This week I’m completing the syllabus for the archaeological field school I am teaching starting in May, and it’s got me thinking about field attire. About a year ago, I participated in a women’s issues series on the CRM archaeology podcast where we discussed attire, behavior, and all sorts of things. One thing we didn’t discuss was hairstyles.
Since elementary school, my hair has been a source of fascination whenever I am in public. It’s long and blonde. I like my hair the way it is, but I am not that happy to have strangers touch it or comment onit. People who haven’t seen me in the field say they can’t imagine how I could do fieldwork with such long, feminine hair. I may as well dispel that assumption by describing here what it’s like to have long hair during field season. Maybe I’ll even point you to some products you can try.
Washing and drying:
Look, your hair is gonna get pretty disgusting. Mostly my scalp gets covered in dirt. I have dry skin and sometimes avoid washing it every day, but rinsing the dirt out is a good idea if you have access to a shower after work. The most important things are to condition your hair and avoid the hair dryer. You’re already crisping your hair in the sun, pulling it in all directions with elastics (see below), and stripping the oils away by showering frequently. Let it do its thing the rest of the time. Otherwise get ready for a lot of hairs breaking off and crispier, more breakable texture.
Responding to comments:
People ask a lot of things about how to make their hair long or to stay up. I say it grows out of my head that way and I use a lot of hair elastics. That should take care of that.
Default hairstyle: Tight Bun
Benefits: No hair on your neck, doesn’t move, doesn’t tangle, no possibility for scalp sunburn (if your hair is thick enough)
Disadvantages: Often hits the ceiling of vehicles, doesn’t fit inside hard hats or hooded jackets
When it’s hot and humid, like it is most times I am in the field, I wrap my hair up in a bun. One hair elastic to make a ponytail, two more to attach it to my head using twisty motions. I use special “thick hair elastics” because regular ones don’t stretch far enough. I often top it off with a silly looking, moisture wicking, sun blocking headband by Buff so sweat and sunscreen don’t drip into my eyes.
Alternate hairstyle: Pigtails
Benefits: Fits inside hard hat and under hats, wicks sweat away from eyes because of part
Disadvantages: Pulls at the part, usually gets tangled on things like jacket/vest velcro and hard hat adjustment straps, scalp sunburn at the part (OUCH!)
Above is a picture of one of the rare occasions I have had to wear a hat, because my face was so raw from applying and re-applying sunscreen that I could not take it anymore. Usually I wear pigtails when I have to wear a hard hat because I will be working near heavy equipment or next to a road. As you can imagine, the bun doesn’t fit very well in there. I part my hair with a pencil or styling comb all the way from front to back (don’t just go with where it falls, it’ll be jagged and pull your head all day!) The headband is critical for the hard hat because hair gets caught and pulled at the scalp by the straps on the hard hat. I wish I had known this when I first went out in the field!
Running late for work hairstyle: Ponytail
Benefits: No hair on your neck, doesn’t move, it basically keeps hair out of the way when you bend over (the hair curtain struggle is real, people)
Disadvantages: Doesn’t work in a hard hat, only sort of fits inside hooded jackets, you have a rat’s nest below the elastic in at least one place by the end of the day
When I’m running late or have a lacking elastic supply, the ponytail is the way to go. Unfortunately it leads to lots of hair tangling, especially if it isn’t sufficiently tight. I recommend using two elastics so the hair doesn’t rub together underneath causing a giant knot close to your scalp. That is the worst. If you do find yourself in such a situation, the best thing ever is a sturdy detangling comb.
Finishing move: Hair Whip
If you find yourself in a Mortal Kombat style battle with a rodent, mosquito, or misbehaving fellow archaeologist, you can yell “YOU ARE PATHETIC AND WEAK” and whip them like Sindel. (Disclaimer: don’t actually do this.)