We all want to believe that being a badass is about a person's actions, not their appearance. We enjoy Die Hard over our Christmas break instead of talking to our families because of Bruce Willis' terrorist-fighting skills and quick wit, not because of his haircut or stylish pants. But appearances do matter: it's hard to be amazed by someone's fighting prowess when you're distracted by their Dragon Ball Z forehead tattoo. Imagine Willis fighting terrorists while sporting Justin Timberlake NSYNC-era hair and wearing a tartan Snuggie, and you'll see what I mean.
We finally found the elusive Mr. Falcon.
And that's unfortunate, because by our rather harsh modern standards, many groups of people in history who we'd otherwise admire (or at least be reasonably scared of) end up looking as ridiculous as a Juggalo at a regional Mensa meeting. For example ...
#6. Spartan Warriors Did Their Hair All Pretty
When we depict Spartans in movies like 300 or The 300 Spartans or Spartans: There Were 300 of Them, their hairstyles fit neatly into the narrow preconceived range of masculinity that Hollywood is comfortable portraying in movies aimed mostly at young men. The majority of these ancient Greek warriors have short, clipped hair that any harsh father figure would approve of.
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"You're not my son unless I can clearly see the skull indentations left over from your football injuries."
The historical truth, however, is closer to what would make that father figure lose his temper and threaten to send you to military school: adult Spartan males kept their hair long and flowing. There are even records of foreigners asking the Spartans why they loved long hair so much. Their answer was that long hair was a "natural and inexpensive form of ornament": in other words, a way to look pretty on the cheap.
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If Leonidas was around today, he'd have a Pinterest account.
And the Spartans didn't let that hair hang limp and unstyled like so many of today's uninspired long-haired men. As told by the Greek historian Herodotus, the Persian leader Xerxes sent a scout to check up on Leonidas and his men before he faced them at the Battle of Thermopylae. The scout reported that he'd seen the Spartans doing calisthenics naked and combing their hair. Xerxes laughed merrily about this, until a Spartan adviser explained that Spartans always "arranged their hair" when they were about to go to battle.
The text doesn't specify exactly what he meant by "arrange," but given that curling irons and Hot Buns were not yet available to mankind, it probably referred to tying their hair in thick braids to make it more manageable while fighting. I'm not sure if any of the Spartans were braiding each other's hair, but I hope so, because nothing would send terror into the hearts of your enemies like realizing you give so few fucks that you don't mind them seeing you act like a 9-year-old at a sleepover.
#5. Japan's Yakuza Were Big on Perms
You probably know about the yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate known for cutting off their little fingers like they're allergic to the number 10. You probably also know about perms, in which non-curly-haired people in the '80s drenched their scalp in chemicals and then sat in salons patiently waiting to obtain hair that would make them look like Jennifer Grey. But did you know that for several decades those two things almost always appeared together? Perms and the yakuza, that is. Not the yakuza and Jennifer Grey.
Check her hands, just in case.
Along with tattoos and missing fingers, yakuza symbolized their organized-crime membership back in the day by wearing their hair in a short, tight curly style known in Japan as a "punch perm." Punch perms were also popular among Japanese biker gang members and construction workers. Obviously, there's nothing inherently ridiculous about curly hair, but this does mean that members of Japan's toughest and most feared occupations regularly spent hours sitting in hair salons with their hair in little rollers, perhaps flipping through magazines and circling pictures of Jennifer Grey with their yakuza pens and then nodding to the stylist.
The yakuza punch perm fell out of use in the mid-'90s, after police crackdowns forced crime gangs to blend in more with the general population. But their glorious reputation lives on in Japan, where you can still buy punch perm wigs that allow you to dress up like the Japanese gangster you've always wanted to be.
What young boy hasn't dreamed of growing up to extort money from a pachinko parlor?
#4. Vikings Had Reverse Mullets
We've written before about how Vikings were not the lice-ridden barbarians of popular imagination: they were notoriously clean, styled their hair and beards carefully, and even dyed their hair. But what about the actual hairstyles these guys wore? What were the Northmen arranging with those fancy combs they loved to carry around so much?
Luckily, we have the answer: according to one expert, typical male Viking hair featured "long fringes and short hair on the back of the head," while another 11th-century source refers to Danes with "shaved heads and blinded eyes." In other words, the Vikings were sporting reverse mullets, like the woman from Jon & Kate Plus 8 circa 2009.
"Put this on, Thorbjorn."
"But we're not in battle!"
"Just ... put this on."
That's right, if a bunch of Vikings stepped through a mystical portal and appeared in the world today, they'd immediately be mistaken either for emo kids or for soccer moms who have just decided to name their daughter Brylee. I guess the beards would help, but only a little.