‘bad hair day’ (when everything seems to go badly)



Originally American English, the phrase bad hair day has been used since the early 1990s to denote a day on which everything seems to go badly, also a period – not necessarily a day – in which one feels unusually agitated, dissatisfied or self-conscious, especially about one’s appearance or performance.

Its literal meaning is a day on which one’s hair is particularly unmanageable. It is mostly used of women’s hair, but I have found an early instance in this advertisement aimed at men, published in The State Journal (Lansing, Michigan) of 14th February 1970:

bad hair day - The State Journal (Lansing, Michigan) - 14 February 1970


Hair is nothing new. All men have it. It grows and you get it cut. Or maybe it just grows. To each his own. But whatever the length or breadth of your hair, it can be a complement to your personality . . . or it can lead a life of its own, i.e. burst out in cowlicks, “rat up” and so on. When your hair gets too expressive, it usually results in a condition called “a bad hair day”. There are two possible solutions. 1) Rely on your mouthwash, or 2) Visit the Barbers. The Barbers know how to make your hair look great. They offer you hairstyling, razor cuts, standard haircuts, shampoos and much more. And so you can see that the only fitting end to a bad hair day is a trip to the Barbers.

The Barbers

Chuck Offenburger’s column Iowa Boy, in The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) of 16th June 1992, explains how the phrase came to be used figuratively:

Newton, Ia. — While working southwest Iowa a week or so ago, I came across Bedford barber and artist Mike Bose, who in conversation described his 14-year-old step-daughter Erin as having “a bad hair day.”
That was a new one on me.
“Oh, you know, you can’t get your hair to go quite right and it somehow winds up trashing your whole day,” Bose said. “Happens to men as well as women,” he said, “old and young alike.”

Since bad hair day exists, so does good hair day, as illustrated by the following from the column Good Life, in the Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York) of 25th February 1992:

Good Life’s attention turned to hair when Miss USA Shannon La Rhea Marketic was crowned recently and said: “I feel incredibly blessed, and I think I’m having a good hair day.”
What exactly is a good or bad hair day?
Carlos Ramos, owner of Carla and Company hair salon in Poughkeepsie knows about both. “A good hair day is when you get up and do your hair and it comes out perfect. It just happens, it’s nothing you try to work at.”
On bad hair days, Ramos says nothing goes right. She recently had a bad one when a car rammed her Poughkeepsie shop and the city forced her to move out because the structure was damaged. But her good hair days are returning since she relocated above Bertie’s at 9 Liberty St in Poughkeepsie. She has the same number, 485-7764.

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