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A hair wreath from the 19th century with a lock of hair in the center, in the collection of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

A lock of hair is a piece or pieces of human hair that are usually bunched or tied together in some way. A lock of hair can be on a person's head, or have been cut from the head. When attached to the head, a lock of hair generally refers to a tress, curl, or ringlet of hair.[1] When cut from the head, a lock of hair may be kept for its symbolic value.

Symbolic value

Preserved locks of the hair of Percy and Mary Shelley now in the British Library.

Locks of hair often carry symbolic value and have been utilized throughout history in various religious, superstitious, sentimental and romantic contexts. Examples include:

Use In hairstyles

The following hairstyles make use of lock(s) for symbolic or aesthetic reasons.

An ancient and worldwide (e.g. China, Egypt, Thailand, Albania, Ukraine, India, Israel, etc.) pre-adolescent custom was to shave children's heads, leaving one lock (or sometimes several isolated locks) untouched. Upon reaching adulthood, the lock of hair was usually cut off (see Rites of passage).
The scalp lock describes a hairstyle consisting of a single long lock of hair on an otherwise shaven head. Like childhood locks, the scalp lock was a worldwide phenomenon, particularly noted amongst eastern woodland Native American tribes (see Iroquois, Huron, Mahican, Mohawk) in North America (see also Scalping and Mohawk hairstyle).
According to Leo the Deacon, a Byzantine historian, Sviatoslav I of Kiev was reported to have worn a scalp lock. Later Ukrainian Cossacks (Zaporozhians) sported scalplocks called oseledets or khokhol.
The Imazighen (Berber) men of Morocco had the custom of shaving the head but leaving a single lock of hair on either the crown, left, or right side of the head, so that the angel Azrael is able " pull them up to heaven of the Last Day."[2] This hairstyle is observed by Mark Twain in his travel book The Innocents Abroad, in which he describes Moroccan men as sporting scalplocks.[3]
In India this custom remains active in the form of the shikha, but is usually only worn by orthodox Hindus.
A Polish plait (Koltun in Polish, meaning "Knot", but often referred to in English as an "Elf-Lock") is a lock of matted hair similar to a dreadlock. Due to a scalp disease (Plica polonica), King Christian IV of Denmark (1577–1648) had a Polish plait hanging from the left side of his head, which in an engraved portrait in the Royal Collection is adorned by a large pearl. His courtiers were said to have adopted the hairstyle in order to flatter the king.[4] Due to superstitious beliefs, the Polish plait used to be particularly common in Poland (hence its name). Initially, the plait was treated as an amulet, supposed to bring good health, as the plait was supposed to take the illness "out" of the body, and therefore it was rarely cut off.
The lovelock was a popular hairstyle amongst European "men of fashion" from the end of the 16th century until well into the 17th century. The lovelock was a long lock of generally plaited (braided) hair made to rest over the left shoulder (the heart side) to show devotion to a loved one.[5]

Notable Examples

The following locks of hair are notable for their cultural or historical significance:

See also


  1. ^ Unabridged. "the definition of lock". Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  2. ^ El Maghreg: 1200 Miles' Ride Through Morocco, Hugh Edward Millington Stutfield
  3. ^ The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress, Mark Twain, 1869
  4. ^ "RCIN 612170 - Christianvs Qvartvs dei Gratia Daniae, Norwegiae". Royal Collection. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  5. ^ Hall, James. The sinister side: how left-right symbolism shaped Western art. p. 278.
  6. ^ "Lock of hair makes its way through history". Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Archived from the original on 10 June 2012.