From a squeaky-clean doctor to an atoning monster hunter.
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 Back Story.
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.
Compare Time Passage Beard.
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Anime & 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.
Tower of God - Baam goes from his adorably messy hair to Blinding Bangs concealing his shiny gold eyes and growing long hair, indicating his loss of trust and idealism and his gain of awesome asskicking powers.
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.
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.
In the manga, once Ling becomes Greed, his front cowlick changes from right to left to show who is currently in control.
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.
In the third Rebuild of Evangelion movie, nearly everyone aside from Gendo and the pilots gets a new hairstyle and outfit, to mark the 14-year-Time Skip. Also, the newly-introduced fresh Rei clone has the bangs in the middle of her forehead intersecting or in two distinct points, especially after The Reveal.
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 Ericks with long hair and the beginnings of a beard. After Vash comes out of his 10-Minute Retirement he gets his hair cut, returning it to the upright "broom" style the audience is familiar with.
Also, Plants like Vash and Knives all have blonde hair at birth, which slowly turns black the more they use that BFG within their arm. So at the start of the Trigun manga, Vash is a happy-go-lucky blondie, but at the beginning of Trigun Maximum, once his hair is cut and he returns to action we see he sports a shock of black at the very back of his scalp below his ears. By the end of the manga, his hair is almost completely black.
When Kyouko was a Broken Bird delinquent, she had long hair. She keeps it long after marrying Kazuma, but by the time of her death she had cut it into a bob.
Isuzu (a.k.a. Rin) Sohma had extremely long dark hair when she was introduced. Later, Akito chopped it off in a fit of rage. This coincides with her becoming more agreeable and starting to place more trust and faith on others, specially on Tohru.
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 cut.
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 it gets 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) and decides not to grow her hair back. Therefore, it could be argued that, in addition to a Traumatic Haircut, the new hairdo doubles as 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.
Nausicaä doesn't do this in the movie, but in the manga she has her hair cut from shoulder length to just below her ears as she prepares to go to war, symbolizing the end of her innocent life.
Later on in the manga, Princess Kushana, who originally sported a waist-length blonde braid wrapped around her head, chopped it off after she failed to rescue some of her soldiers – who had been assigned a task at odds with their training† (Kushana trained them as elite cavalry specializing in quick attacks, but they were put on point defense; that's the equivalent of forcing Navy SEAL Team Six into a WWI trench) and placed in an indefensible position by her brothers – as a show of solidarity as well as a promise to everyone that she would redouble her efforts to hunt down and kill the Princes of Torumekia.
Near the end of Castle in the Sky, Sheeta – who has sported braided pigtails the entire movie – confronts Muska along with Pazu. Muska pulls out a pistol and, to prove he's not bluffing, shoots off Sheeta's pigtails. This could represent her growth as a person, no longer willing to be a passive participant in the plot.
Princess Mononoke has an unusual inversion for a Miyazaki film. Here, it's the male protagonist who alters his hairstyle at the start of the movie, due to being exiled from his village after becoming infected with a curse.
In Howl's Moving Castle, Sophie begins the movie with waist-length dark hair done up in a simple braid. She still has the braid after being transformed into an old woman by the Witch of the Wastes, albeit grey and much shorter. However, at the climax of the film, she sacrifices her braid to revive Calcifer (who she'd just realized is Howl's heart), so even after breaking the curse Sophie's hair remains silver and short.
This is one of the many differences from the original novel. In the book, Sophie's hair was strawberry blonde (i.e. a very light red), and her hair went back to its former colour and style after her curse broke.
Howl himself has one in the movie. After Sophie accidentally rearranged his several dozen hair products, his blond hair turned orange, then later black (the latter being his natural colour). His decision to not re-dye it indicates his increasing willingness to drop his façade, as well as his growing trust of (and love for) Sophie.
Eikichi 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 moustache 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 Prince of Tennis, Hikaru Amane, a.k.a. 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 Stadfeldt/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 hairstyle 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-length 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.
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.
Parodied when England tries to pull one in his childhood by growing his hair long. Reality Ensues when it turns out extremely messy since he only grew it out, without actually putting any care in it. He then asks France to give him one instead. France proceeds to cut it back to its original style, claiming it's what fits England the best.
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 her second year, intending to be somewhat like Fujiko. When that doesn't pan out too well, she cuts it to even shorter than it was when she was a freshman. Yomi gets in a good laugh when Chiyo-chan thinks that Tomo did it 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 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.
In one of the Tenchi Muyo! manga, Ayeka ends up changing her hair from the usual purple and straight style she's usually seen in to the light blue and curled similar to what Sasami has, though only temporary, as Sasami was homesick. As it turned out, the blue hair and curled hair was Ayeka's real style, inheritef from her Action Mom Misaki; she had it modified like that in her belief that Yosho would fall in love with her more if she resembled the person he thought was the perfect woman - his mother, Queen Funaho. She later states that, despite falling for Tenchi now, she'd rather keep it as that purple style due to the fact that she actually enjoys it now.
In, Hoshi wa Utau Sakuya's hair grows longer and longer in each volume until she cuts it short again.
In Uzumaki, Kirie cuts her long hair to ear length when it gets infected with spirals. This is the same time that she finally comes to accept that the events in the town aren't normal.
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.
In X-Factor, former Nineties Anti-Hero Shatterstar showed back up with a complete makeover. He traded in his 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.
When Ben Reiley took up the reigns as Spider-Man, he was forced to dye his hair blonde after being mistaken for Peter (then trying to start a family with Mary Jane).
When Gwen Stacy first acquired her signature bangs, Harry Osborn pointed out that it was similar to the way MJ had been wearing hers. This seems to symbolize the point where she takes the competition with MJ seriously.
Around the same time Rogue started going through a few changes: When she left the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to join the X-Men, she changed from two white streaks in her hair to one. Later, as she grew more comfortable as a member of her new team, she let her hair grow out and starting with UXM #193 began to wear it in a more "wild" hair-do (on the first occasion because she had to go on a mission coming straight from her shower).
Also around that time, Kitty Pryde's hair became much shorter, a legacy of her capture and narrowly averted possession by Ogun.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) during the battle with the Changelings, Rarity styles Pinkie's hair to look like hers in order to tell her apart from the Changelings who have taken Pinkie's form.
In the second issue, Pinkie's hair deflates after a Changeling takes the shape of one of her friends and convinces her they all consider her annoying.
Subtly done with X-23: After Wolverine's death she dyes the forelocks of her black hair blue and gold, the colors of his most iconic costume.
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 Parr spends most of the movie with her hair in her face. After a pep talk from her mom Helen — 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.
Though you do have to wonder how she got her hands on a headband despite being stranded on a "mostly" deserted Island.
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.
During the song, "Let It Go", in Frozen, Elsa unravels her bun into a French braid signifying that she is no longer restricting her emotions or her powers. Anna also has her hair in an updo at the grand party. After Elsa has run away however, Anna's hair is back in her pigtails.
Tangled: Rapunzel has her hair braided and decorated with flowers when she finally reaches Corona. On a practical level, she couldn't really run around with 70 feet of hair dragging behind her. On a symbolic level, it's a sign that she's finally able to let loose and have fun, without her Magic Hair being the centre of her very being. This is contrasted with when she is convinced to go back to the tower with Gothel; the braid is undone, and the flowers taken away, with Gothel off-handedly commenting "There... like it never even happened."
Films — Live Action
In Spider-Man 3 when he is being influenced by the alien goo/Venom symbiote, Peter Parker restyles his hair into a side-parted style with bangs falling over one eye. This is often referred to as his "emo" look, despite the idea of eye-obscuring "emo hair" being self-effacing and semi-pathetic. (Peter was supposed to be portrayed as cocky and aggressive at this point - hardly very "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 Wicker Park this is used subtly to indicate what time period we're watching. When it's two years ago, Matthew's hair is messy (and he wears casual clothes) while in the present it's tidy (and he wears suits). Lisa's hair is curly in the past and straight in the present. Alex's is kept up and dowdy in the past but she wears it down and pays more attention to it in the present.
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 Minoxidil!"
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 NinesMargaret/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 darker still and grows long again, though not as long as it was before she cut it.
In Higher Learning, the shaved head demonstrates Remy's transformation from confused youth into deranged white supremacist.
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 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, 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 Part 1, the trio's hair grows gradually longer as they're out in the wilderness. Harry is shown getting a trim from Hermione but she later says "never ask me to give you a haircut again". Hermione herself begins the film with shoulder-length hair but it eventually reaches down to her elbows.
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 Working Girl, Tess cuts her typical '80s hairstyle into a far more sleek and professional bob as she starts her climb up the corporate ladder.
In An Education, Jenny wears her hair in sophisticated updos when with David and his friends, but loose when she's with her schoolmates. Very symbolic of the fact that for all her pretense, she's still very much a child.
In The Wall, you know Pink has gone off the deep end when he emerges from his hotel bathroom with his messy hair slicked back and his eyebrows shaved off.
In Cabin Fever Marcy's hair is straightened on the first day of the trip. The next morning (after their run-in with the hermit) and the start of the weird events - her hair is more unkempt.
In The World's End, we first see Gary King as a teenager, with obviously dyed but pretty cool-looking black hair. When we next see him at 37, he noticeably still has dyed black hair even though it doesn't suit him any more or match his blond beard, reflecting his Disco Dan-levels of obsession with The Nineties, as well as how he acts like a teenager despite being almost forty. This is his look for the rest of the movie, and his personality is what ends up saving humanity from the Network. However, when we see him After the End, the offscreen change in his character is signified by how he now has a clean-shaven face and his natural blond hair colour - as well as how he's asking in a Bad-Guy Bar for a glass of tap water.
Loki starts off with tidy hair that doesn't reach his shoulders during Thor. When he returns as a would-be world conqueror in The Avengers, his hair is quite a bit longer and noticeably un-cared for. This serves as an indicator that he's considerably less stable than before, now more of a straight-up villain rather than a sympathetic Anti-Villain. Come Thor: The Dark World, and captivity has led to him being a bit more tidy, but his hair is longer still to indicate the passage of time. After Frigga's death, he becomes very disshelveled due to grief, causing a bit of a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment for all of those who laughed when they saw his new look in the trailer.
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 has 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 The Wheel of Time, Perrin grows a beard midway through the series to show that he's a full adult now.
An animal variant in Secret of the Unicorns. Kara and Calliope first bond when the former complains that her mane is dirty. note This is something of a case of Skewed Priorities, given that Calliope was lost in an alien world and had no idea how to leave. Kara agrees that hair is important, and reassures Calliope that she'll clean it.
"First impressions are very important." Kara held Calliope’s head to inspect her handiwork.
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 wearing fake mustaches as Wash comes out from under the console. Naturally, he cracks up at the sight.
There is also Deanna Troi, who had two of these early in the series. In response to viewer complaints that her character was too peppy and cheerleader like in the pilot, her hair was worn in a Prim and Proper Bun (along with her adopting most of the corresponding personality traits, most notably being much more emotionally reserved) for the remainder of the first season. After it was decided that her character had gone too far in the opposite direction (becoming too reserved), the second season had her Letting Her Hair Down, which stuck for the rest of the series and the four subsequent movies.
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 wig (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 morebastardlyEmotionless 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.
On Glee, Quinn cut her hair into a bob at the end of season 2 in the hopes that it might make her happier. It doesn't work, and when she appears at the start of season 3, she's dyed her normally blonde hair pink◊ and wears it messily to show how she's lost interest or any sense of caring (she's actually really depressed). When she wants to re-enter her daughter's life, she dyes it back to blonde and wears it in neat waves to show that she's regained a sense of (false) stability.
Sam's hair goes from long throughout most of season 4-5 to a sleek haircut when he decides to try and take his modelling seriously.
Phoebe went through five hair changes in the fourth season. She started off with blonde highlights that disappeared into a caramel brown as Paige was welcomed into the fold. It was dyed brown for one episode and then darker still when Cole proposed. After he is possessed by the Source she has cut it to shoulder length. Then when she becomes his queen it darkens to an almost black hue. Notably in season 5 when she's trying to distance herself from Cole her hair is longer. Her drastic short haircut in season 6 was a case of Alyssa Milano wanting to do something for her 30th birthday but it does overlap with Phoebe gaining empathic powers. Her hair growing longer in season 8 coincides with her desire to find love as opposed to just a baby. Before that she first dyed her hair blonde in season 3 which coincided with her romance with Cole. The colour softened and darkened the more the romance developed.
Paige's hair turned red in season 5 when she jumped into her duties as a witch. The other characters joked that her hair turned that colour after a potion blew up on her. She goes strawberry blonde in season 6 when she starts working temp jobs and she has gone back to her natural brown when she stops going to the jobs.
Prue's hair starts off in a bob at the start of the series but grows longer as her powers grow. It's noticeably nearly waist-length in season 3 when she's at her most powerful. In an unrelated episode that sends the sisters to the future, Prue finds herself with blonde hair to emphasize the powerful business woman she's become.
Piper is notable in that her hair doesn't change much in the series. Her hair grows to waist length in the third season and stays that way for the whole series. She does give herself some bangs for a bit in season 6 which coincides with drama between her and Leo.
A relatively subtle, constant example 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.
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). In fact, whenever Buffy's hair is curly, it's normally a sign that she's not acting herself or crazy. This goes all the way back to Xander's daydream in the forth episode of the series.
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.
Cordelia's shorter hairstyles from seasons 2-4 coincide with her Character Development. For her appearance in season 5 when she's really back to her old self, her hair has grown much longer.
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 Bad Ass 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.
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: [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 DramaTwinkle 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.
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 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: Crime Scene Investigation 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.
Gwen's hair is typically just past her shoulders and curly - emphasizing her Unkempt Beauty status as a servant girl. After she is crowned Queen her hair is now waist-length and straightened.
Morgana's normally perfectly conditioned and styled hair becomes slightly more unkempt in season 4 after she has been exposed as a traitor and is in hiding.
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.
Used again during the Season 5 premiere, when we see a flash-forward to Walt sometime in the future with a full head of hair and a shaggy unkempt beard. The change in appearance is made more dramatic because Walt has been bald with only a neatly trimmed mustache/goatee since late Season 1.
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.
Chuck grew a huge beard of sorrow and sits at home moping at the beginning of season 3, because he quit his job, lost Sarah AND didn't pass spy training. Later, he tries to buy more junk food at the Buy More and does so looking remarkably like the Dude with morning coat, beard, hairstyle and sunglasses.
In The Newsroom, Maggie cuts her hair short and dyes it red after a traumatic experience in Uganda. Also crosses over into Important Haircut when the audience finds out why she did it.
In Supernatural, Castiel grows a beard while in purgatory and Kevin Tran gets a short hair cut after being captured by Crowley.
In "The Empty Hearse", Sherlock has gained bedraggled long hair and a beard due to being held captive by Serbian terrorists. After his rescue, we cut to a scene where John is being criticised for his incredibly unflattering moustache by Mrs Hudson, who tells him that he can't escape middle age. We then cut straight back to Sherlock lying in an impromptu barber's chair in Mycroft's office, being shaved with a straight razor and having his hair restored to the same style he wore in previous seasons, while telling Mycroft that he has no interest in reaching middle age himself. This is all obviously done to highlight the differences in their attitude - John is trying to move on, even if it doesn't suit him, while Sherlock cannot move on and sees no reason why anyone might want to.
Later that episode, despite ignoring large amounts of criticism of his moustache, John eventually shaves it off because Sherlock Scanned his fiancée Mary and determined that she secretly hates it. John attempts to explain to her later that he shaved it for her benefit, but both Mary and the audience know it's because Sherlock was the one who suggested he do so.
When Sherlock has been living for months in a squat doing heroin, he grows a rubbish beard and wears his curly hair in a neglected mop. Even though he cleans himself up afterwards and gets his life back on track, as indicated by him reverting to his usual clean-shaven look, he only starts wearing his hair in the tidy, flowing style he used to at the point when the audience knows for sure that he'd only been doing it as part of a cover, and not because he's succumbed to his junkie impulses again.
While all of the Doctors in Doctor Who have different hair each regeneration, all of the Classic Doctors seem to prefer relatively long hair, generally hovering somewhere between earlobe and shoulder, with the Eighth Doctor, the most recent at the time, getting Byronic flowing hair. Therefore, when the series got a huge Re Tool after a hiatus of over a decade, media commentators at the time were genuinely shocked that the costume department had decided to give the new, Ninth Doctor a buzz cut. This was to distinguish the new series from the old one, as well as a way of indicating that the Ninth Doctor was going to be the most moody, no-nonsense Doctor yet seen - definitely no scarves or red question marks in sight! (It should also be noted that the shaved-head-and-leather-jacket look was thoroughly associated with gay communities in the UK at the time, which served as a Mythology Gag to the producer's last work and also fit the new interpretation of the character.) All of the modern Doctors so far have also had rather short hair.
"Night of the Doctor" shows that the old Eighth Doctor has cut off his iconic pretty-boy long hair, indicating that he is now much older and much less of a prettyboy, and has been living as a soldier for some time. He also has started wearing Perma Stubble, despite having been clean-shaven in his typical appearance.
In "Day of the Doctor", we meet the incarnation between the Doctor's Eighth and Ninth, who does not go by the name "The Doctor" due to a desire to disown his actions in war. One of the main indications that he's not like his other selves is that he is the only one who wears facial hair, when every other Doctor, regardless of age and taste otherwise, seems to prefer being clean-shaven (a few habitually wear small, tidy sideburns, and the Second Doctor has a perma-shadow, but that's it - this preference is briefly lampshaded by the Tenth Doctor in "Time Crash"). This is further emphasised by the fact that the newly-regenerated War Doctor, as he has not yet participated in the War, is clean-shaven as he checks out his reflection and goes to pick up a gun.
The First Doctor started off with shoulder-length hair styled with a slight curl at the ends, which he wore for the first serial in which he was an extreme Jerkass who thought nothing of lying to his crew, killing people and pointlessly endangering other people's lives, with no redeeming qualities at all beyond what can be implied by his Morality Pet, Susan. After the events of "The Edge of Destruction", in which the crew almost kill each other out of paranoia caused by his awful behaviour and brought to a head by a minor TARDIS malfunction, and in which he has several The Reason You Suck Speeches given to him by Barbara and Ian, he begins to make an effort to be a better man. After this, he begins wearing his hair shorter, without the curl and slicked back tighter, giving him a less eccentric, sharper look that indicates his desire for self-improvement. He keeps this for "Marco Polo", "The Keys of Marinus" and "The Aztecs", but goes back to his original hairstyle after his character was Retooled into being more comical.
The First Doctor companion Steven Taylor shaves off his beard (offscreen) after the Doctor agrees to take him on as a companion, signifying his decision to join the crew, not to mention his decision to rejoin civilisation as he'd been marooned on a planet populated entirely by spherical robots for two years.
Leela was intended to start wearing her straight hair in Victorian-esque curls to mimic the Doctor's curly hair and indicate his growing influence on her, but due to the season being re-edited to make K-9 a companion she reverts to her old hairdo after that story.
Clara's hairstyles during Season 8 are used to indicate the length of time passing between each trip, due in part to one of her gimmicks as a companion being that she doesn't actually live with the Doctor. It fluctuates wildly in terms of length - super-long in "Robot of Sherwood", bobbed in "Mummy on the Orient Express", longish with a blunt fringe in "The Caretaker", etcetera. The Doctor's haircuts differ more subtly but are similarly inconsistent - longer in "Time Heist", shorter in "Deep Breath", very short at the sides with a longer bit on top in "Flatline"...
In The Thick of It, Malcolm's hair is white in the final season. This was the actor's own hair, but was left in as it reflected how the character had experienced a mental breakdown before then - it serves to remind the audience that even though he's functional now, the experience has left him permanently scarred.
In the 2 Broke Girls episode "And the Married Man Sleepover", Max has her hair redone in a bouffant style, coinciding with her decision to let her relationship with Deke get more serious.
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.
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).
Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode grew his hair out to shoulder-length and grew a Beardof Sorrow during the early-to-mid '90's when he was at the height of his alcohol and drug addiction, only to cut his hair again and lose the beard once he got clean and sober. Likewise, he and the rest of the band went from typical '80s Hair during their early years to more "normal" haircuts by the late '90's.
Miley Cyrus' full transformation from Disney princess to her current (as of 2014) "mature" persona can be visually marked by her change from girlish long hair to the short pixie cut she received in 2012.
In TNA Bobby Roode's switch from long hair to a buzzcut helped fit the transition between his previous Beer Money Inc character and his new serious World Champion character.
Triple H in his heyday tended to sport a beard if he was a face. He was clean shaven during his time in Evolution. Additionally his traditional long hair was cut short after his loss to Brock Lesnar. When he returned to television, he was in the role of The Authority and no longer a regular wrestler.
Madison Rayne had platinum blonde hair when she was in the Beautiful People. It was shoulder-length when she was in her subservient role and she added extensions when she became the champion. When she split from them and adopted her 'Queen Bee' persona, her hair changed to brown. When she lost the Knockouts Championship to Mickie James, she removed her extensions. After returning from her maternity leave now as a face her hair was red and a little longer.
Similarly Velvet Sky's blonde highlights lessened a little after her TNA Heel-Face Turn.
Downplayed with Eve Torres but she wore her hair up for the first time when cutting her first heel promo.
Layla had shoulder-length hair with a thick fringe when she was in Lay Cool. After returning from injury as a face, her hair was now nearly waist-length. She lightened her hair eventually to blonde after losing the Divas' Championship but that doesn't seem to have symbolised anything.
Alicia Fox had her hair straight when she debuted as DJ Gabriel's dance partner. When she was traded to Smackdown and appeared as a heel, her hair was worn curly. She would continue to wear it in an afro or tightly curled for most of her time as a heel. After her Heel-Face Turn her hair was worn straight more often. And if it was curled, it was more relaxed. Also when she started appearing as a face and heel at random depending on the week, her red hair had changed to a more muted dark brown.
While he was away filming The Marine 3 and just before his Heel-Face Turn, The Miz returned and his normal fauxhawk had been replaced by a longer and slicked back style.
CM Punk appeared with his normally slicked back hair shaved to a buzzcut after his 2012 Face-Heel Turn. In 2013 after he returned from hiatus and underwent a Heel-Face Turn, his hair was a little longer and he had Wolverine-like sideburns.
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.
In Jak II: Renegade, you know Jak is going to be all badass now when you see that he's grown a soul patch. Likewise, you can tell he's matured and mellowed out a bit (a bit) at the start of Jak 3: Wastelander when he trades it in for a goatee.
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.
When Riku reappears in Kingdom Hearts II his hair is grown down past his shoulders, perhaps to show either maturity or the struggle he's been having, only to have it shorter than it was at the beginning of the series in Kingdom Hearts 3D, implying an off screen Important Haircut.
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-wieldingSphere 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 (and completely understandable) 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.)
Used constantly throughout the Persona universe to represent a character's growth:
Maki Sonomura, who wore her hair shoulder-length while a shy and conflicted teen, comes to the sequel as a determined woman with short-cropped, boyish hair, set on making amends for her role in the previous game.
Eriko Kirishima, excitable fan of the occult, traded her waist-length ponytail for a short bowl-cut style in time for Persona 2. And, if you played the original North American release of Revelations: Persona, her hair also changed from blonde (originally dark brown) to solid black.
Yukino Mayuzumi styled herself as a sukeban, with extremely short and messily-cropped dyed hair and an ankle-length skirt, a holdover from her days as a delinquent boss. By the time of Persona 2, she's a professional photojournalist, and she's still just as much of a Badass (if not more) but has grown her hair out to shoulder-length (revealing it to be very curly) and holds it down with a floppy gray hat.
Reiji Kido, the fearsome and antisocial misfit, let go of the enormous, unruly mane of his teen years for a more respectable (if still slightly messy) short style befitting his ordinary job as a salesman. His new look also hides the X-shaped scar on his forehead, which he used to display proudly as part of his Badass image.
Maya Amano, while still in junior-high, wore heir hair in a messy pageboy cut during those fateful days of the Masquerade. As an adult, she wears it long, slightly past her shoulders, and perfectly coiffed.
Eikichi Mishina's entire look was as ordinary as anyone could get as a kid, but when he fell in love with Miyabi, he decided someone as pretty as she was would never even notice someone as plain as he, so he developed a glam-rocker style which included spiky, dyed hair with a shocking white stripe down the middle.
Mitsuru Kirijo is shown in The Answer to have worn her hair in twin ponytails, "princess curl"-style, as a child, when she first Awakened to her Persona. By ninth grade, well on her way to establish SEES, she still had the curls but wore her hair loose save for a headband. By the time of Persona 3 proper, her hair is waist-length and wavy, with only a slight curl in the ends.
Yukiko Amagi shows up in Persona 3 Portable as a 9th-grader, with a short bowl-cut that barely reaches her neck. Two years later, in Persona 4, her long, straight hair reaches down the middle of her back, more fitting for her Yamato Nadeshiko image.
Rise Kujikawa, who previously wore her hair in girlish ponytails to play up her role as Risette, has gone for a "movie star" look instead and lets it down in a flowing cascade to rival Mitsuru's.
Most dramatic of all, Kanji Tatsumi has stopped bleaching his hair and combing it back, wearing it instead as its natural black and with a slightly nerdy side-part. It is so unlike him that even the Protagonist is shocked the first time he sees it, and Yukiko (who has been present for the change and has had time to acclimate) still finds it hilarious.
The Protagonist's cousin Nanako, who developed a crush for her "Big Brother," apparently taking a cue from his many female friends, has grown her hair out a bit and stopped tying it in pigtails.
Persona x Detective Naoto
Set two years after the events of Persona 4, Naoto now wears her hair all the way to her waist, having fully embraced her femininity.
Siegfried Schtauffen of the Soul Series originally had short hair, but with Soulcalibur and onward, he grows it past shoulder length before cutting it and slicking it back in Soulcalibur V.
Mass Effect 3: Jack's Character Development over the six month Time Skip, moving from Ax-Crazy to a Mama Bear, is marked by her growing her hair out from "recently shaved" to "a ponytail". She's pretty much the only teammate who changes hairstyle; everyone else either uses the exact same model, or has the exact same model minus the Cerberus insignia.
In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Solid Snake has grown out the cropped hair he wore in all of his appearances before that. He's also unshaven, when he had appeared clean-shaven in every game up until then. This serves to signify that he's no longer working with any organisation that particularly cares how long he wears his hair or if he bothers to shave, as well as to indicate the much more mellow and easy-going personality he developed as a result of the events of the previous game (the game document suggests the change indicates a man who now has higher priorities than his personal appearance).
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. EP7 reveals that this is how Yasu envisioned 'the type of girl Battler likes' and based Beatrice's 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 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 The 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.
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.
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.
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.
This also happens all over the place in the fourth season of the sequel series, Legend Of Korra.
Three years after the events of book three, Mako and Bolin—especially Mako—both have hairstyles that are more restrained and kempt than what they've worn previously, as befits their roles as a bodyguard to royalty and a peacekeeping soldier.
Jinora's signature hairdo has become a bob after having to shave it off at the end of book 3 to receive her Airbending Master tattoos. All of Tenzin and Pema's children have grown their hair out to some degree, in fact.
Korra, on the other hand, after the Trauma Conga Line at the end of book three, cuts her signature ponytail off and leaves her hair loose at chin length (as well as wearing Earth Kingdom Green clothes) so that people won't recognize her as the Avatar while she's still weakened and struggling with her flashbacks and Enemy Without.
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.
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 upon 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 Peek-a-Bangs and a bun, though half-way through the first season onwards she was given a design changed for plot reasons and her hair became cornrow-braids.
Cindy's hair in the show might have also been easier to animate than the pig-tails she has in the film. A few character designs got cosmetically simpler as well, such as Sheen's shirt not being as detailed.