Expository Hairstyle Change

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Changing hairstyles can sometimes give a girl a whole new attitude."

—Alicia Florence, Aria the Animation, episode 2

Sometimes when you have to show something important about a character, it's not appropriate or wise to wheel out the Mr. Exposition and explain what's going on, and in general the easiest way to do this in visual media is to change the appearance of a character, specifically, their hairstyle, since this can be done cheaply in live action through the use of wigs or other non-permanent alterations and can be undone just as easily. This can also be used to show character development and contrast with the present character, since if the once Funny Afro sporting person is now shaved bald, something may have happened to induce the change as part of their Backstory.

The addition of stubble on a male character is often used to show that they've either gone badass or have become mentally unhinged. Likewise, the sight of a usually picture-perfect woman with waist-length disheveled hair is often used to conjure the image of insanity or sadness, especially in the case of the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl or The Ophelia.

Usually this sort of change is done to show the passage of time in either a Flash Forward or a Flash Back, or to signify a scene or setting change. Occasionally this can be used to play with the audience (see the Lost example below) or otherwise mess with our perception of what is going on.

See also Important Haircut for a symbolic, usually "on-screen" haircut, and Good Hair, Evil Hair for when this trope is used in conjunction with a Heel Face Turn or Face Heel Turn. See Expository Hairstyles for some of the hairstyles a character might change from or to, to achieve the desired effect. Not related to Kaleidoscope Hair, despite that being about changing hair colors.

Examples of Expository Hairstyle Change include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Monster, the protagonist Kenzo Tenma goes from an immaculately groomed Woobie to a scruffy, stubbled, long-haired Badass. Pictured above.
  • In the first episode of Pumpkin Scissors Alice is shown with braids at her military academy graduation just as war is ended. Flash Forward a few years and the braids are gone and she's in the War Relief squadron still cleaning up from the battles.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed grows his hair out into a short braid after getting his automail - before it had been shorter and messy.
    • Late in the story, Ed spends several months in hiding recuperating from a serious injury, and afterward he switches to a ponytail. The only reason he does that is because he was being hunted down by the military, and their description of him mentions that his hair is in a braid.
    • The ponytail also makes him look more like his father when he was young, though when his father tells him that, he immediately braids the hair back up and scowls at him.
    • In the last chapter, it's shown that Ed keeps the ponytail for good. His father's death might've had something to do with it.
    • Let's not forget Hawkeye. She is shown to have short hair in her backstory, grew her hair out because she met Winry and thought it might look good on her, and finally on the photo epilogue page, is shown to have gone back to her original short cut.
    • Ed once again has a ponytail in The Movie based off of the 2003 anime series, Conqueror of Shamballa.
  • In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle the growth of Fay's hair coincides with the Growing the Beard segment and shows that he's taken a darker turn, while the rest of the cast apparently went to a barber off-panel during the same period. This also happened when he was younger and imprisoned with his twin, and we know it's been a long time since they go from short hair to waist-length within a few pages.
  • Death Note: Aizawa's transition from clean-shaven to Perma-Stubble is used to show his emerging inner Badass.
    • Another example is Mello, who gets slightly shorter and messier hair after the explosion at his Mafia hideout, from which point not only he becomes more Badass but seems to start cooperating with Near.
  • The sight of women with long, disheveled hair falling around their shoulders is a part of the Japanese psyche, as bodies are prepared with loose hair before funerals. Therefore in older pieces ghosts were often shown with loose, long hair to symbolize that they were no longer among the living. In modern times this can be seen through Sadako's appearance and the various characters she has influenced.
  • Samurai Champloo has another example that requires knowledge of Japanese customs: Jin's very long bangs/sideburns plus long ponytail are a strange hairstyle for a samurai. Most other samurai in the series either have the short bangs plus ponytail style suitable for teenagers and apprentices or the tonsured style favored by older men, especially bureaucrats. When we start seeing Jin's backstory flashbacks, it becomes clear that he used to have the apprentice style, but stopped cutting it after he became a ronin. His bangs have gone from above his eyebrows to his jawline, suggesting that the time between the flashbacks and the main series timeline is about 3–6 months.
  • After Vash shoots the goddamned moon and does serious damage to a city in Trigun, Wolfwood finds him living under the name Erics with long hair and the beginnings of a beard. After Vash comes out of his Ten-Minute Retirement he gets his hair cut, returning it to the upright "broom" style the audience is familiar with.
    • Also, the plants, like Vash and Knives, all have blonde hair at birth, which slowly turns black the more they use that BFG called their arms. So at the start of the manga Trigun, Vash is a happy-go-lucky blondie, but at the beginning of Trigun Maximum he is sporting two distinguished stripes on the side of his hair, and by the end of the manga his hair is almost completely black.
  • In Fruits Basket, after Akito's Heel Face Turn, she is shown at the end with shoulder length hair.
  • In Bleach, Aizen's removal of his glasses and slicking back of his hair demonstrated to the audience that yes, he was now the Big Bad. This incident is also thought to have contributed to his Fan Nickname of "Evil Superman".
    • Most of the Vaizards had different hair back when they were captains and lieutenants in Soul Society. In example, Hirako Shinji as Aizen's former captain used to have a long hair; now he possesses a much shorter Bob Haircut.
    • Ichigo briefly had a great deal of hair, in both is most extreme One-Winged Angel form and his final awesome form, in which it was one of the few things that changed. Aizen had also grown a lot of hair with his power-up to almost-unimaginable, so apparently the Samson look is in.
    • Post-timeskip, for whatever reason (it was only just over a year) just about everyone has changed their hairstyle, including some odd ones like Shinji's diagonally cut bangs, for example. Almost the only one who hasn't is Ikkaku.
  • In Ranma ½, Akane starts the series with hair at about mid-back length, but gets it sliced off to about neck-level during Ranma's initial battle with Ryōga, resulting in a new hairstyle. Almost immediately afterwards, she gets over her long-standing crush on Dr. Tōfū (which she knew would always be unrequited, considering his own feelings for her sister, Kasumi). Therefore, it could be argued that the new hairdo is an Expository Hairstyle Change that signifies her decision to accept that nothing would come of it and move on.
    • Also of note is Ranma's pre-story switch from a ponytail (in the flashbacks) to a pigtail. The Dragon Whisker story arc explains the very good reason behind it.
  • This can actually be noticed throughout many of Hayao Miyazaki's films. Often, by the end of the film, the appearance of the heroine has somewhat changed, often having something to do with her hair, usually symbolizing the experiences she had went throughout the plot. However in Princess Mononoke, it was the male protagonist who altered his hairstyle from the start of the movie due to the exile from his town after becoming infected with a curse.
  • Onizuka changes his hairstyle in the first volume of GTO right after he decided to be a teacher.
  • Kenji Harima from School Rumble explains his present appearance sporting a mustache and goatee because of the fact that he wishes to hide his original appearance so Tenma won't recognize him as the boy who rescued her from an incident long ago. She doesn't remember this said event anyway though.
  • In The Daughter of Twenty Faces the passing of a year is marked by Chiko's bangs growing out of their straight-cut style into a more natural shape, which also serves to mark her evolution from The Ojou into an Action Girl.
  • In The Prince of Tennis, Hikaru Amane aka Dabide from Rokkaku is a natural redhead who's quite proud of his hair and takes care of it quite well, applying hair wax to it every day. When Amane gets serious in his games, he takes a rubber band and ties his hair up; you can expect him to play at his very full strength from then on.
    • Also, Kippei Tachibana dyes his hair blond after the Fudomine team qualifies for the National Tournament. He used to dye it years ago, but stopped doing so after a traumatic incident where he almost blinded his best friend. He retakes the dye part in the Nationals.
  • In Code Geass Kallen Stadfedlt/Kozuki has two different hair styles, a spiky wild look (which is apparently her natural one) when she's being her Action Girl self, and a combed-down hair style she uses at school to as part of the fake Ill Girl persona she hides behind. In the epilogue, she is shown going to school with her spiky hair, signifying that she has thrown away her frail cover, and can now be herself in school.
  • In Gundam 00's second season, Feldt Grace starts wearing her hair in a style similar to her dead best friend Christina Sierra.
    • In the trailers for The Movie, several people have gone through hairtstyle changes. Louise grows her hair back to its old length, Saji keeps his slightly longer, Soma/Marie braids hers now, Mileina replaced the Girlish Pigtails with a simple headband, Allelujah sports a really long ponytail... and Feldt cut her hair and looks like Lunamaria Hawke. See it here! (Warning, aside of the already mentioned style changes, there are many spoilers)
  • In Marmalade Boy, Meiko Akizuki has long straight hair, but once she starts dating Namura-sensei, she starts perming it and keeps it that way.
  • In Vampire Knight, this happens to Yuuki Cross when her brother/boyfriend Kaname reverts her to her true pureblood vampire form. As a human, she had normal shoulder-lenght hair, and as a vampire, grows long hair very quickly.
    • Once he starts acting more like his former badass vampire hunter self, Kaien Cross takes his hair out of its customary ponytail to return it to the way he used to wear it before.
  • Each of the four recurring prima characters in Aria has a Flash Back hairstyle. Alicia, currently in a single braid, wore two braids. Akira, her hair now long, once had it cut short. Athena, now cut short, once wore it at shoulder length. Then we have Grandma, who during her Undine days wore her hair long and wavy and now wears it up in a bun. Unlike the other three, who usually appear in flashbacks dating to four years before the series proper, Grandma's flashbacks date to around thirty years. Four years ago, she wore the same hairstyle but was taller. Finally, we have Akari, who some years after becoming a prima began wearing her hair in a long ponytail, and Aika, who got an Important Haircut midway through the series from twin braids to a shorter cut. Alice is a different example, as she wears her hair differently to signify when she attends school.
  • A LOT of examples in Digimon, but the one that fits best is Ken from Digimon Adventure 02. As the Digimon Emperor, his digital avatar has his hair two-toned and spiked (and probably not accidentally similar to his dead older brother Sam, whose reputation Ken has spent the last couple of years trying to live up to). During his My God, What Have I Done? scene, his hair changes along with the rest of his appearance to its natural state of being chin-length, straight and solid blue, which also symbolizes that he's accepted that he can't replace his brother and will now be himself.
  • Tsukasa from Hana Yori Dango gets his hair straightened (either or purpose or accidentally) when he's being genuinely nice to Tsukushi.
  • Tiffa Addil from After War Gundam X is a Shy Blue-Haired Girl Barrier Maiden who keeps her hair in a ponytail. She temporarily lets it loose in the Ocean Arc, as a sign that she's now possessed by the spirit of Lucille Lilliant, the other Barrier Maiden of the story.
  • Teana Lanster of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha sports Girlish Pigtails in the third season. Later, she starts wearing her hair loose, indicating that she has outgrown the reckless tendencies she exhibited earlier in the story.
    • After Nanoha's power failure and subsequent hospital stay in Santa Sangre, she decides to switch to a side ponytail, since she thought it it'd be a shame to cut it off.
  • Ukraine in Axis Powers Hetalia. As a little girl, she has long hair and kept it in a braided bun. As an adult, she has it much shorter.
    • When Hungary was young and thought she was a boy, she had a very short ponytail.In the infamous Innocent Fanservice Girl scene with Chivalrous Pervert Prussia, she still dresses as a boy but her 'tail is much longer. When she grows up into a Ninja Maid, she keeps it loose.
    • This is a little harder to spot, but Belarus used to have shoulder-level hair tied with a white headband. As a teenager, her hair is waist-level, but still kept with a white band.
  • Between the two seasons of Darker than Black, Hei goes from clean-cut and capable of passing for a university student to "Hobo Hei", with Perma-Stubble and Wild Hair. Since he was extremely Badass to begin with, this is a sign that all has not gone well for him during the year or two of Time Skip. Bonus points: he shares a voice actor with the aforementioned Tenma.
  • In Eyeshield 21 Sakuraba goes from having a pop-idol-type hairstyle to a shaved head (to the dismay of his fangirls), to show that he's serious about becoming a better athlete. It grows back slowly over the course of the series (with the little bit in the middle inexplicably growing faster than the rest).
    • Mamori also gets a haircut after Sena reveals that he's Eyeshield 21, possibly to signify that Mamori no longer has to protect Sena, but can trust him to stand on his own. After the timeskip, her hair is even longer, which denotes the passage of time.
    • Just before his debut game against the Shinryujii Naga's, Yukimitsu changes his hairstyle from a combed back one showing of his rather large foerehead, to a looser downed style, to represent him no longer being just the geeky benchwarmer.
  • Ouran High School Host Club has identical twins Hikaru and Kaoru who parody this by dying their hair pink and blue wanting to be seen as different people. They really did it because they were bored, and even faked a fight to make it convincing. Played straight by Hikaru later in the manga when he dyes his hair darker after him and Kaoru really do have a fight over their feelings for Haruhi. This is a huge step in character development for them, as they permanently want to be seen as separate people (although still Host together)--they even move into their own bedrooms.
  • Parodied in Azumanga Daioh. It's a new school year for Chiyo-chan, so to show how much she's matured as a person...she starts wearing her pigtails lower.
    • As well as Tomo - she grows her hair out during the second volume, intending to be someone like Fujiko. When that doesn't pan out too well, she cuts it. Yomi gets in a good laugh when Chiyo-chan thinks that she did because she got dumped.
  • Asuka from Future GPX Cyber Formula cuts her long hair short in EP 5 of ZERO to signifying that she wanted to change to become a stronger person and later in SAGA and SIN, she grows her hair to shoulder-length, which symbolizes that she's now a full-grown woman.
  • In the Manhwa The Tarot Cafe, the protagonist Pamela has very curly hair in the present and wavy hair in flashbacks. This is not due to modern hairstyle technology but because after she became immortal four hundred-odd years ago she tried to find a way to die - one of them being getting stuck by lightening, which permanently frazzled her hair. It's a little after that (I recall) that she decides to live.
  • Whenever Keima's mom in The World God Only Knows gets angry, she lets her hair fall out of its bun and goes from sweet, kind and relaxed mother to hot and hotblooded ex-biker gang lady.
    • Keima's childhood friend Tenri originally has Blinding Bangs, but has them cut to represent her slowly developing confidence.
  • In EP5 of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Beatrice lets her hair down for the whole EP. Not only that, she can't even fix her hair. Or move, or eat, or speak... Virgilia is even combing her hair for her. She gets better, though. Sort of.
    • In general it can be said that the different hairstyles show a significant change in Beatrice. in addition to Meta Beato having the hair-down look until her death, Episode 6 shows us that this was the 'original' design for Beatrice before Kinzo had the portrait hung in 1984 - with her hair down and in the suit. Episode 7 reveals that this is how Shannon envisioned 'the type of girl Battler likes' and based her design on that, before the portrait appeared to show the 'true' style of Beatrice with that of the iconic black dress and up-do.
  • In Eureka Seven, Renton's hairstyle starts to be different from episode 42 onwards, which probably signifies his Coming of Age.
  • The 10th episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica reveals that Homura used to be a nerdy, shy girl with glasses and huge braids. After sticking herself in a Groundhog Day Loop to save her friend, and seeing the situation get worse when its full horror is revealed, she wakes up at the start of a new loop with a speech affirming her determination to fight alone and win at the end, while untying her hair and fixing her eyes with magic, becoming the stern badass we'd known up to that point.
  • After the immense trauma she suffered during the Eclipse, Casca from Berserk grows long, disheveled hair signature to The Ophelia that she turned into, in lieu of the short, cropped hair of the badass Action Girl she once was.
  • In Xam'd: Lost Memories, Akiyuki's hair grows out from a short cut to a more shaggy look as he matures throughout the series and learns to cope with being a Xam'd.
  • Played with in Arakawa Under the Bridge in the case of the Mayor, whose Kappa suit has a wound mechanism in the head which can change his hair from short and spiky to long with a simple twist, and which he reserves for switching from his usual care free mayorliness to the badass youkai within.
  • Itsuki of Heartcatch Precure starts growing out her hair during the Distant Finale, now accepting the fact that she can like girlish things and still be a martial artist.
  • Hatchin of Michiko to Hatchin starts the series with Girlish Pigtails. In "Like A Frantic Pinball", she takes them out by cutting it short to make it look tougher.

Comic Books

  • DC Comics nowadays uses hair color to distinguish between the Supermans (Supermen?) of different realities. Supermen from other universes are always always at least partially grey-haired. They are also almost invariably sad. This is partially because most of them are older than New Earth Superman, but also for easy visual cues. When even Superman looks old and grey, you know something's up.
    • In the 90's they played this trope straight. When he returned from the dead, he started out with his trademark hairstyle, but traveling around in a warsuit to get back to Metropolis had the chemicals inside grow out his hair, which he kept until the wedding about four years later.
  • Blueberry goes through one of these after a bleak turn of plot.
  • Shade the Changing Man gets a new one every time he dies.
  • The Rumor's hair gets longer and shaggier between the end of Apocalypse Suite and where Dallas picks up.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man‍'‍s Peter Parker grows his hair out after "Ultimantum". His girlfriend and ex-girlfriends buzzcut it after he becomes "big-headed Spiderman".
  • In X-Factor, former Nineties Anti-Hero Shatterstar showed back up with a complete makeover. He traded in his Badass Long Hair for a extremely short cut, and proceeded to come out of the closet.
  • Princess Sally let her hair grow long when Sonic was thought dead for a year. It's a large signal for her Chickification and it isn't until about 3–4 years later that she gets her head straightened and asks Bunnie to cut it.
  • Scott Pilgrim subverts it and then plays it straight as it's actually Ramona not changing her hair that's important. Having spent most of the series changing it "like every week and a half," the Katayanagi twins are quick to point out that she's let it get really long. She changes it again just before she leaves Scott.

Fan Works

  • In Winter War, Hinamori burnt part of her hair off at some point between the start of the fic proper and its divergence from Bleach canon during the Fake Karakura Town arc. This, combined with a nickname, obscures her identity somewhat for the first chapter she appears in- which serves to underscore the sheer amount of Character Development she's undergone, once you realize who "Peaches" really is. (The hair is also a plot point, as she claims to have gotten it in a kidou accident and Iba for one suspects she did it in a premature bankai attempt.) A less dramatic example is Kon, who's let his (Ichigo's) hair grow a bit, which makes him look a little different than the original inhabitant of his body.

Films -- Animation

  • In The Incredibles, Violet spends most of the movie with her hair hiding her face. After a pep talk from her mom—and realizing she could get in a fight—she keeps her hair restrained behind her ear with a headband, probably to signal growing confidence. This is commented on by her father at the end of the film—and the boy she has a crush on notices as well.
  • Hal Stewart in Megamind is voiced by Jonah Hill. After being given superpowers by the eponymous villain, he gains his voice actor's signature hairstyle.

Films -- Live Action

  • In Spider Man 3 when he is being influenced by the alien goo he turns his hair emo.
  • Just about every castaway type movie ever uses this to show the passage of time and (usually) the descent of the character into insanity.
  • In the James Bond movie Die Another Day, Bond's imprisonment in North Korea is marked by the growth of his hair and a beard (real reason: Pierce Brosnan was filming Robinson Crusoe), and once he escapes the first thing he does is get a cut and a shave to look like the Bond we know.
    • Not to mention henchman Zao's abrupt change from relatively normal-looking to both Bald of Evil and Evil Albino. (Oh, and he's got diamonds in his face, but that comes rather secondary to the missing hair.)
  • In the movie I Spy Returns, Bill Cosby is shown doing a comic double take over his old identity picture (from the TV series) with its 60's afro.
  • Sent up in The Naked Gun series when a flashback to the characters in The Seventies, and they all have longer hair (but don't look otherwise any younger), culminating in OJ Simpson's character, whose Funny Afro is so big that it gets stuck in the door. A character then says in the present "That's right! You were one of the first test subjects for Tamoxifen!"
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi's growing of the familiar beard in Star Wars Episode 2, and Anakin in Episode 3 growing what's popularly known as the "Jedi Mullet" (even though it's long all around, meaning it's more of a Jedi '70s Mane).
  • From The Last Samurai: Katsumoto's son, Nobutada, received an Important Haircut at the hand of Japanese riflemen; then he reappears as part of the rescue party that breaks his father out of imprisonment, and holds off the riflemen armed with bow and arrow. Algren is stunned by the sight of Nobutada, since his wild and loose hair (and chosen weapon) gives him the appearance of the Native Americans he had had to fight prior to the movie.
  • From The Royal Tenenbaums: Richie grows the typically long, scruffy hair and beard after his nervous breakdown, and then cuts and shaves them both right before slitting his wrists with the same razor, because of his love for his adopted sister, Margot.
  • In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Clementine's hair color indicated what part of the timeline we are seeing: red during her relationship with Joel, green in their first meeting, blue after they break up. When they are seen together and she has blue hair, it's a hint that they got back together and this is not part of the memory removal flashback.
  • In The Nines Margaret/Melissa/Mary has plain brown hair that turns a vibrant red after she persuades Gary/Gavin/Gabriel to stop pretending to be something he's not.
  • In The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Joan's hair is used as a symbol throughout the movie:
    • At the beginning, when she's convinced she's God's messenger, it's long and very blonde.
    • When she arrives to Orleans to lead the army, she gets a boyish haircut to keep the generals from making comments about her being a girl: it works immediately, and she's the leader of the group by the next day. She keeps her hair short and it gets darker at each battle scene until she only has a few gold strands left.
    • When she's in prison, doubting her faith and thinking she's going mad, her hair grows back dark brown.
  • Influenced by similar imagery in the 1957 film Saint Joan, Billie Jean Davy cuts her hair short as a symbol of her decision to fight an injustice in the film The Legend of Billie Jean.
  • In Higher Learning, the shaved head demonstrates Remy's transformation from confused youth into deranged white supremacist.
  • Asia Argento's character in The Stendhal Syndrome cuts her hair short after being raped. It also symbolizes that she has become a serial killer.
  • In American History X, Derek Vineyard sports a shaved head when he is a skinhead, and has hair both before he makes the change and after he rejects his racist beliefs. His brother also sports a shaved head when Derek returns, showing that he is following in Derek's footsteps into the skinhead clique.
  • In the parallel universe film Sliding Doors, the version of the protagonist who catches her boyfriend cheating gets an Important Haircut and blonde dye job, while the other version stays with the boyfriend and keeps her long dark hair. Throughout the film, this is how we tell which universe it is.
  • Ace Ventura Jr. has the main character's hair style change to look more like his father's when he becomes determined to be a pet detective. He also wears the same clothes as him.
  • When Travis Bickle begins preparing for his murderous mission in Taxi Driver he cuts his hair short and neat. When he really goes off the deep end and embarks on his mission its cut again, this time into a mohawk.
  • In the first Charlie's Angels film, Knox's hair - along with his clothes - changes from shaggy, unkempt computer geek to slick coif when we find out he's the bad guy.
  • In The Matrix, clothing and hairstyle changes indicate whether a scene takes place in the real world or in a computer system. After taking the red pill, Neo wakes up in a strange place with no hair or clothing. Later, Morpheus uses this effect to explain the Matrix to Neo:

Neo: Right now... we're inside a computer?
Morpheus: Is it so hard to believe? Your clothes are different. The plugs in your body are gone. Your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call "residual self-image". It is the mental projection of your digital self.

  • In Limitless, we see the protagonist's ex-wife in flashbacks with beautiful hair, but when we meet her, she has tangled, dishevelled hair and is suffering the after-effects of using the drug. Also, the protagonist's hair changes throughout the film depending on what's going on and how much time has passed.
  • In The Next Three Days Elizabeth Banks' character's hair goes from sleek platinum blonde (similar to her character in Iron Man) to a wavy rusty brown after being imprisoned for three years.
  • In The Accused, Sarah cuts off her hair after the rape.
  • In the final Harry Potter film, we see Harry and other main characters in the epilogue many years later with stubble and different haircuts to show that they're adults now.
  • In Excalibur, Arthur grows a beard after his "Wart" stage to show that he's become King Arthur and now the callow youth he was in the early parts of the film.
  • In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Nandini wears ghagra and choli and has her long hair plaid, a fitting look for a happy-go-lucky young woman. After being forcibly married to Vanraj to cover her romance with Sameer, she lets her hair flow messy and tangled and wears a sloppily tied sari, a true reflection of her unhappy state. And after Vanraj confronts her and brings her to a trip to Italy to find Sameer, Nandini ties her hair in a bun and finally wears her saris properly, reflecting her increasing maturity.


  • In the SERRAted Edge series, Joe, the son of a crazy cultist leader, was military-neat in the book he was introduced in, but when Chrome Circle came around, he was growing out his hair—a sign that he had finally severed the link between him and his mad father, and his growing acceptance that he could perform magic.
  • The more time passes in Lord of the Flies, the longer the plane crash survivors go without haircuts. Around the time they start to go completely around the bend, their hair starts obscuring their vision.
  • Tris of Circle of Magic wears her hair loose in the first quartet. Between the second and third books, she cuts it short to keep from accumulating lightning in it. In the second quartet, she wears her hair in a lot of pinned braids- each of which as a different kind of weather magic braided into it. Whenever adult-Tris wants to use a lot of magic, she starts undoing her braids.
  • In Katherine Kurtz's novel The Bishop's Heir, King Kelson has his hair braided to mimic that of his foster brother Dhugal MacArdry; it's initially a diplomatic effort to honour Dhugal's grandfather The MacArdry in an effort to win over the highlanders and solidify their support of him. He retains the braid, and two of his cousins adopt the braid in admiration of their king and Dhugal. His cousin Conall retains the short-cropped style of the elder generation of courtiers (Morgan, Nigel), just as he rejects the notion of the need for diplomacy on that orginal visit.
  • In The Bible, if a woman from a neighboring nation was taken as a prisoner of war and one of the Israelite men decided he liked her, he could take her as his wife (with her consent)...but he had to shave her hair and cut her nails first so she could mourn for her family (and so she would look less attractive, giving her captor time to reconsider his lust). Much better treatment of female war prisoners than elsewhere in the ancient world.
    • Similarly, it is mentioned elsewhere that shaving the head was a sign of mourning.
  • In A Rose for Emily, Emily's hair changes at important plot points.
  • In Wheel of Time, Perrin grows a beard midway through the series to show that he's a full adult now.

Live Action TV

  • In Numb3rs, the most recent season premiere had a several characters suddenly grow facial hair, or at least a significant amount of stubble. Colby at least had the excuse of having been in jail, but was like the "Everyone Grows a Beard" episode. Colby and Charlie had shaved by the next episode, but Larry kept the stubble.
  • In the Lost season 3 finale they make use of this. In the end, we find out that Jack's hair growth (beard) indicates that the episode flash back is actually a flash forward.
  • Firefly had a flashback with a mustache-wearing Wash that disturbed more than one viewer. And, it's implied, his future wife.
    • One outtake from the series has Mal and Zoe, looking hilarious, wearing fake mustaches as Wash comes out from under the console. Naturally, he cracks up at the sight.
  • Future-Hiro's long hair (and soul-patch!) in Heroes is used to show that he Took a Level in Badass.
    • In the beginning of season 2, Nathan sports a thick beard during his drunken depression inspired by Peter's supposed death.
  • Jack Bauer's huge hair and beard growth during the time between season 1 and 2 and 5 and 6 in 24. Both eventually led to an Important Haircut.
  • The Trope Namer for Growing the Beard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, William Riker, did this in the second season to show that he had outgrown simply being a Kirk clone, and this is also when the show was thought to have hit its stride.
  • In Deep Space Nine
  • In Power Rangers Dino Thunder, the two Evil Minions are fighter Zeltrax, able to take on any Ranger, singularly or all together (as long as one isn't Tommy) and monster-maker Elsa, who is typically put out of a fight if she gets hit once. Then Zeltrax "dies." Then Elsa changes her hair. Suddenly, she's able to handle the entire team without breaking a sweat.
    • While Astronema from Power Rangers in Space has plenty of non-expository hair style changes, the scene where she sheds her long, curly, royal blue hair (and heavy makeup) pretty much scream out that she's no longer the Big Bad but The Hero's cute sister. Then she dresses up as Astronema again, with a very, very short tomato-red bowl cut, and becomes a creepy and even more bastardly Emotionless Girl, thanks to brainwashing cybernetic implants—although more dramatic in this case was the fact that pre-implants Karone-disguised-as-Astronema wore very colorful makeup, while post-implants Astronema was ghostly pale.
  • An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • They did it more subtly with Spike, whose position on the Heel Face Index at any given time often correlates with how slicked-down or messy his hair is: the more tousled it is, the more you're meant to sympathise with him.
    • Additionally, Willow's hair gets gradually shorter and less straight the more she grows away from her original shy nerd girl persona.
    • Dark Willow's hair becomes very dark, almost black, and changes back to her natural red when Xander brings her back from being evil. Conversely, Goddess Willow's hair is pure white.
    • Buffy's hairstyle changes in episodes where she's Not Herself, e.g. "Something Blue" (Love Potion) and "Who Are You" (Grand Theft Me).
  • On Angel, Gunn was originally a Bald Black Leader Guy. He grew a short layer of hair once he got his lawyer smarts. It remains that way for the rest of the series, and is not mentioned by a character until more than halfway through the season.
    • Also, when Wesley goes through his darker phases, he grows a layer of stubble. Seasons 1 and 2 Wes have no facial hair at all, while seasons 3-5 have Wes with varying degrees of facial hair.
  • Aeryn Sun generally wore her hair somewhat past her shoulders on Farscape, and usually tied up in a neat little braid, which only made sense as she was an Action Girl. She softens slightly as the show progresses, and when John first encounters her at the beginning of the fourth season season she has a possibly terminal condition—and a sheet of very long, thick, and unbound black hair (which somehow manages to fit in a coldsuit like Scorpius's). Her hair returned to something approximating its original length some time after she got better, but she rarely (if ever) has her hair braided or even in a pony tail from that point on—because even in her most Badass moments, she's generally being badass because someone she cares about is in trouble.
    • More specifically, it represents how far she has progressed in her Defrosting Ice Queen arc. The mid-series reversion to tightly bound back occurs when she re-embraces her aloof Peacekeeper persona after the trauma of John's death.
  • The sweet, naive Veronica Mars of years past is recognizable not just by the blur-effect and blue-green lens used to indicate flashbacks, but also by her long, golden, angelic hair. Pre-season one she becomes disillusioned and shortens her hair significantly. She starts growing it out in season 2 and it's quite long by the end of the year, and remains that way next season, which may be symbolic of her softening up a little with having solved Lily's murder; alternatively, Kristen Bell may have wanted to wear her hair long. However, there is a certain innocence in her earlier long hair that her later long hair lacks—her earlier hair is straight as an arrow, her later hair very wavy and even curly.
  • Played for laughs in Thirty Rock, when Judah Friedlander's character beta-tested Tracy's porn video game and three months of nonstop play felt like a few hours to him.
  • Flashbacks in Birds of Prey show Helena with long hair. Seven years later, after the murder of her mother and becoming the vigilante Huntress, it's short.
  • After the Fleet in Battlestar Galactica finds New Caprica, Starbuck grows out her hair. She later cuts it all off.
    • She stopped cutting it airound the time she first meets Sam Anders: on her first trip back to Caprica, it looks like her original haircut in need of a trim, and by the time she gets back, it's just long enough to tie back. Her ponytail gradually gets longer but still neat until the timeskip, after which it's long and untidy until the Important Haircut. The growth seems to parallel the erosion of her identity as a soldier.
  • One episode of Scrubs sees Elliot Reid have her long blonde hair cut into a short, layered style with a fringe (or "bangs"). She then marches into Sacred Heart dressed in black, finally able to tell people what to do. Her badassery is also emphasised in the haircut montage, in which she rips her poster of a kitten. However, she tapes it together shortly after. Some things never change.
    • The season seven premiere is only a week or so after the season six finale, but either a chance to use this trope is avoided or Dr. Cox's hair started growing REALLY fast. It had barely grown out from his head-shaving breakdown, but became a full head of sproingy locks in the new season.
  • In Bones, the character of Zack Addy is given a significant makeover, to signify his emotional development. However, the only real change is his curly floppy hair being trimmed down to a neat short-back-and-sides.
    • Also, the hair styles of Brennan and Hodgins changed throughout the series. Originally Brennan had characteristically frizzy hair and Hodgins sported a curly afro until her hair became more kempt and his was cut short. In the Origins Episode #100 the original styles come back.
  • In Grey's Anatomy, you can literally tell when the plot for Izzie Stevens is shifting—her hairstyle changes. From consistent ponytails to long, straight hair, to long, beautiful curls, you know some angst is coming.
    • Lampshaded, temporary example from the same series:

Meredith: Good Morning!
Derek: [double take] ...you're wearing an alarmingly high pony tail.
Meredith: [with forced cheerfulness] Your mother is coming!

  • Happens all the time to Lily on How I Met Your Mother. Admittedly, she changes her hair color over every summer so it has to change in flashbacks, but we've also seen her with Hillary Clinton hair in the future.
    • Averted, or rather ignored with her husband, though. Marshall's hair tends to stay the same in flashbacks, which was quite noticeable when it was comparatively long in season 4.
    • Lily's hair is actually used as shorthand to remind viewers what year the flashback takes place (because the show is an absolute sex shop of Continuity Porn) because having "the year 2006" or something up on the screen for more than a few seconds would be annoying. So, straight, black, goth: 1996-2000; fiery red, short, curly: 2002-summer of 2006; dark, no bangs: summer of 2006-summer of 2007; dark with bangs: summer 2007-spring of 2008; dark, layered: spring 2008-summer 2009; auburn, wavy: summer 2009-summer 2010; light red, shorter, wavy: summer 2010-summer 2011; summer 2011-summer (we assume, from flashforwards) 2012: light red and straight; 2020-2029: red, Hillary Clinton-ish.
  • In the Korean Drama Twinkle Twinkle, the two female leads change their hair length/curl/color ever time they make an important decision. Every. Single. Time.
  • In season 7 of Degrassi the Next Generation. Darcy's hair goes from wavy to straight right before she is raped. Then goes back to wavy after the storyline is resolved.
    • Anya ceases to wear her hair in ponytails when she stops being Holly J's lackey, and starts to come into her own story. Holly J stops wearing ponytails on a daily basis when she stops being the Alpha Bitch at the end of Season 8.
  • On Stargate SG-1, Daniel's hair goes from long hair similar to what he had in the movie to much shorter styles as he becomes more action-oriented around his military friends. Teal'C, usually shaven bald, grows hair in later seasons as he becomes more like Earth humans. And time-travel or alternate-universe episodes often featured wigs to give clues about how the alternate character is different—for example, alternate-Carter's conspicuously long, flowing hair in a season one and later a season two episode, which meant she wasn't military.
  • On The X-Files, Scully's usually short hair is grown out during Mulder's abduction of season eight, and gets even longer in his absence of season nine.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess - Gabrielle is an Action Girl, Technical Pacifist with long Red Hair. Season 4, she becomes a Knight Templar for the One True God, she shaves her head and bleaches the stubble.
  • At the start of season five of One Tree Hill, Nathan grows a shoulder-length mane and unkempt stubble to symbolise his dark emotional state, and later shaves/gets a haircut to signify that he's no longer tempted to throw himself into his mansion pool.
  • In Twin Peaks, Leland Palmer suffers some serious Wangst when he finds out his daughter Laura has been murdered. After he kills Jacques Renault (one of the murder suspects) at the end of the first season, his hair turns white and he acts unnaturally cheerful. It also signifies that he's possessed by Killer BOB, the show's Big Bad.
  • Fringe has a version of this: Fauxlivia always wears bangs, even when she's pretending to be Olivia, and Olivia only wears bangs when she has been brainwashed into thinking she's Fauxlivia, and stops wearing them when she gets back home.
  • Micky Dolenz's naturally curly hair in the first season of The Monkees was styled straight and combed to resemble The Beatles' "moptop" look, as the Monkees were Beatles Expies. In the second, more psychedelic season, Dolenz grew out his hair and kept it curly.
    • To a lesser extent, Mike Nesmith's sideburns were wider by season 2.
  • In Primeval, Connor and Abby went through this while they were stuck in the Cretaceous. Connor sprouted a beard, while Abby's normally short hair became unkempt and neck-length. Connor lost the beard, but Abby's hair remained long.
  • In the second arc of Tensou Sentai Goseiger, three of the heroes get one: Moune gets a Bob Haircut in place of her wavy shoulder-length hair, Agri's hair becomes shorter and light brown instead of blond, and Eri stops wearing a ponytail (although it had returned by the end of the show.)
    • This made Moune look less like her yellow ranger predecessor Kotoha, who had a similar hairstyle.
    • In most Super Sentai team-ups, the previous year's team will have different hairstyles, known as "Vs Hair" in the fandom. This serves the effect of making them looking like the more experienced team, since the actors usually change hairstyles after the end of the show in an effort to prove they can do more "grown-up" roles.
  • Duncan MacLeod cut his hair after Richie's death in Highlander the Series.
  • Grissom's beard got to be this in CSI and it was lampshaded once how he seemed to shave it when Sara was there and he was happy and then she left and the beard came back. (although he wore it between season 4 and early 7 while she was there.)
  • Seems to have happened on Merlin from season 3 onward, probably to signify Merlin's character development.
  • In Breaking Bad, apart from Walt's Important Haircut in which he shaves his head in preparation for chemo, he also grows his silly mustache into a full goatee during a time skip. It shows that time has passed and also makes him look more ominous as he makes the transition from pathetic science teacher to dangerous meth cook.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, Prior Philip is shown with a beard during the final scene to show that a great deal of time has passed and he is much older.
  • In La Femme Nikita, the three top people in Section One, Operations, Madeline, and Michael, all get dramatic new haircuts at the beginning of season 3, signaling that Section has taken a level in badass. Partly enforced because the actor playing Madeline had lost her hair due to chemotherapy and the actor playing Michael couldn't stand the long mane anymore and just got his hair cut between seasons. The actor playing Operations went from gray to platinum, presumably in solidarity with Section's sleek new look. Nikita kept her long blonde tresses.


  • After Rick Astley stopped working with Stock Aitken and Waterman, he let his formerly short and slicked-back hair grow to chin-length. See his video Cry For Help.
  • When Ozzy Osbourne went solo in the early 80s his hair was bleached blonde. Peculiarly as his sound became more influenced by mainstream rock his hair seemed to get bigger and blonder. When he hired Zakk Wylde and went back to a more traditional heavy metal sound he ditched the bleach and eventually went back to his natural straight brown.
  • Sir Elton John got a hair implant in The Nineties, which quite helped when he went from Camp Gay to Invisible to Gaydar.
  • Marilyn Manson in the "Mechanical Animals" era has crimson-red hair, a typically outlandish hair colour, supposedly used to signify a theme of "alienation" (literally - the album cover portrays him as a red-haired androgynous naked alien-type-thing).


  • In the Austrian stage musical Tanz der Vampire, the scullery maid Magda wears her (straight) hair loose but tidy or in a braid until she is bitten late in Act I. In Act II, she has become a vampire, and her hair has become much so wavy that it seems to have a mind of its own. She now wears it in a sultry half-pulled-up style.
  • In some productions of Hamlet, Ophelia will start the play with her hair in an updo, and as she descends further into madness, her hairstyle becomes looser and looser until it's completely down.

Video Games

  • In the second Jak and Daxter game, you know Jak is going to be all badass now when you see that he's grown a soul patch.
  • The Prince in Prince of Persia grows layer of Perma-Stubble in combination with his Darker and Edgier person in the second game gets much more grizzled, to the point that some wanted him to use the sword to shave the stuff off.
  • Midway through Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Zack changes his hairstyle after having to kill his mentor.
  • In Final Fantasy VII flashbacks, Vincent Valentine is shown as a Turk—with short, more military-esque hair. After sleeping for a few decades, (during which the rest of his body isn't aged in the least), he's now a gun-wielding, shape-shifting good guy—with long hair to the middle of his back.
  • In the last scene of Final Fantasy IX, Garnet's hair, which she had cut to chin length midway through the game, has grown back down to its original waist length, indicating the amount of time that has passed.
  • This was arguably done with Riku when he reappears in Kingdom Hearts 2: his hair is grown down past his shoulders, perhaps to show either maturity or the struggle he's been having.
    • And it's definitely done with Kairi to show the passing of time.
  • Yuna, the demure and timid Summoner from Final Fantasy X, wore her hair down to her shoulders during her pilgrimage. In Final Fantasy X-2, set after the defeat of Sin, she has become a gun-wielding Sphere Hunter, and her hair is cropped much shorter except for a long, rope-like braid that falls down to ankle-height.
    • It's also styled to look exactly like Tidus's hairstyle (long braid aside). A cute little homage to her gone-forever boyfriend, but potentially embarrassing after he gets better.
  • Once the party decides to go save the world in Wild ARMs, Cecilia not only cuts her hair but changes her outfit too.
  • By Backyard Hockey, Tony's hairstyle has changed from a huge patch of brown hair near his forehead to more laid back black hair, giving him more of a gangster attitude.
  • In Blaze Union, the True Route has Garlot start wearing his hair down after his childhood friend dies and he changes his name to Gulcasa. It makes him look older and more serious, and goes well with that Heroic BSOD he's stuck in after that point.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: Sometime after Fort Zeakden, Ramza lost the ponytail marking him as a cadet, also symbolic of how, at the same time, he opened his eyes to what a Crapsack World Ivalice is if you're not at the top of the heap. (His cowlick remained, though, because he refused to be anything but a determined optimist and hero.)

Visual Novels

  • In the fourth Ace Attorney game Phoenix's fall from grace is brought home by the stubble on his face.
    • And Kristoph goes from perfectly-coiffed long hair to tangled blond mess almost instantaneously when his plans are foiled once and for all, showing just how hard the failure hits him.
  • In Kira Kira, Kirari dyes her hair pink for the band's tour. Depending on the circumstances, she may dye it back to brown once things have settled down, though.

Web Comics

  • In the contemporary arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, Arthur grows a beard when he becomes CEO of Excalicorp (he grows a beard about a year earlier in the other arcs, but this doesn't seem to be expository, although it does help indicate when flashbacks are set).
  • Subverted in Sluggy Freelance: Zoë shows up with long hair in Torg's hospital ward to signal that he's been in a coma for a few years after the battle against K'Z'K in Gwynn's body. However, it turns out to be a practical joke, and he's only been out cold for a few days.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, both Antimony and Kat begin wearing their hair differently after the incident on the bridge. (Annie's change was explained by her losing her hair clip; no explanation was given for Kat.) After the first summer holiday, the previously short-haired Mr Eglamore starts growing his hair out.
    • In the more recent chapters, Kat's grown her hair long (although she still ties it in the same way while working on machinery), making it resemble her mother's.
  • Jaeger in Carla Speed McNeil's Finder frequently alters his hairstyle in relation to changes in his life or challenges he faces. Just as commonly, the motives behind these changes are misinterpreted by those around him.
  • Vaarsuvius in Order of the Stick started out with hir hair short and with a circlet, but as of the latest comics has switched to longer, shaggier style that is pulled back and tied off. This seems to coincide with hir realizing that absolute power is not all it's cracked up to be, as well as letting go of hir family.
  • Taken to extremes in Ciem: The Human Centipede, where Candi alternates amongst 8 different hairstyles across 32 chapters (averaging a new style every four.) Granted, a few of these are just dye jobs, but that still makes for about 4 or 5 actual styles. Partially justified in that she's trying to hide from genocidal alien gangsters, and by the fact that the story covers over 2 years'-worth of her life. Also understandable, as it's a DSHW machinomic made with The Sims 2, which practically encourages players to toy around with hairstyles.
  • Subnormality: When a recurring female character decides to quit her soul-crushing waitressing job, her hair, which she had dyed brown in order to conform to workplace regulations, suddenly goes back to its previous pink.
  • In Wapsi Square, after Shelly spends 80,000 years trapped in the time forest, she starts wearing her hair longer, signifying increased confidence and a sense of self-identity.

Web Original

  • Jeff of Everyman HYBRID starts out with a boyish mop of hair. When he comes back after disappearing for awhile and revisiting a traumatic event from his childhood, he's had a buzz-cut somewhere in the intervening time. His brother Alex has a similar change. Evan, however, goes without a haircut, although his longer hair is only unkept when he's perfectly sane, and nicely combed during his Ax Crazy moments.

Western Animation

  • Happened to Raven twice in Teen Titans during the Terror of Trigon arc.
  • Aang's shaggy hair in the season 3 opening of Avatar: The Last Airbender is used to set the tone and indicate his new outlook. Even earlier in season 2, the growth of Zuko's hair coincided with his development as a tragic Anti-Hero in contrast to his earlier antagonist standing and samurai-ish topknot. A lesser example would be when Katara starts wearing her hair down from her trademark "hair loopies" as part of the Fire Nation and (probably because Aang said he liked it) kept it down after dropping the disguise.
    • Though she DOES go back to the "hair loopies" style. She merely wears her hair down instead of in her massive braid.
    • This happens to Azula in season 3, the haircut is self-inflicted, and it gets worse with a disheveling during her climactic battle.
    • Every time anything changes in Zuko's life, with the sole exception of his encountering Aang for the first time, his hair changes. He took up his weird head-shaved thing that no one else wears when scarred and banished, he cuts his queue very symbolically upon going from 'exile' to 'fugitive,' he (unintentionally) grows out his hair into steadily less severe styles while relaxing during Season Two, and then he puts it up into a topknot while reconciled with The Empire and lets it down before Calling the Old Man Out. Over half of these changes receive lovingly detailed depictions in the show.
      • Also a topknot for being Fire Lord. Since, y'know, you can't wear the crown without one. He continues to wear it down in private, however, so this isn't a change like all the others.
      • The show put on by the Ember Island Players about the Gaang's adventures parodies Zuko's hair styles by changing his actor's hair several times during the play, some of which are outright Anime Hair. Pretty much everything is stretched in their production, however.

Actor Zuko: HONOR!

  • Technus of Danny Phantom starts off with wild hair that would make Doc Brown proud; when he upgrades himself to Technus 2.0, his hair is now sleek and tied back to possibly allude to the removal of his flaws from his first form since he now dons a more serious outlook.
  • At the beginning of the Prequel episode "XANA Awakens" of Code Lyoko, Odd has a very different hair style; he adopts his current spiky hair to mimic his Digital Avatar on Lyoko. (He actually has to go through the change twice because of a Return to the Past.)
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series is fond of having flashbacks of Jumba Jookeeba with an afro, as opposed to his "modern" style of three little hairs.

Jumba: I like Hair. It just doesn't Feel Evil Scientist-like.

  • John Stewart changed his appearance from short black hair, to a shaven head and goatee in between the ending of Justice League in the last episode of which, he broke up with Hawkgirl, and the beginning of Justice League Unlimited. The first thing Shayera says to him open meeting him again, apparently for the first time since the end of Justice League is:

Shayera: ... Hate the beard.

  • From the largely-forgotten Re-tool The New Adventures of He-Man: in the fourth episode, after an entrance of messianic awesomeness using his magical sword to transport himself across space to save the invaded people of Primus from their moment of ultimate defeat, He-Man displays his inexplicably (but quite explicitly) longer hair that has somehow grown from a short-back-and-sides in the previous scene (and episodes) to a long mullety cascade. He even takes a moment to tie it into a ponytail and luxuriously shake it before laying the smackdown on the bad guys. This is never explained or referred to.
  • In the Jimmy Neutron movie Cindy sported pigtails. When the premise was picked up for a Nicktoon, Cindy was updated with a new design and given a Ponytail; though its Justified since the movie takes place a while before the show. Libby's hair was originally had Blinding Bangs and a bun, though half-way through the first season she was given a design changed for plot reasons and her hair became cornrows.