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Generally, the most important things an author wants to communicate to an audience are the things that are difficult to instantly demonstrate, such as a character's role in the story, personality, moral character, or whether the author wants the audience to sympathize with them.
Often as a visual shorthand, the writer uses the character's appearance to symbolize those characteristics. In animation, a common practice is to use Hair Colors, or the color and shape of the eyes. However, another technique that has several useful advantages is the style and length of a character's Hair Tropes. For one thing, it's relatively easy to implement in Live Action TV as well as animation. It's also convenient for characters who undergo lots of character development as you can give them an Expository Hairstyle Change or Important Haircut.
Note: while Hair Tropes are all tropes that have to do with hair, this is specifically a supertrope of cases where hairstyle is used to represent personality, not simply to look interesting or help you tell the characters apart.
Compare Stock Costume Traits, where a character's costume indicates profession & status.
Female Tropes / Subtropes:
- Bald Women: Often found in Sci Fi, these characters tend to represent empowerment through transcendence.
- Braids of Action: A single long braid or a pair of braids, used to indicate an Action Girl.
- Boyish Short Hair: Short unkempt or spiky hair, often used to indicate Tomboy types, and action girls.
- Girlish Pigtails: Hair tied into sidetails that stick out the sides indicate youthfulness or immaturity.
- Hime Cut: Combination of a female with perfectly straight bangs, noticable sidetails, and long hair in back indicates an Ojou.
- Mega Twintails: Outrageous Girlish Pigtails twirled into Princess Curls indicates a character who combines the two types.
- Odango Hair: Two spherical buns worn at about 45 degree angles on the side of the head, sometimes with ribbons and/or cloth covers. Indicates the character is either Chinese, innocent and polite, or when worn with twintails, a Tsundere.
- Power Hair: Short hair reaching the jawline, parted in front and coiffed expertly so it never crosses in front of the face, used to indicate an Iron Lady.
- Prim and Proper Bun: Hair tied in a single bun at the back, indicating a neat, prim, proper, and organized woman of authority, who is typically conservative and tight laced.
- Princess Curls: Curly sidetails on female characters often indicate royalty or being of (or formerly of) high status.
- Rapunzel Hair: Very long hair (past their hips) that flows like a cape is often used to indicate a dramatic character from a wealthy a background.
- Regal Ringlets: Corkscrew curls as a sign of a character being upper class.
- Short Hair with Tail: Combining the femininity of long hair and the Action Girl / Tomboy implications of short hair.
- Tomboyish Ponytail: Wearing a ponytail not intended for elegance indicates a Tomboy or The Ladette.
- Tomboyish Sidetails: short hair combined with the sidetails of a Hime Cut, indicating a character with a tomboyish, non - girly, or unique personality.
Male Tropes / Subtropes:
- Badass Long Hair: Manly AntiHeroes with long hair tend to be more badass than they look, especially if they often carry a sword.
- Bald Black Leader Guy: The combination of dark skin and baldness indicates an often mysterious, heroic authority figure, often the Big Good.
- Bald of Evil: Bad guys are often completely bald.
- Braids of Barbarism: Horny Vikings and other barbarians.
- Go Nagai Sideburns: Sideburns that look like a flame indicate a Hot-Blooded character.
- Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Long hair used to emphasize the character's status as a Bishonen.
- Wild Hair: Shaggy, unkempt, long hair, often with a bushy beard, used to symbolize that a character is close to nature.
Unisex (same implications for both genders) Tropes / Subtropes:
- Bald of Awesome: When hair loss isn't a sign of a character's lack of youth, health, or morals, it's a sign of awesomeness.
- Blinding Bangs: A mop of hair that obscures the eyes, usually used to indicate that a character is dumb, a Shrinking Violet or The Stoic.
- Delinquent Hair: Unnatural hair color or styles used in a more realistic setting to denote a Delinquent, antisocial, or rebellious individual.
- Good Hair, Evil Hair: When this supertrope is used specifically to distinguish heroes and villains.
- Hair Antennae: Two locks of hair that stick out above the head, resembling an insect's antenna, used to indicate The Ditz.
- Horned Hairdo: A hairstyle that looks like horns is usually a sign that the character is up to no good.
- Idiot Hair: A single lock of hair that sticks traight up, indicating a foolish, naive, or mischievous.
- Peek-a-Bangs: Hair covering one eye, used to indicate a character who is either seductive, deceptive, shy, or angsty.
- Quirky Curls: Characters with completely curly hair (not just Princess Curls) tend to be energetic, quirky, rebellious and/or eccentric.
- Spiky Hair: A combination of wild, cool, and Badass, though often not to the same extent as Badass Long Hair.
- Villainous Widow's Peak: A distinct point in the hairline in the center of the forehead indicates a villain.