D-Day: Had to wash her hair?
Otter: [shakes head] Dead mother.
A woman (and it is almost always a woman), subjected to the advances of an Abhorrent Admirer, indicates that she doesn't want to date him but is trying to let him down easy. Unfortunately she can't think of a plausible excuse, so comes up with something ludicrous off the top of her head. Either it couldn't possibly take up much time, is hopelessly vague or surreally implausible, or is something no-one in their right mind would prioritize over a promising date - which may of course be a deliberate hint.
Named for the Stock Phrase that has become such a clichéd excuse that it doesn't let the target down easily at all, but instead says "I wouldn't go out with you even if every other man on the planet was radioactive!"
Subtrope of Lame Excuse. Compare I Have to Go Iron My Dog, where the excuse is to remove oneself from the situation immediately rather than avoiding a future date. Doesn't work on the Literal-Minded, the Cloudcuckoolander, or anyone particularly determined (or just plain lecherous): "That's a lot of hair. Need any help?"
- There was a 1980s anti-smoking advert on British TV where a group of girls are discussing how to chat up boys by blowing smoke suggestively. One tries it on a skinhead who coughs before answering with this line.
- There was a UK ad for quick-cook pasta where a woman hears her annoying upstairs neighbour leaving his apartment. She rushes to put the pasta on and it's ready within a couple of minutes, so by the time he comes to the door and asks her on a date, she apologises and explains that she's just sat down to dinner.
- A Swedish chocolate drink is sold under the trade name "Pucko". In the years since is was introduced, the expression "pucko" has acquired the meaning "stupid" in slang. This would seem unfortunate for advertising, but they actually managed to work with it. Their most memorable commercial had a young dressed-up lad asserting that he didn't blame the girl for breaking off the date, since "if you've promised your parents to stay home and help systematizing the [diapositive] slides, you have to keep that promise" while buying a Pucko for himself.
- A variant shows up in one of the Chick Tracts: The daughter of a man whose soul the angels and demons were fighting over gets sent to go wash her hair by a guardian angel so that her Christian friend can try to convert the dad while she waits for the girl to finish washing her hair (because apparently Jack Chick thinks that it takes hours). Then again Chick seems to think converting somebody to Christianity takes minutes.
- Used in a strip in which the title character asks a girl out. She gives him this line and offers coffee at the workplace instead. Dilbert declines, preferring someone with "clean hair".
- Another woman blows Dilbert off with the excuse, "I have to wash my goldfish."
- Clue for the Clueless gives two versions of this excuse: The first is vague but plausible, such as "I have 'plans' this evening", the second is specific and implausible, for example "I have to wax my cat", and is generally reserved for losers.
- A Garfield book lists this line as a way for a girl to refuse a date offer from Jon Arbuckle, adding onto it "each one individually". The others in that book would mention listing here if they didn't venture dangerously close to I Have to Go Iron My Dog lines, especially if one considers the many, many, MANY rejection lines Jon's received through the years...
- In The Swan Princess, Odette tries to use the excuse not on the prince himself, but on her father to delay leaving for the prince's kingdom.
Odette: I haven't packed or washed my hair, and Father, I get seasick!
- Private School
Arcade Voice: [playing "The Big Score" game] Hey, big boy. Think you're man enough to score with me?
Jim Green: I am, if Bubba is.
Arcade Voice: Oops, sorry, tonight I gotta wash my hair.
- Back to the Future Part II: Lorraine uses the line on Biff. Ironically she wasn't trying to let him down easy, considering she had just told him to "take a long walk off a short pier". At least Biff deserved it.
- When Otter says that a girl broke a date with him in Animal House, Boon asks if she used this excuse. Subverted with Otter's reply — "Dead mother".
- Woody Allen films love this Trope. Take Bananas. Fielding Mellish tries to ask out a Sexy Secretary.
Fielding: You busy tonight?
Norma: Some old friends are coming over. We're gonna show some pornographic movies.
Fielding: You need an usher?
Norma: Aw, that's sweet. I'm busy.
- In The Strawberry Blonde, Virginia fends off Biff's persistent entreaties for another date by claiming her cousin just arrived unexpectedly from Scranton. Finally she agrees to go on a date with Biff three weeks from Tuesday — only to marry on that day Biff's evil rival Hugo.
- Magrat does this in Wyrd Sisters. "I shall be washing my hair!" "When?" "Whenever!"
- Its use gets lampshaded when after being repeatedly rebuffed by Magrat, The Fool convinces her to watch the play with him and that there's even a pump available "in case you want to wash your hair".
- A further lampshade later: To indicate that the Fool hasn't been asking Magrat out lately, Nanny Ogg says to her: "Your hair looks a bit grubby. It looks as though you haven't washed it for a month."
- When Richard shows up without his date in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Reg muses about why she hadn't come, and asks if this was the excuse she gave. He adds that it's only for lack of hair that he has to participate in the school as much as he does. (It turns out that Richard completely forgot that he had invited her.)
- Gender Flipped by Lakewalker culture in The Sharing Knife. The woman is normally the one that makes advances, while the man is the one who has to come up with some excuse if he's not inclined to her.
- Women in The Tale of Genji have Rapunzel Hair as long as they are, if not longer, making this a very good excuse for putting off a lover or husband.
- The Prisoner (1967): Oddly enough, this is Number 24's excuse when Number 6 calls her for help in "The Schizoid Man". She comes anyway.
- In Help Im A Teenaged Outlaw, Lady Devereux tells one of the servants in one episode (who is asking her out) that she will not be coming out with him because she is "washing her hair."
- Played with on Dawson's Creek when Joey tells Dawson that if he can't find a date for a double date, he should call Jen and tell her he can't go out because he needs to "wash his hair"
- In Kenan & Kel, Kenan tries to ask a girl to the Valentine's Day dance over the phone but gets rejected, claiming that she has to wash her hair. Kenan then remembers that the girl is bald.
- M*A*S*H: Colonel Blake once put the moves on a nurse. He complimented her on her scent, to which she replied, "I just washed my hair." When the colonel goes a little further, she brushes him off with, "I have to wash my hair."
- Saved by the Bell: In the episode where Kelly Kapowski didn't want to go to the prom with Zack because she couldn't afford a dress, she used this one so often Zack told her she'd caused a drought in California.
- The Big Bang Theory "The Cushion Saturation", Penny tries to excuse herself saying she needed to wash her hair to save herself from Sheldon's wrath when he was about to discover his self-designated couch cushion had been disturbed.
- An episode of Diff'rent Strokes had Willis' girlfriend blow off a date with him by saying she had to wash her hair. He goes to the movies anyway and sees her there with another guy.
- In the extended Glee pilot, Emma pulls out several of these excuses (i.e. "I'm allergic to nighttime") to discourage Ken from asking her out.
- How I Met Your Mother has a cast-wide version. One character wants to get out of something unpleasant and she says she's washing her hair. Another in the group says "running the water," the third says "holding the towel" and the fourth simply says that he'll be at home, trying to cope with not being invited to the hair-washing party.
- Arrested Development had a straight example and a subversion in "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!":
- Lucille Ostero tells Gob "I have to go to spin class." Lucille has vertigo.
- When Michael drops by Sally Sitwell's work to ask her out, he sees her facing away from the front desk in the next room. When he asks the receptionist to get her attention, she makes a phone call, then tells Michael she's not there. After Michael leaves dejected, it's revealed that the figure in the next room was simply trying on a wig that looked identical to Sally's hair.
- In the second Bottom Live show, Richie tells Eddie to invoke this after he gets an invite to meet with "Mr. Big". Eddie points out that he doesn't have any hair.
- In I'm Alan Partridge, Alan casts around wildly for an excuse to leave the house of a swinger couple who want to have sex with him and comes up with "I've just remembered that my father is...still dead".
- In an episode of Mr. Belvedere, Kevin delivers take-out to a young woman, and wonders why she's alone on Saturday night; she tells him she was thinking about going out, but figured she'd stay in and wash her hair. Kevin is surprised girls "actually do that", thinking it was just an excuse to turn him down. Then it turns into a complete Inversion of the Trope, as the two wind up in bed, the woman needing it as she was getting over a break-up, leading to some in-family turmoil. (Note that this was unusual for a sitcom at the time.)
- Used in 'Allo 'Allo!. Lieutenant Gruber wants to spend some quality time alone with René. This follows:
René: No, Lieutenant. I have to put the cat out.
Lt. Gruber: ... I could put it out with you.
René: No, your medals might frighten it.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: In "Calamity Kimberly", Kimberly breaks a mirror and, as part of the bad luck she believes that comes as a result from that, gets her hair wet from rain while going to school. Upon seeing her hair, Skull comments that she wasn't lying when she said she needed to wash it.
- Patricia does this to Eddie on House of Anubis. It wasn't that she didn't like him, but it due to being nervous about actually having a relationship after their (and her) First Kiss. She tried to avoid him all together because she never had a boyfriend before.
- On Cheers, Cliff tries telling another bar patron about his trip to Florida. The other patron excuses himself by saying "You know, I just realized that I think I left my oven on." As he heads for the door, he mutters "If I hurry, maybe I can stick my head in it."
- Played for laughs in "Orgy for One" by Ninja Sex Party. The excuses the girls give for not showing up to Danny's orgy range from the believable ("I have a headache") to the outrageous ("my dad exploded").
- Relient K's song "Mood Rings" - "She likes you Wednesday, but now it's Friday and she has to wash her hair."
- A different excuse in Kirsty McColl's "In These Shoes";
He said, "Let's make love on a mountain-top,
Under the stars, on a big hard rock"
I said "In these shoes? I don't think so"
- ...Also a direct subversion, since the next line is "Let's do it here".
- Lily Allen's "Knock 'Em Out" is essentially a string of these, ranging from the girl saying she's getting married next week to claiming she has to go because her house is on fire.
- Not played quite straight in South Pacific: Emile isn't around when Nellie sings "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair" and washes her hair on stage. (She does not "wash that man right out of [her] hair", as her very next number is "(I'm in Love With) A Wonderful Guy".) Lampshaded by her fellow nurses:
Nurse: Well, she sure washed him out of her hair!!
- In Charly: A Love Song, the two leads are set up on an unwanted date by their parents. After leaving the planned (and boring) date at the country club, Charly (the girl) reveals that underneath The Ojou exterior is a Genki Girl who only needs a Ferris wheel ride to bring her out. When she tries to drag Straight Man Sam (the guy) along, he replies:
"I thought you had to wash your tennis shoes?"
- Elaine in The Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island, to LeChuck.
- In The Sims, if you invite someone over and the Relationship Values are too low, sometimes you'll get this as a response.
- Asking the Bowerstone hairdresser to follow you in Fable I will result in this phrase if she doesn't like you enough.
- In Farmington Tales this is Kaylee's excuse when Floyd mentions that Manny's been thinking of asking her out. When Floyd comments that he hasn't even told her what day Manny mentioned, she replies that whatever the day, there'll be a lot of hair-washing and ironing going on.
- One Concerned strip has Gordon trying to ask out one of his female co-workers at the Combine Citadel out on a date, and she gives him this excuse. The catch here is that the coworker, who was a normal human in the previous comic, is now a transhuman Combine soldier instead.
- Subverted in this Questionable Content strip, where Faye has a legitimate reason for having to wash her hair: bubble gum.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, this is Molly's excuse for standing Rocko up for a date bearing in mind that Molly is completely covered with pink hair. "I had to wash my hair. All of it."
- The ladyfolk of Loserz would rather, amongst other things, paint the Sistine Chapel, lick their own asshole or eat babies than date Erik or Ben. Disco Jesus, however... doesn't date boys.
- Poor David of Ow, my sanity gets his share of lame excuses. Including this one, from a shaved girl.
- The Spill Co Host 3000 uses the excuse of needing to wash his hair in order to avoid seeing "Gamer".
- The Spoony Experiment: The Spoony One once reviewed a Klingon language instruction CD where I Have to Wash My Hair is said to be a perfectly valid way of dealing with an unwanted Klingon suitor. A disbelieving Spoony responds "Oh come on, if that's a pussy line on Earth, it's gotta be a pussy line on Qo'noS!"
- The Nostalgia Chick is on the receiving end of this line when she tries to hit on Todd in the Shadows, who runs off claiming that "I gotta go wash my feet or my car or something."
- RiffTrax "Skipper Learns a Lesson"
Narrator: Larry said: Come play with us. We're digging a trench.
Bill Corbett: Susan suddenly remembered that she needed to wash her hair.
- Used and promptly lampshaded in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. Grim tries this excuse, but Billy points out that he tried the same excuse yesterday. (And Billy misses the obvious: Grim has no hair.)
- In a flashback episode of the animated spinoff Beetlejuice, young Beetlejuice receives this blowoff from a girl he has invited to the prom. The girl is a skeleton with no hair.
- Used against Dexter on the Freakazoid! episode "Dance of Doom". His future girlfriend (well, Freakazoid's) Debbie uses this trope as an excuse to turn him down for the Daylight Savings Dance, another girl claims she's due for a surgical procedure. However, Alpha Bitch Val just tells him she'd only date him if "she were ugly and dead". Ironically, she's the one Freakazoid kisses after he saves the students from Cave Guy.
Freakazoid: That was cheap, tawdry and based solely on hormones. WORKS FOR ME!
- The Batman did it with the appropriately titled "Superman Story". Clark attempts to ask Lois to see a boring documentary film. She brushes him aside, claiming she needs to wash her hair.
- Megas XLR "Dude, Where's My Head" When Jamie decides to break his Non-Action Guy role and do a flying leap off a parking garage roof his date protests. Saying "It's been great hanging out with you and all, but I've got to go home and wash my hair."
- In Futurama, we discover that, sometime in the past, Leela told Fry she couldn't go out with him because she had to meet a ghost. She wasn't expecting him to believe it (he did), so she flipped a coin to decide if she should use the excuse or not. In an Alternate Universe, where coin-flips have the opposite result, their counterparts went out and are now married.
- The Simpsons:
Lisa: Say, Dad! Would you like to see my science project?
- Barney announces to the bar that he has a date "with the crazy lady who's always yelling stuff in front of the drug store," and a dejected Moe sighs and says "she told me she was washing her hair tonight."
- The episode "Trilogy of Error" has Lisa and Homer attempt this to get out of eating Marge's terrible breakfast. Naturally, Homer botches it.
Homer: No, Lisa! But I sure don't want to eat this terrible breakfast!
- Parodied in Doug, where one of Doug's Imagine Spots shows Patty Mayonnaise presented with a Dating Sim-like choice between Roger, Doug, or washing her hair.
- In Spongebob Squarepants when Sandy says she'll tear a new one to the person who caused Clamu pain, to prevent her from revealing he threw a peanut at Clamu he says "I have to get my hair cut!" and Sandy Lampshades this by saying "Wait a minute Spongebob doesn't have hair!...or does he?"
- The Venture Bros. has an episode where Dr. Venture is pursuing another date with Charlene, or Dr. Girlfriend, calling The Monarch's cocoon. When Dr. Venture calls yet again for Dr. Girlfriend, the Monarch yells flustered, "Tell him you're washing your hair, or something, I don't care."
- Isabella states this almost word for word to Phineas and Ferb in "Robot Rodeo", but it's subverted since the phrase isn't used for the situation above; it's merely used to segue into one of the weirdest songs on the show.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Party of One", Rarity uses this excuse to turn down an invitation to one of Pinkie Pie's parties. When Pinkie points out Rarity's hair looks clean to her, Rarity goes so far as to stick her head in a garbage can full of rubbish to get away with the excuse.
Rarity: See? Dirty.
- This post on Gaijin Smash discusses the cultural gap on date excuses.
- Keep in mind that when this excuse first appeared, it wasn't outlandish at all. Back in the days when women generally wore their hair very long and in elaborate hairstyles, and before such things as showers and hair dryers, washing one's hair, drying it, and then putting it back up was a major undertaking. It was a legitimate excuse then. It remained a legitimate thing right up until the widespread availability of commercial shampoos and conditioners. Washing hair with plain soap leaves a residue, so it was wash, rinse, change the water and add a little lemon juice or vinegar (to remove the residue), then change the water again for the final rinse. Even when hair styles became generally shorter prior to/after World War II, it could still be a long and occasionally arduous process. See here.