Hillary Clinton and the Hair Part Theory

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jul 16, 2008 6:43pm

The New York Daily News reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, has changed the part of her hair from the left side to the right side.

Clinton’s change in part is an embarrassingly irrelevant fact, especially in light of the wars and economic blight preoccupying our nation’s leaders.

Except that in Washington, D.C., as we’ve all learned, a cigar is never just a cigar.

And there is a whole school of thought about leadership and hair parts. Believe it or not.


Perhaps the most infamous hair part switch in modern political history took place in 1979, when then-President Jimmy Carter switched from right to left.

TIME’s Hugh Sidey noted that White House barber Milton Pitts was "aghast" after Carter’s shift in do, "confiding to friends, ‘That guy is not going to last.’ One Pitts theory was that untested leaders could, with seemingly innocent things, set off a slide into oblivion. In Pitts’ view, Carter’s hair change was too dramatic, suggesting self-adulation."

The headline of the Washington Post feature story covering Carter’s new hair part: "A Shift at the Top: President Changes Hair Style, Triggers Speculation."

Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell told writer Henry Mitchell: "I can’t tell you anything about the new haircut. because frankly I didn’t think to ask him about it. I’ve been busy, with the Holocaust victim ceremonies and oil and the windfall profit tax and so on, and I didn’t think to ask about the haircut."

Hypothesized Mitchell: "The best writers, eggheads and artists tend to part their hair on the right.  The president’s switch may foretell a resurgence of his populist image, a moving away from anything suggesting an elite."


It has long been rumored that Carter’s new part came was rooted (sorry) in the work of siblings John and Catherine Walter, whom Cullen Murphy in The Atlantic reported were creators of the "Hair Part Theory, an exploration of psycho-behavioral dynamics."

The Hair Part Theory states that the way a person parts his or her hair has a subconscious impact on others.

A left part "calls subliminal attention to left-hemisphere brain processes — associated with logic, verbal acuity, and ‘activities traditionally attributed to masculinity in our culture’ — and tends to be regarded as natural for men," Murphy wrote. "Similarly, parting one’s hair on the right evokes right-hemisphere processes — associated with visual, artistic, and musical skills, and ‘nonlinear tasks traditionally attributed to femininity in our culture’ — and tends to be regarded as natural for women."

Murphy noted that "Margaret Thatcher’s left-side part supposedly enhanced her aura of strength and will; Hillary Clinton’s left-side part seems to produce a more brittle version of the same effect…Jimmy Carter’s right-side part may have reinforced perceptions of inadequacy; he didn’t switch hair-part side to the left until halfway through his presidency — too late. Overall, six American Presidents maintained right-side parts throughout their term in office; three of them (James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Warren G. Harding) are deemed by historians to be among our worst, and two others (John Tyler and Chester Arthur) are deemed to be inconsequential. (The sixth was Ronald Reagan.)”

The New Yorker, in a 2001 piece called “Al Gore’s Hair Problem,” looked into the work of the Walters as well, noting that the pair generally feel that "in most cases, a right part sends a gender-confused message and saps a man of his mojo. They like to point out that Clark Kent has a right part and Superman has a left part (at least in the 1978 movie)….Several years ago, they communicated this information to Al Gore, who wears a right part. He failed to take action. Now the Walters believe that Gore was beaten by George W. Bush because of the way he parts his hair."


So what does this all mean for Hillary Clinton? She has made the reverse switch — from left to right — but then again, she is a woman, and the Walters’ theory would seem to indicate that this makes more sense for her.

Her new do will evoke visual, artistic, and musical skills, nonlinear tasks traditionally culturally attributed to femininity, right-hemisphere stuff.

On the other hand, it is just a hair part, for the love of Pete.

- jpt

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