociologist Max Weber described this as charismatic authority, designed to inspire a slavish devotion and it's a feature common to many authoritarian rulers. Stalin's hair had to be distinctive and it had to be uniquely his.

The Final Product

Josef Stalin at the height of his power
Josef Stalin at the height of his power

Early Days

Hitler in his youth - a serious young insect. I wonder if he was born with that moustache?
Hitler in his youth - a serious young insect. I wonder if he was born with that moustache? | Source

Adolf Hitler's Hair

Dictator of Nazi Germany: 1934-45

Of all the dictators, Adolph Hitler's hair-do is the most easily identifiable. It's a highly stylised look, featuring an odd asymmetrical slant and shades of Art Deco design.Of course it's not possible to examine Hitler's hair without making reference to that odd little appendage of a moustache - they come as a pair, each integral to the overall design.

It's well-known that Hitler had artistic pretensions - in his youth he had ambitions to be a painter and tried his hand at architecture. It's not inconceivable that he deliberately designed his hairstyle as a signal to the world of his inner creativity. In any case, once he settled on the style which became so unmistakably his, he stuck with it.

Apart from his intense blue eyes, Hitler was basically visually unremarkable. Certainly he lacked the strong features of a Stalin or the physical solidity of a Mussolini -possibly he he felt something was needed to visually elevate him from the ordinary man. The hair appeared to work for him and his overall visual uniqueness, combined with the histrionics of his public speeches, somehow captivated German audiences.

The Nazis were big on style elements in general - like Hitler, they had a 'look'. The striking uniforms, red and black eagles and swastikas [the latter borrowed from Indian culture] and the imposing Art Deco/ Neo Classical architecture were all carefully constructed to idealise the Nazi machine and inspire fanatical worship.

This, together with Joseph Goebbels highly effective and tireless propaganda, helped to propel Hitler's perverted vision of the superiority of the German nation. In the Nazi lexicon, Germany was the natural ruler of the world.

The Final Product

The mature Adolf Hitler, stylistically in full bloom
The mature Adolf Hitler, stylistically in full bloom

Early Days

Benito Mussolini as a young soldier during WWI, with hair and a moustache
Benito Mussolini as a young soldier during WWI, with hair and a moustache | Source
Mussolini was fond of hats
Mussolini was fond of hats

Benito Mussolini's Lack of Hair

Dictator of Fascist Italy:1922-1943

True, Mussolini doesn't actually have any hair to style, yet there is a certain aggression and power in that striking baldness, which is a kind of style in itself, so he deserves a mention.

Photographs and film archives of Mussolini suggest a man who cultivated a brutish, arrogant look, perfectly suited to the round, smooth surface of a hairless head; he tried hard to radiate positive attributes like strength, dogged determination and immutability.

Indeed, so pronounced is the raised head, jutted jaw and hard, frowning eyes, the effect seems more a parody of arrogance than a man with a genuine sense of assured superiority - the word buffoon comes to mind.

Mussolini's baldness provided a good base for an impressive array of military hats, which enhanced his general aura. The bald head also helped to promote him as a strongly identifiable figure. Like others, he utilised a 'charismatic' personality and propaganda to set himself up as a cult-like figure. In short, he marketed himself as Italy's new messiah and himself described fascism in similar terms:

Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism.

~Benito Mussolini

The Final Product

Mussolini may have confused himself with a God
Mussolini may have confused himself with a God | Source

Early Days

A youthful Saddam Hussein
A youthful Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein's Hair

President of Iraq: 1979-2003

Dark and swarthy, Saddam's hair is dramatically black , course in texture and tamed into 'classic dictator' - bold, thick but controlled, waxed and pushed back off the forehead. It's a conservative look [dictators are rarely hip] with obligatory matching moustache and he seems to have worn it from youth to maturity.

Saddam Hussein was reputedly favourably impressed with Josef Stalin and the Soviet heavyweight could well have been a stylistic influence. Interestingly, they had the same kind of heavy facial features, though somehow Hussein seems less assured than Stalin, who was more 'granite-like' in appearance. Stalin appears tougher and more innately confident.

At the end, when things fell badly apart for Hussein, his immaculately groomed hair also suffered and pre-trial photographs show a man with sad, scraggly tendrils and tell-tale grey roots. However, in a final display of dictator-hair pride, while he was in jail awaiting his court appearance, a US service-man smuggled in two items the fallen dictator had requested - Cuban cigars and hair dye. Vain to the end, it seems.

The Final Product

Saddam Hussein - classic dictator look
Saddam Hussein - classic dictator look

Early Days

Although he's wearing a beret, it's pretty clear Gaddafi favoured short back and sides in his early days
Although he's wearing a beret, it's pretty clear Gaddafi favoured short back and sides in his early days | Source
Gadhalfi was a snazzy dresser
Gadhalfi was a snazzy dresser

Moamarr Gadhafi's Hair

Defacto Ruler of Libya:1969-2011

"My people, they all love me, they all love me, they will protect me'

~ Moamarr Gadhafi, during the Libyan uprising

Arguably the best looking of the dictators, Moamarr Gadhafi's hair changed from his early army days in the 60s and early 70s, where he wore conservative short back and sides, with a low side-parting, to something else entirely.

Unusually for a dictator, in maturity Gadhafi opted for a 'bed hair' look - long, tousled and almost 'alternative' in its lack of structure. It's wild hair, with a hint of craziness - the kind of style that could easily go unnoticed on the ward of any psychiatric hospital.There is however, the obligatory black dye - it's very hard to find a dictator with naturally grey hair and Gadhalfi was no exception there.

Often described as a hard-core narcissist, Gadhafi's wardrobe was as eccentric as his hair. The dictator favoured bold, colourful kaftans and elaborate ensembles, it could be said, bizzarely so- he is even rumoured to have worn make-up. The man who once gave former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, a locket with an image of himself engraved on the inside, was not, it seems, short on self-love.

Other eccentricities, such as his insistence on all-female bodyguards, a capacity to severely mood swing and his patronage of the US religious cult, Children of God, suggest a personality that stretched close to the border of normal bounds, even by dictator standards.

The Final Product

Moamarr Gadhalfi, possibly border-line psychiatric
Moamarr Gadhalfi, possibly border-line psychiatric

Early Days

A relatively young KimYung-ill in his early days as Supreme Leader, looking a little 50s rock'n'roll
A relatively young KimYung-ill in his early days as Supreme Leader, looking a little 50s rock'n'roll
Was Paul Anka an early stylistic influence on Kim Jong-il?
Was Paul Anka an early stylistic influence on Kim Jong-il?

Kim Jong-il's Hair

Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea:1994-2011

Born in 1941, notorious dictator Kim Jong-il just missed out on being a baby-boomer but it's clear from his bouffant black hair that he never really got over the 50s, the decade that moulded him as a teen.

A style-cross, somewhere between Elvis and early Paul Anka, Kim's hair is so karaoke kitsch, it's almost a parody of dictator hair. The whole plush concoction seems poised to the back of his head in an odd way, as though it might really belong on some other head.

One suspects Kim Jong was proud of his Supreme Structure as he avoided cutting it shorter or indeed changing it in any way throughout his entire dictatorial reign. While it did thin a little as he got older and it lost some of its striking black lustre, the basic shape and style remained the same.

Of course it's possible that changing hairstyles might be problematic for dictators, given the multitude of enormous, 'worship me' posters and statues that generally litter the landscape of their territories; a change of style would mean a whole new crop of posters and the public might get confused.

Since Kim Jong-il's death in 2011, a fresh dictator from the same factory has popped up to fill the vacancy and it looks like Kim's son, Kim Jong-un, the hair apparent, is set to carry on the family coiff, albeit with an updated twist.

The Final Product

Kim Jong-il waving to the seething masses...not much change  over the years
Kim Jong-il waving to the seething masses...not much change over the years

Dictator Aesthetics Poll

In your carefully considered opinion, which dictator do you think has the best hairstyle?

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