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Expository Hairstyle Change

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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, have gone through a rough patch emotionally or just had more important things to do than shave. 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 signify a scene or setting change or show the passage of time in either a Flash Forward or a Flash Back. This can result in the Funny Flashback Haircut. Occasionally the trope can be used to play with the audience or otherwise mess with our perception of what is going on. Do not confuse with a haircut that is done on-screen — as that falls under Important Haircut, Gag Haircut or Traumatic Haircut.

See Good Hair, Evil Hair for when this trope is used in conjunction with a Heel–Face Turn or Face–Heel Turn. Nonconformist Dyed Hair might come into play for someone experimenting with rebellion or leaving it behind.

Compare Time-Passage Beard, Important Hair Accessory, and Beard of Sorrow. Compare Expressive Hair for when the change happens only briefly, in reaction to a situation.

Contrast with Eyepatch After Timeskip, a more extreme change.


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    Films — Animation 

By Creator:

  • This can actually be seen in many of Hayao Miyazaki's films. It's not uncommon that, by the end of the film, the protagonist's appearance has changed somewhat. This is almost always reflected in their hair, and almost always in the main female. Miyazaki seems to have a thing for short-haired girls.:
    • 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.
    • 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.
      • 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.
    • In When Marnie Was There, Anna starts off with Boyish Short Hair. She grows it out slightly over the summer and begins wearing a hairpin after she becomes friendlier.

By Movie:

  • Brave:
    • When Elinor dresses Merida for the presentation, she shoves her hair into a wimple. It's fairly bursting at the seams, just like Merida's personality. When she defies her mother, she ditches the wimple and announces herself by pulling her hood off and revealing her wild, loose locks.
    • By the end of the movie, Elinor has let her hair down from its former tight braid into hanging loosely down her back. This is a subtle indication that she's mellowed out.
  • Frozen:
    • Elsa's hair at the start of the movie, while she's happy with her sister, is in one braid. As she grows older and afraid of her powers, she styles into a Prim and Proper Bun - to symbolise how she's completely shut herself off. The Shaking Her Hair Loose into a French braid during "Let It Go" shows her relaxing into her new lifestyle.
    • Anna wears her hair in an updo for the coronation ball. But she switches to her more practical Girlish Pigtails when she goes to find Elsa.
  • Frozen II:
    • Elsa starts out with her iconic braid from the first movie. Partway through the movie, she rearranges it into a ponytail as she chases the Nokk across the ocean. On arriving in Ahtohallan the ponytail is shaken loose leaving her hair completely free for the first time, representing her embracing her full power and place on the mystical island.
    • Anna abandons her Girlish Pigtails for a half-up, half-down hairstyle that shows how she's matured in the time since the first film. By the end it's completely up in an elaborate bun, similar to the one Elsa had at her own coronation, as she assumes the throne of Arendelle.
  • 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.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Dr. Olivia has long, unkempt, brown hair with purple highlights to match her "kooky scientific Granola Girl" aesthetic; she wears it pushed back under a colorful headband, but it still spills out all around her face and shoulders. When she reveals her last name--Octavius—and thus her role as the universe's Dr. Octopus, she immediately ties her hair up into a more practical beehive style as she unveils her Combat Tentacles and supervillain suit. This both depicts the very real threat she now poses and emphasizes her Animal Motif: the updo closely resembles the lengthy mantle of an actual octopus.
  • 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 (it's also an inversion of Letting Her Hair Down). 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."
    • At the end of the movie, Rapunzel's hair is cut off and reverts to its likely natural brown color.
  • In Turning Red, as Ming ages back to her normal age in the astral realm, her hairstyle changes from fully down, to a ponytail then finally to the bun she sports in the present representing her increasing repression.

  • In part due to the counterculture, a lot of rock groups that began in the early-mid 1960s would later grow out their hair during the second half of the decade, coinciding with the evolution of their music into more experimental, sophisticated or heavy styles and leading to the image of long hair being associated with rock and roll. A group wearing short combed hair and suits in 1964, would probably don perms and frilly psychedelic regalia in 1967, and then have long hair, more casual and baggier clothes in 1969. However some groups, like The Pretty Things, beat everyone to the punch before the psychedelic era had a chance to come and go.
  • The psychedelic Sgt. Pepper era of The Beatles came into effect when the former moptops wore mustaches, muttonchops, and beards, and John wore his famous round glasses.
  • Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode grew his hair out to shoulder-length and grew a Beard of Sorrow during the early-to-mid'90s 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 '90s.
  • Sir Elton John got a hair implant in The '90s, which quite helped when he went from Camp Gay to Straight Gay.
  • 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).
  • Miley Cyrus' full transformation from Disney princess to her "mature" persona can be visually marked by her change from girlish long hair to the short pixie cut she received in 2012, though in 2016, she outgrew it to a chin-length hairstyle and then shoulder length a year later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eminem's Career Resurrection in 2009 came with him returning to his natural dark hair instead of the peroxide blond he'd been famous for previously, which he said was to represent his shedding of his addiction. The song "My Darling" on Relapse portrays this as an Important Haircut in kayfabe, with the Monster persuading Slim to cut his hair, but Slim resisting the Monster's efforts to persuade him to dye it back to blond. Em later returned to blond to signal Revisiting the Roots for The Marshall Mathers LP 2, as well as to mark his Creator Recovery — he now felt comfortable enough with his sobriety that he wasn't worried the blond hair would make him relapse, although seeing himself in the mirror with it did freak him out. He later went dark again and grew a Beard of Sorrow to signal his fading fame and a crisis of confidence following an Audience-Alienating Era, though kept the look even after rapping his way out of it, which he highlighted in his Diss Track "Killshot":
    The game's mine again, and ain't nothing changed but the locks!

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Aksana changed her hair when she underwent a character switch in FCW. She was originally a Funny Foreigner Dumb Blonde. She then became a much more serious Femme Fatale and adopted black hair with a thick fringe.
  • Alexa Bliss had blue and purple tips in her hair as a face. When she turned heel and joined Blake and Murphy - who were color-coded with red - the tips became red too.
  • Alicia Fox's hair was dark blonde and 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 dyed bright red and 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.
  • Cameron normally wore her hair straight in The Funkadactyls. As she started showing signs of a Face–Heel Turn, she began to wear her hair curly. When she fully underwent the turn and faced her former partner Naomi, she had darkened her hair to a two-tone blonde and black colour. Naomi meanwhile wore her hair in braids or relaxed curls after the split.
  • Candice Michelle began highlighting her hair around the time she Took a Level in Badass in 2007.
  • Carmella had a mixture of brown and blonde hair when she debuted as the Token Evil Teammate to Enzo Amore and Big Cass. Around the time she underwent a proper Heel–Face Turn and established herself as part of their entourage for good, her hair became completely blonde.
  • Charlotte Flair added extensions to her hair when she won the NXT Women's Championship and solidified herself as a star.
  • Sting started off with a bleach-blond flattop haircut to go with his surfer gimmick. But in late 1995, he stopped bleaching his naturally dark brown hair and started growing it out. Soon after he switched to a darker gimmick that was based on The Crow.
  • 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.
  • Emma's hair was completely blonde for most of her NXT career. As she began a Face–Heel Turn and hooked up with Dana Brooke to form Team Disingenuous - the color was replaced with a balayage of brown into blonde.
  • You can almost track Daniel Bryan's WWE career by his hairstyles alone. As the Ensemble Dark Horse NXT rookie, he had a crew cut and Perma-Stubble up to his first World Heavyweight Title run in 2011. After the infamous 18-second loss to Sheamus, and perhaps to go along with his character's descent into madness, his hair and beard began to lengthen with time. By two years later and his WrestleMania XXX main event win, his hair was a shoulder-length mane and he had an impressive, voluminous beard to go along with it. By the following year at WrestleMania 31, he was approaching Looks Like Jesus levels. Then a string of injuries started, eventually culminating in his retirement from in-ring competition in February 2016. The tip-off to many that this retirement was not a work was that he emerged for the announcement having cut his hair into a short, conservative style. He transitioned into an on-screen authority figure and occasional announcer, so this fit for a while. Eventually, though, he stopped cutting it regularly, and by the time of his return about two years later, his beard and hair had lengthened to about the level he had worn it during his main event run. His AEW debut added an undercut with a top knot.
  • Downplayed with Eve Torres but she wore her hair up for the first time when cutting her first heel promo.
  • Layla initially started out with an afro, then changed to shoulder-length hair with a thick fringe when she became a heel. 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 she then went back to brunette. She cut her hair into a bob in 2015, retiring a few months later.
  • 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 longer.
  • 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.
  • Sasha Banks changed her dark blonde hair to brown after splitting from the BFFs and then changed to red when she started developing into a top heel. After splitting from Team BAD, her hair became pink and was worn straight more often. Further into her face turn, it became fuchsia. After a break with natural black, Banks returned as the villainous Blueprint with azure locks.
  • Triple H:
    • In his heyday, he 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 in 2012. When he returned to television, he was in the role of The Authority and no longer a regular wrestler. Eventually, he became bald.
    • Before this, Hunter wore his hair in a ponytail, then a half-updo as the Connecticut Blueblood, completely down as the leader of DX, shortened to shoulder-length and worn wet for matches with a growing Beard of Evil weeks after his Face–Heel Turn at Wrestle Mania XV. The latter stuck until shaving of the beard at Summerslam 2002.
  • 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.
  • Similarly Velvet Sky's blonde highlights lessened a little after her TNA Heel–Face Turn.
  • From his debut in the 80s until 1997, Scott Steiner had a dark mullet and was clean-shaven. Then, his look began to change. First, he grew a goatee and wore his hair in a ponytail. Then, he cut his hair short towards the end of '97. Finally, after turning heel in early 1998, he bleached his hair and most of his beard blond as part of his new "Big Poppa Pump" persona.

  • In the musical Hamilton Alexander Hamilton has his hair tied back for most of the first act up to the song Yorktown ("The World Turned Upside Down"), to signify him when he was young (from 14 till about 27 years old) (after Yorktown is "What Comes Next?", which is one of King George III's numbers). By the next song "Dear Theodosia", Hamilton has his hair down until the end of the show (from 28 years old to 47/49 years old).
  • 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.
  • Agent Curt Mega in Spies Are Forever grows a truly hideous beard during his 4 year break from the agency to show how much he was hurt by the death of his best friend and secret lover Owen, which he inadvertently caused with his own negligence. In the end, it was actually all for naught because Owen survived the accident.
  • 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 Wicked, Elphaba begins the show wearing her hair in a scholarly braid, until Galinda decides to give her a makeover in "Popular". She keeps her hair loose under her signature pointy hat after that, signifying her growing confidence.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the fourth game, Phoenix's fall from grace is brought home by the stubble on his face. It's gone in the fifth, to indicate that He's Back!.
    • And Kristoph goes from perfectly-coiffed long hair to tangled blond mess almost instantaneously when his plans are foiled once and for all, showing just how hard the failure hits him.
  • In Kira☆Kira, Kirari dyes her hair pink for the band's tour. Depending on the circumstances, she may dye it back to brown once things have settled down, though.
  • In Tokimeki Memorial, multiple girls - and boys - change their hairstyle over the course of the game.
    • In the first Tokimeki Memorial, Nozomi will begin to grow her hair out if you have her as a sure-win at the end of the game and do not date her between December of your 3rd Year and Graduation Day.
    • In the second Tokimeki Memorial, the lead heroine Hikari used to have long hair but cut it short after the protagonist moved away.
    • In the fourth Tokimeki Memorial, the secret character Ookura Miyako has two! She begins the game with her hair tied back. Unlocking her route will result in her to stop tying it back, letting it hang loosely around her hair. Continuing on her route, she will later end up tying it into a ponytail.
    • In the first Girl's Side 1st Love game, the extra character Tendou Jin will stop bleaching his hair and revert to his natural brown color, if the player chooses a certain option late in his route.
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • In EP5 Beatrice lets her hair down for the whole EP. Not only that, she can't even fix her hair. Or move, or eat, or speak... Virgilia is even combing her hair for her. She gets better, though. Sort of.
    • In general it can be said that the different hairstyles show a significant change in Beatrice. In addition to Meta Beato having the hair-down look until her death, Episode 6 shows us that this was the 'original' design for Beatrice before Kinzo had the portrait hung in 1984 - with her hair down and in the suit. 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.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The main characters usually go through hairstyle changes whenever their outfits change, which denotes either a time skip or a new phase of their lives beginning. Flashbacks often show characters sporting different hairstyles to help emphasise that the scenes are occurring at different periods of their lives.
    • Volume 3 villain flashbacks show that Cinder used to have short hair and Emerald used to bind her hair. This contrasts their longer, looser flowing hairstyles in the main storyline, where their circumstances are very different to their past lives.
    • The Time Skip between Volumes 3 and 4 show Ruby and Nora with longer, shaggier hair, and Ren's hair is now loose instead of bound. This helps emphasise that they've spent months on the road. Yang's hair is now bound, signifying the repression of her wild personality while she battles depression and PTSD. Meanwhile, Cinder is now sporting short hair, in keeping with her very asymmetrical design. Having been badly injured on the left-side of her body, her short hair covers the scarred half of her face and her dress has a long sleeve that completely hides her left arm. Like Yang, she spends Volume 4 recovering from her Beacon injuries.
    • From Volume 4, Ironwood's appearance begins to change. Originally neat and clean-shaven, the increasing stress he's under after Volume 3 manifests in shaggier hair and Perma-Stubble that's implied to be a Beard of Sorrow. By Volume 7, he has a full beard and very shaggy hairstyle. From Volume 8, his Beard of Sorrow fully transitions into a Beard of Evil after he cracks from the strain the villains have put him under, becoming so authoritarian that he ends up as dangerous as Salem.
    • The Volume 5 character short for Weiss shows her with a centred ponytail instead of her usual off-centre style. This combines with her lack of eye scar to emphasise that the flashback predates the original White Trailer and is dealing with a version of Weiss who has not yet gained the strength to rebel against her abusive father.
    • Volume 6 flashbacks reveal that Salem used to wear her hair in a half-bun prior to her ascension as the setting's Big Bad, where she now sports a mature, elegant and complex bun that contains some oiran and tayuu inspiration.
    • In Volume 7, the heroes arrive in Atlas and join forces with Ironwood to protect the kingdom and fight the Big Bad. As a result, they refresh their wardrobe and tidy up their hair styles. Ruby receives a more Anime-style spikey hair cut, while Weiss and Ren adopt braids. Blake and Jaune cut their hair short. Penny's return also sees her sporting a new, longer hairstyle to help show she's changed from Volume 3.

    Web Videos 
  • Jeff of Everyman HYBRID starts out with a boyish mop of hair. When he comes back after disappearing for a while 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.


Video Example(s):


Noni's True Hair

In a truly expository scene that includes no words, Noni takes out her dyed weave and shows her true hair.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ExpositoryHairstyleChange

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