Over 400 Words to Describe Hair: A List for Writers

over 400 words to describe hair

Why should you worry about your characters’ hair?

Audrey Hepburn said “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair.”

Audrey was right, but people still judge others and make snap assessments based on appearance. Hair reveals personality and lifestyle. Along with the eyes and prominent facial features, it makes a huge impact. I suspect it’s part of the reason somebody coined the phrase bad hair day.

Capitalize on that in your writing.

Does your protagonist have dyed hair with dark roots? Maybe she’s a hard-working businesswoman with no time to make a salon appointment; or perhaps she’s a harried mother who can’t afford a dye job because of a financial crisis in the family.

An affluent hotel magnate could flaunt a perfectly styled toupee, every strand in place. A homeless person’s mane might be unkempt, with patchy straggles that smell like mold or trash.

Match the hair to each character’s persona. The way a person maintains or ignores their hair provides clues about their life.

From some of the word lists that follow, I created three short paragraphs.

Dionne’s gunmetal ponytail flowed behind her while she sprinted after her prey—me. I crouched behind the trash bin, holding my breath, as she swished so close I could smell the death in her hair.

What do you see? Perhaps a cold-blooded assassin or serial killer? Now contrast with another paragraph.

Helena’s voluminous champagne curls cascaded over white shoulders, wafting a delicate aroma of honeysuckle into the sitting room as she swished in my direction.

Another woman, perhaps affluent, in a long dress. This could work for the heroine in a Victorian novel.

Eddie’s pumpkin-orange hair bounced as he waddled toward me. The sickening stench of cigar smoke wafted from what I quickly realized was a poorly constructed toupee.

Did you envision a chubby man who chain-smokes cigars?

Find more writing tips in The Writer’s Lexicon, available in both digital and print editions.

Adjectives

Judicious use of descriptors can augment a piece. However, beware of stacked adjectives. Consider these two paragraphs.

Bill’s balding, scraggly, dandruff-flecked salt-and-pepper hair barely covered his scalp, which reflected the fluorescent lights and made him look decades older than his professed age of thirty years.

All the commas in the description scream, “Too much.” Let’s try rewording it.

The fluorescent lights reflected off Bill’s scalp, which peeked through scraggly salt-and-pepper hair flecked with dandruff. Thirty years old? What a liar. He had to be at least fifty.

Same man, same basic description. Better phrasing.

B
Balding, bleached, bouncy, bristly, broken, brushed, buoyant, burnished, burnt, bushy

C
Cascading, clean, clipped, clumpy, coarse, coiffed, combed, cropped, curly

D
Damaged, damp, delicate, dirty, dull, dyed

F
Feathery, fine, flat, flowing, fluffy, frizzy, fuzzy

G
Gelled, gleaming, glossy, greasy, groomed

H
Heavy, highlighted

K
Kinked

I
Ironed

L
Lacquered, limp, luscious

M
Moussed

N
Nappy, nubby

P
Patchy, permed, plush, polished, puffy

S
Scorched, scraggly, severe, shaggy, shimmery, shiny, short, shoulder-length, silky, singed, slicked-back, slimy, sparse, spiky, springy, stiff, straggly, straight, straightened, streaked, sweaty

T
Teased, thick, thin, trimmed

U
Uneven, unkempt, untamed

V
Velvety, voluminous

W
Wavy, wet, windswept, wild, wiry, wispy

Color

Hair is usually a combination of a base color with highlights and lowlights that appear different in light or shadow. Study people on the street and in shopping malls. Visit YouTube. Scrutinize the offerings in a wig shop.

Some colors are considered cliché. Whenever you’re in doubt, click over to Google.

For instance, try the following searches, leaving the phrases in quotes for accuracy. The figures in parentheses are the number of results I received as I wrote this post.

“bleached blonde” (5,620,000)

“champagne blonde” (356,000)

“wheat blonde” (318,000)

“bottle blonde” (271,000)

“sun-kissed blonde” (97,400)

“electric blonde” (31,800)

Considering the frequency of each phrase, electric blonde would be a more suitable choice than bleached blonde.

By the way, females have blonde hair, but males have blond.

Better than direct replacements, however, try exploiting the following suggestions as kernels, and brainstorm new color descriptions.

Blond/blonde
Amber, ash, blanched, bleached, bottle, brassy, bronze, champagne, dirty, electric, flaxen, frosted, gilded, ginger, golden, honey, peroxide, platinum, sand, straw, strawberry, sunkissed, Trump blond/e, wheat

Brown
Almond, caramel, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, dun, espresso, fawn, mahogany, mocha, mouse, nut, russet, sienna, taffy, tawny, umber

Black
Anthracite, charcoal, coal, crow, ebony, ink, jet black, midnight, obsidian, onyx, pitch, raven, sable, soot, tar

Grey/gray
Ash, charcoal, dove, graphite, gunmetal, iron, pewter, salt-and-pepper, shark, silver, slate, steel, tweed grey, wolf grey

Red
Auburn, brick, burgundy, candy, carrot, copper, crimson, fire, fire engine, flame, flaming, ginger, maple-leaf red, pepper red, pumpkin, roan, rouge, rust, rusty, sorrel, titian, tomato

White
Angel, chalk, eggshell, foam, frost, gardenia, ghost, ivory, lily, lotus, paper, porcelain, Samoyed, sheet, skeleton, snow, starch, sugar, talc, wedding veil

Styles and cuts

A bowl cut imparts an instant image. Can you think of other everyday objects that would do the same?

Revise. Innovate. Invent.

A
Afro

B
Beehive, Bettie Paige, Bieber cut, blunt cut, bob cut, bouffant, bowl cut, braided, brush cut, bun, burr, butch cut, buzz cut

C
Caesar cut, chignon, chonmage, comb over, conk, cornrows, crew cut, cropped, crown braid, Croydon facelift, curtained

D
Devilock, dice Bob, Dido flip, dreadlocks, ducktail

E
Emo, Eton crop, extensions

F
Fade, fallera, feathered, finger wave, fishtail braid, flattop, flipped, French braid, French twist, frosted tips, full crown

G
G.I. cut

H
Half crown, Harvard clip, hime cut, hi-top fade

I
Induction cut, Ivy League

J
Jheri curl

L
Layered, liberty spikes

M
Marcel waves, military cut, mod cut, mop-top, mullet

O
Odango, oseledets

P
Pageboy, parted in the middle, payot, pigtails, pinned up, pixie cut, plaited, pompadour, ponytail, Princeton cut, psychobilly wedge, puffball, punk

Q
Queue, quaff

R
Rattail, razor cut, recon

S
Shag, shape-up, shingle bob, side parted, spiked, surfer hair

T
Taper, tied back, tonsure, topknot

U
Undercut, updo

W
Wings

Movement

Hair damaged by over-perming won’t sway; it might ruffle, snarl, or tangle. Short hair could fluff, frizz, or spike. Curls might bounce, coil, or twist. Try the words here as starters for alternative suggestions from your favorite thesaurus.

B
Bounce

C
Cascade, coil, curl

D
Drape, drip, dangle, draggle, drift, droop

F
Flap, flow, fluff, frizz, flutter

G
Glide

K
Knot

P
Pour, puff

R
Ripple, ruffle

S
Slap, slop, smother, snag, snarl, spike, spill, spiral, spring, stick, straggle, stream, sway, swing

T
Tangle, trail, twist

U
Unravel

W
Wave, whirl, wiggle

Scent

Hair absorbs scent from the environment. House painters, garage mechanics, busy mothers, and hairstylists could smell of paint, grease, sour milk, or perm chemicals. You can often show readers a protagonist’s occupation without using a single word of tell.

Start with these ideas and analyze your characters’ environment for others.

A
Ammonia, antiseptic, apples, ashtray

B
Bakery, bar vomit, beer, blackberries, bleach

C
Car exhaust, cheap perfume, cigarettes, cigars, citrus, cotton candy

D
Death, decomposition

F
Forest, fresh-cut grass

G
Garage, gardenias, grease, gunpowder

H
Honeydew melons, honeysuckle, hospital

J
Jasmine

L
Lavender, lemon cleaner, lilac

M
Magnolia, mint, mold, moss

O
Outdoors

P
Paint, peach, perm chemicals, pine

R
Raspberries, roses

S
Smoke, sour milk, sweat

Frequent repetitions of hair will annoy readers. What about nouns from this list?

Bristles, cap, cascades, coils, cloud, corona, corkscrew curls, fall, hairpiece, halo, mane, mass, mop, ribbons, ringlets, river, rope, snakes, spikes, spirals, sheet, spill, straw, stubble, tendrils, torrent, toupee, tresses, tufts, waterfall, weave, wig

Words to augment your descriptions:

Think of every person you’ve ever met. What did you notice about their hair? What do you know about your own? Try these props.

– Dandruff, flakes, flecks, lice, nits

– Hair transplant, hair plugs

– Fringe, bangs

– Receding hairline, high forehead, sideburns

– Split ends, humidity frizz, bald spot, alopecia

– Itchy scalp, burning scalp, hives in hairline

– Hairpins, barrettes, tiebacks, elastics, headbands

– Feathers, flowers, garlands, bows, ribbons

– Hats, berets, caps, kerchiefs, scarves, crowns, tiaras, fontanges

Now can you explain Lily Tomlin’s quote about hair? “If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?”

Find more writing tips in The Writer’s Lexicon, available in both digital and print editions.

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