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Bolton's Hair: No Brush With Greatness

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page C01

John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, desperately needs a haircut. It does not have to be a $600 Sally Hershberger cut. Bolton simply needs the basics. Tidy the curling, unruly locks at the nape of his neck, tame the volume at the crown, reel in the wings flapping above his ears, and broker a compromise between his sand-colored mop and his snow-colored mustache.

He needs to do this, not because he should be minding the recommendations of men's fashion magazines or grooming experts but because when he settled in before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week to answer questions about his record, his philosophy and his intentions at the U.N., he looked as though he did not even have enough respect for the proceedings to bother combing his hair -- or, for that matter, straightening his tie, or wearing a shirt that did not put his neck in a chokehold. Bolton was one wrinkled suit away from being an insolent mess.

John Bolton cut an unfashionable figure on Capitol Hill. (Jason Reed - Reuters)

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These are not flaws or imperfections of nature. This is not a cruel attempt to hold an everyday man to the standards of an airbrushed model or a nipped and tucked actor. This is a matter of personal style.

Bolton sat across from his questioners with a thick, dull slab of hair positioned diagonally across his forehead. It is tempting to say that he has a sloppy schoolboy's haircut, but that would malign studious young men and suggest that they are dismissive of propriety and the importance of making a good public impression. Looking back to Bolton's school days at Yale, one notices that he was better groomed in his younger years. In his 1970 class book photo, Bolton essentially has the same haircut, but his locks are not drooping over his forehead as if he'd stepped from the shower and shaken his hair dry in the manner of an Afghan hound. His tie also appears to be straight. Thirty-five years ago, his shirt fit. (Perhaps it is the same shirt?)

That tidy 1970 haircut -- no long hippie locks for Bolton -- has evolved into a bureaucrat's hairstyle, one that is willfully dismissive of the value of a polished appearance -- a kind of intellectual style-snobbery. In "Fahrenheit 9/11" Paul Wolfowitz was so appearance-conscious that he used a bit of saliva in lieu of gel to make sure that he was looking presentable for a television appearance. Bolton seems unlikely to spit-comb his hair for anyone.

It has not been lost on observers, least of all the late-night comics, that there is an incongruous relationship between Bolton's impenetrable blanket of hair and his equally lush, but white, mustache. A more vain man would -- ill-advisedly -- dye his mustache, trim it down so that it did not look like it should be attached to geek glasses and a rubber nose, or shave it altogether. But not Bolton. It sits there in all of its 1980s "Magnum, P.I." glory. But Bolton is not Tom Selleck and so the image is more likely to stir thoughts of Wilford Brimley and walruses.

The fulsome silhouette of the mustache makes for a particularly dreary distraction and seems to pull his whole face downward. It makes Bolton, who is only 56, look hoary and dour. For a man who has shown little evidence of a capacity to charm -- an ability that can come in handy for an ambassador -- the mustache makes him appear unwelcoming. For all of the testimony about his spiteful dealings with both colleagues and underlings, and his denials of such behavior, he managed to look mean.

Bolton sat before the committee with his tie askew. Not slightly crooked or just a hint off-center but looking like it had been knotted in the dark. The tie itself was an uninspired dark red with bright yellow stripes. It was looped tightly under the button-down collar of his pale-blue shirt -- a shirt that encircled his neck in a menacing way.

A Hollywood costumer could not have ordered a more perfectly stern Washington insider. Bolton embraces with a flourish all of the cliches that afflict so many men in Washington. During this testimony, his hand was constantly reaching up to adjust his no-frills glasses. His attire was not merely bland but careless. His hair was so poorly cut, it bordered on rude. Bolton might well argue that appearance has nothing to do with capabilities. But it certainly can be a measure of one's respect for the job.

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