6 Historical Badasses Who Looked Way Sillier Than You Think
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 ...
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.
"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.
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.
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?
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.
Scythians Wore Elf Hats
The Scythians were Iranian nomads who emigrated to modern-day Russia and the Ukraine almost 3,000 years ago, defeating enemies along the way and eventually setting up their own empire. Writers of the day praised them for their warrior prowess and skilled horsemanship: Scythians were one of the first groups of humans in history that truly mastered horse riding. Today, it's hard to envision how terrifying it must have been to encounter the first people to figure out how to ride horses, but try to imagine suddenly being invaded by a group of people who have figured out how to ride armored bears, and that probably approximates the sense of awe and terror our ancestors must have felt when they first ran into the Scythians.
And then you can erase that sense of awe and terror entirely, because it turns out the Scythians also dressed like elves. Herodotus described groups of Scythians as wearing hats that were "erect and stiff and tapering to a point," and one Greek representation shows those stiff-and-erect hats as looking like this:
But when it comes to the elfiness of one's hat, that picture doesn't even come close to this reconstruction from a Scythian grave uncovered in 1969:
Perhaps the Greeks toned down the hats because they felt sorry for them.
White House Police Used to Dress Like a Marching Band
Secret Service guys are supposed to dress like quiet professionals. When you are protecting the president, you want people to take you seriously. You want passersby at presidential events to stop and think, "No. Maybe I will not run up to the president and show him this knife-shaped loaf of bread that I baked."
"Maybe grenade-shaped cupcakes would be better."
This wisdom of ages, however, went out the window in the 1970s. President Nixon, impressed by the fancy guard uniforms he'd seen during a trip to Europe, decided that the dark-suited guards at the White House looked "slovenly" and decreed a new uniform based on their far more colorful European brethren. To cut a long, awful story short, the poor members of the Secret Service uniformed division at the White House ended up looking like this:
"Those gun holsters are still too slovenly. Glue some sequins on them."
The uniforms were universally reviled, with absolutely no one recognizing the advantages of potential criminals being dazzled by the sheer marvellousness of all that gold braid. Within a few years they were scrapped, and the old uniforms were sold to a marching band. No, that's not a joke: they really were sold off to a marching band. Since then it's been back to boring dark suits, with not a single brass button in sight.
Rioters and Soldiers Occasionally Wore Pretty Dresses
If I ask you to picture cross-dressing during times of war, you'll probably think of women dressing up as men (or hey, you might think of the gender-swapped Call of Duty erotic fan fiction you're working on. I can't see inside your head). From Joan of Arc to the many women who donned men's clothing to fight in the Civil War, human conflict has been more about stuffing socks down one's manly fightin' pants than it has been about wearing pretty dresses. If nothing else, you'd think long skirts would totally get in the way when you were charging at your enemy.
But ladies aren't the only ones who have used war and civil discord as an excuse to try a completely new outfit style. Throughout the centuries, soldiers and rioters have occasionally put on a frilly dress before heading into battle. The most recent example is the Liberian civil war in the 1990s, in which male soldiers were fond of running around in dresses and wigs.
"This country sure wigged out when the war started."
"Shut up, Karl."
And it goes back further than that: English riots during the 17th century featured bands of enraged countrymen dressed in women's clothing, protesting the private seizure of previously publicly owned common lands. Similar lady-clothes riots took place in Wales in the 19th century, where rioters dressed as women and then attacked tollbooths whose charges they considered too high.
"THESE TOLLBOOTH CHARGES ARE TOO DAMN HIGH."
What was the deal with all this? In Liberia, women's clothing was big because cross-dressing was considered a form of camouflage: a local superstition said that by wearing something that seemed to change your identity (whether that something was a Halloween mask or a wedding dress) you could make yourself "invisible" to the enemy, or at least to his bullets. After reading about this I tried the same Halloween-mask-and-wedding-dress trick with the Jehovah's Witnesses that kept coming to my door, but it just made them give me even more tracts for some reason.
And in the case of the rioting in Britain, the cross-dressing was probably a symbolic form of civil disobedience: "our leaders are breaking the rules of society by screwing us over, and we're going to demonstrate that by breaking the rules that say men shouldn't wear pretty frocks." Or maybe they just thought the dresses nicely accentuated their collarbones. I don't know, I'm not judging.
C. Coville has a book available here if you're into cool stuff.
For more from C. Coville, check out 5 Historical Wars That Need Movie Adaptations Now and 4 Mind-Blowing Theories About Famous Lines in the Bible.