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Hair grows to different lengths on different parts of the body. Head hair is capable of longer growth than most people wear it to, which is why it has to be cut regularly. If you don't keep cutting it, eventually you will have long hair. Truly long hair will take several years to grow; long hair is therefore an indicator for health. Shiny hair indicates general health; long shiny hair indicates that a person has been healthy for some time.
The Long And Short Of It
There are certain issues with long hair that may never be solved. A certain amount falls out every day, as with all hair. Unfortunately, when the hair is long, the strands tend to wind themselves around plugs, weave themselves into carpets and smuggle themselves into food. You will need a hair-catcher over the shower drain if you're going to have long hair. Maintain the vacuum cleaner regularly as well. While still attached, long hair gets caught in clothing, trapped in car doors and slept on by partners.
On the other hand, long hair will also look good, can be easy to take care of, need very little effort in the mornings, serve as a sunhat, keep your ears warm in the winter and save you money on having it cut.
It's up to you to decide if having long hair is worth the effort.
Long hair can be hard work. If you know what you're doing, however, it shouldn't be a problem.
You must keep long hair brushed. It doesn't take long for knots to build up, and if ignored for too long it may become impossible to remove the tangles.
There are many hairbrushes on the market, of various sizes, shapes and spacing. Find a brush that suits you and use it every morning at least. Turning up to work with uncombed hair is not likely to give a good impression.
Tangles can be kept to a minimum by 'dressing' the hair before bed. In other words, if you've got a plait in, your hair isn't so free to move about and can't tie itself in so many knots. A bun will work even better, but be uncomfortable to sleep with.
Obviously, regular washing is needed to keep hair clean. Unfortunately, shampoo tends to dry out and roughen the hair, and soap even more so, which has a very practical consequence: it's harder to brush. That's why conditioner was invented. Readers of the male sex, do not dismiss this suggestion! Give in and condition your hair once in a while, it will be easier to brush, and look much better.
Tying Back Long Hair
Of course, you don't have to tie back your hair. You can leave it loose. It will look wonderful and be horribly inconvenient much of the time. For instance, you will discover that a strong tailwind produces a convincing impression of Medusa's snakes. Most people prefer not to eat their hair. Loose hair has its place; daily life is, in many cases, not it.
Long loose hair can also be dangerous. Don't get into any fights, girls in particular are notorious hair-pullers, and a long-haired opponent gives a distinct advantage to the opposition. Tie it back if you're going to be blowing out candles on a birthday cake, or coming into contact with any naked flames, or visiting a zoo1.
Ponytails are the universal standard of long hair. This is because they are very simple. A ponytail is formed by placing a single tie or elasticated band around all the hair. The ponytail is widely used because it is convenient - it requires no great care and keeps the hair out of your face, food and work. Unlike most hairstyles, the ponytail is an option available to men who do not wish to look girly.
Variants of the ponytail include bunches, where the hair is split into two ponytails, one on each side. Bunches can be placed behind the head or to the side. They are not worn by the sophisticated, being associated mostly with schoolgirls and cheerleaders. This is not a hairstyle for manly men.
Plaiting is a method of braiding that works well with hair. It involves separating the hair into three equal parts and twisting them together. The result is a smooth rope-like braid in which all the hair is restrained, but which can easily be undone - in fact a plait will undo itself if the end is not bound.
There are several ways to start a plait. The easiest is to place the hair in a ponytail, and then plait the length of it. More elegantly one can plait the hair starting with it loose, which requires a little more practice at the initial division into thirds. Most impressive of all is the French plait. Starting from a point at least half-way up the head, the hair is drawn into the plait in sections, with a twist being added before each addition. The result is an ordinary plait with interesting patterning on the head.
A single plait is called a plait, or a braid if you're American. Two plaits, one on each side (though still behind the head) are called pigtails. Three or more plaits doesn't have a special name.
Hair can be plaited into many small braids, either starting with sections so that the plaits hang down in to same way as loose hair, or plaited close to the scalp in the manner of a French plait so that the braids all hang down behind the head and the scalp is visible between the sections - these are called 'corn rows'. The simplest version of this involves straight longitudinal lines but more often the plaits will be patterned in some manner. Because of the effort involved in braiding many small plaits, particularly in corn rows, having them put in is a reasonably long-term decision.
A single thin plait is sometimes placed in the body of the hair or beside the face, often with brightly coloured thread or beads on the end.
Dreadlocks are the matted ropes of hair which will naturally form if hair is never brushed. It has to be the right kind of hair - Caucasian hair tends not to be curly enough to lock around itself. Luckily for those who want dreadlocks but can't get them naturally, there exists the process of dread perming. Dreadlocks thus formed will look a little large and unnatural at first, but will become more natural-looking over time. Dreadlocks are particularly associated with the Rastafarian faith, but are by no means confined to it.
People who choose this way to style their hair need to be wary of things like pediculosis because hair treatments are really difficult to administer to dreadlocks.
The Polish plait is the result of never brushing or washing the hair as it grows. It is essentially a solid mass of filthy, matted, hair. It is not recommended that you allow your hair to reach this state.
Bands, Ties and Scrunchies
In order to tie hair back, you will need something to tie it back with.
Hairbands are elasticated, usually with a bit of metal holding the ends together. They come in many different colours, sizes and thicknesses. It make take several attempts to find a hairband that is the right size to hold your hair reliably. There are also hairbands on the market made up to look like hair.
Scrunchies are essentially hairbands with a loose fabric covering. They are bigger and more eye-catching than hairbands. Scrunchies are not a manly accessory.
Non-elasticated ties work fine for the bottom of plaits, but it's difficult to tie them tightly around loose hair. All that stuff in stories about leather thongs is impractical.
Ribbons work best when tied over the top of a hairband. Due to their shiny surface, they don't even work on the bottom of plaits by themselves.
Hair grips are metal clips with decorative tops. They work if they are the right size for your hair, but won't hold as tightly as a hairband.
Hair pins are long, U-shaped pieces of stiff wire. They're handy for holding hair close to the head or in a bun. Very long hair may be difficult to pin up due to the weight.
Plain rubber bands are not a good idea. They work, but hair tangles around them very efficiently, so taking an elastic band out of your hair will hurt. Elastic bands also contribute to long hair's worst enemy - split ends.
Nothing spoils the effect of long, silky, shiny hair more than split ends. You may think that only you can see them when you examine the ends of your hair, but they're spottable from a long way off, and will be brought to your attention by the follically-challenged or those who have to resort to hair extensions to get your 'look'.
There are special shampoos and conditioners for split ends. They are supposed to work by 'sealing' the split together, thereby fixing the end. Sounds good in theory, but it doesn't work, it just makes the hair feel clumpy and sticky.
The only way to cure split ends is to trim the hair regularly, say every six weeks or so. The trim can be so subtle that the length isn't noticeably shortened. All you need to do is ensure you tell the hairdresser that you just want your split ends trimming off, not a haircut. And keep reminding him or her when they start bombarding you with details of this year's holiday, in case they forget. This will also remind you of one of the reasons you keep your hair long, to avoid hairdressers.
A good example of how many hairstyles you can have with long hair is portrayed in the film Contact. The heroine, Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster), is in just about every scene. Her very long hair never takes centre stage though, thanks to her acting ability. Even if someone isn't interested in SETI it's worth watching the film just to count the different ways Ellie styles her long hair.
Someone with really long hair is country singer Crystal Gayle. When she performs onstage the cleaners get a day off, due to her hair sweeping the floor. She's not the world record breaker though. According to the website Guinness World Records, the world's longest hair belongs to Xie Qiuping (born 1960) who has been growing her hair since she was 13 years old. When the official measuring took place in May 2004, the mane was 18' 5.54" (5.627m).
Of course everyone has heard of Rapunzel - but in case you've forgotten she was the heroine in the fairytale who was locked up in a high tower. Her golden hair grew so long that eventually she was able to plait it and feed it down to a suitor like a rope ladder. He climbed it (ouch!) and then they were both locked in the tower. Oh well, the ending doesn't really matter, so long as it was a happy one.