It should go without saying that Hamilton isn’t a perfect retelling of history—it’s a Broadway show, not a textbook! (Though, by the way, it can’t hurt to question the stories in our history books, too.) If you watched the Tony-winning musical on Disney+ this past weekend, you probably noticed creator and star Lin Manuel Miranda took several creative liberties in retelling the life of the man on the $10 bill. You also probably spotted one thing he kept very accurate: Hamilton’s 18th-century slicked-back ponytail. It was a logical hairdo choice for chasers of democracy! A ponytail gets hair out of your face without being too fussy, and says, "Who’s got time to think about hair? We've got a revolution to fight!" As I jammed out to Hamilton’s bop after bop, I couldn’t help but wonder what the musical would’ve looked like if Miranda took…other liberties with Hamilton’s persona. Namely, his iconic hairstyle. Could a different one have changed history? Let’s explore that.
The One That Meets An Early End
New York City, 1776. Aaron Burr walks through an open door and upon his exit he’s cornered by an enthusiastic young fellow ranting about Princeton, and the revolution, and some altercation with the bursar. His tattered clothes reveal that he is not a man of means, but there is something else queer about him that instantly suggests he is not from the colonies. Or any other civilized country of men. It’s his hair: split into two bunches gathered high on either side of his head. Surely, he does not intend to be taken seriously with hair like a small girl’s? Frivolous women wouldn’t be granted the vote in the 18th century, nonetheless the time of day! Burr, mildly amused by the situation, answers the man’s question in regards to his own expedited university graduation. “You’re an orphan. Of course,” exclaims the stranger, “I’m an orphan too.” Suddenly, Burr takes pity on him. Clearly his father had died before explaining the inappropriate nature of pigtails on grown men! Burr rummages in his pocket for a Continental Currency dollar coin and fraternally folds it into the man’s hand. He walks off, shaking his head, leaving Alexander Hamilton on the street path behind him. Hamilton looks puzzled. The final curtain falls.
The Inside Joke Plotline
New York City, 1776. Aaron Burr walks through an open door and upon his exit he’s cornered by an enthusiastic young fellow ranting about Princeton, and the revolution, and some altercation with the bursar. He’s… a lot. Still, Burr notes some potential. After discovering they are both orphans, he invites the stranger (who calls himself Alexander Hamilton) to have a drink at a local bar. There, Hamilton meets three men named Laurens, Lafayette, and Mulligan—they’re all passionate about revolution, and between drinks they weave through a lively debate. Several hours pass, and the men who were once sparkling with intellect have dulled to a drunken stupor. They sway unsteadily, reminiscing as drunk folks do on how sick is this night?! Emboldened by liquor, Lafayette finally brings up the elephant in the room: Why did Hamilton wear his hair like a milkmaid? The Frenchman starts calling him Heidi, and the nickname remains an inside joke between the four men until Laurens dies in battle and is reincarnated as Hamilton’s ill-fated son.
The Spiteful Twist
New York City, 1776. Alexander Hamilton has just graduated in two years from Princeton, like Aaron Burr had before him. Instead of seeking him out (what advice does he need anyway?), Hamilton starts assembling men who agree with his radical ideas of democracy. He’s incredibly intense, a personality trait that’s crystallized by his high braid. In the 21st century we might call it a tennis braid, made famous by Russian athletes—but applied to the 18th century, it’s just another indicator of Hamilton’s competitive nature. When the war starts, he enlists. George Washington calls Hamilton into his office and asks him to be his right-hand man—not commanding his own battalion, but using the might of his pen. Hamilton, who has been readying himself his whole life for war, is disgusted. “Put me in coach!” he yells at the general, who at this point is confused and irritated. Washington rescinds his offer, and Hamilton goes back to being a regular soldier. He dies in battle, and the United States ends up with a totally different financial system.
The Instant Stud Scenario
New York City, 1776. Aaron Burr meets Alexander Hamilton, and shortly introduces him to three men named Laurens, Lafayette, and Mulligan. When the revolution begins, the men all join General George Washington’s army to take on the British redcoats. They fight for freedom, but also for glory. Hamilton becomes Washington’s right hand man, which catapults him into society. And Hamilton becomes a bit of a… feral cat. No, wait, Washington’s feral cat was named after him. Why did Washington have a feral cat? Anyway, you might say Hamilton’s popularity was strictly due to his newfound notoriety, but there’s probably also something to be said about his hair. Lush, long, beautiful hair piled high in a bun on the top of his hair. The high style isn’t in fashion, though you can’t deny the way it accentuates his cheekbones and strong nose. At the Winter Ball, socialite Angelica Schuyler spots the bun bobbing through the crowd. She makes her way across the room to speak to him, while her younger sister Eliza belts a ballad of love about the handsome stranger. Angelica, who simply can’t resist his folicular panache, seduces Hamilton right then and there. The two marry and begin a long, unsatisfying union.
The High-Low Of It
New York City, 1776. Aaron Burr encounters a stranger on his street corner—Burr is instantly floored by his confidence, his eloquence, or… maybe it’s just the mesmerizing swish of his hair, in a high ponytail that reaches down the length of his backside. The man, who identifies himself as Alexander Hamilton, blends elegance and practicality by moving his ponytail just a few inches up. Everyone he meets is instantly enamored by his reputation of ingenuity, including General George Washington. Inspired by Hamilton, Washington shifts up his ponytail too, getting his sweaty white curls off his neck. The breeze is so soothing that Washington actually becomes a better general—the revolutionary war ends sooner, saving hundreds of lives. The style becomes fashionable on men throughout the colonies, and just as it does, Hamilton decides to instead start wearing his hair down. Burr, frustrated by Hamilton’s elitist behavior and no longer mystified by his charms, challenges him to a duel. Hamilton perishes. The play receives a standing ovation.
Photo via Disney