Random AsidesSkepticism

Mythbusting Princess Leia’s Hair

For some time now, I’ve felt there’s an uncomfortable fact lurking in the corners of fandom that no one has yet brought out into open discussion, and I’ve decided it’s time we face its probably unpopular reality. I’m sorry to have to break the news to you if you’ve so far lived in blissful ignorance, but here it is: almost all, if not every one, of Princess Leia’s hairstyles are impossible to pull off in real life.

I know it’s hard to process. Perhaps you’re a young man who persists in the hope you may one day meet a nice lady proficient in foreign galactic braiding techniques. Perhaps you’re a grown woman with fond memories of bobby-pinning rolls of hair to the side of your head and a secret conviction it looked awesome. But, alas, it’s time we embrace the truth. It just doesn’t work, and I’m going to explain exactly why.

As might be expected for a young girl who watched too much Star Wars, an excessive portion of my life was once devoted to analyzing Leia’s hairstyles, and since I also, from about age 11 to age 25, had hair that almost reached my waist, I devoted even more time to trying to recreate them. Some, with the aid of pins, extra-strength gel and the patience of a Jedi, are possible to approximate, and will even stay in place if you don’t move around too much. However, given that Leia does a lot of moving around, the idea that she could successfully wear these styles on a regular basis is dubious at best.

First of all, let’s be clear that I’m partially evaluating the plausibility of these styles based on thickness and length of hair – which we know in Leia’s case because we saw it down in Return of the Jedi. Some of these might get higher plausibility points if we had seen Leia’s hair much thicker and dragging on the ground at her feet. But we didn’t. So we have to go on what we know.

Let’s start with the obvious: the buns.

Leia and her buns

These are completely implausible. There’s no visible means of support and considering this hairstyle lasts through being captured by Imperial forces, imprisoned, ineptly rescued (sorry, it’s the truth) and almost being crushed by a garbage compactor, we’re forced to conclude she could have only kept it in place with super glue. Which I hear is not all that great for hair.

It’s also not particularly flattering, especially in Leia’s younger, rounder-cheeked days. It adds width to her face. You’re a princess, don’t expect me to believe you don’t have style-conscious girl and/or gay guy friends hanging around by the armload. They should have stopped you before you went out of the palace like that in the morning.

The award ceremony.

Leia at the award ceremony

This is where the prior knowledge of Leia’s hair comes into play. To create so many loops of braids with such consistent thickness, her hair would most likely have to reach her feet. (Hair gets thinner towards the ends, so when you braid it, the braid gets thinner as you reach the end of the hair.) But beyond that, it’s a fairly basic arrangement and it is possible she makes liberal use of fake braids or temporary extensions, especially for a formal ceremony. In this particular case, I’m skeptical, but I’ll grant limited plausibility.


Leia on Hoth

I’ll admit I’ve never been able to truly figure this one out. It’s not just a simple braid wrapped around her head, but two braids wrapped and then braided into each other at the nape of the neck. It might be theoretically possible, but would seem to require a ton of time and about two handmaidens with nimble fingers. Both of which would seem to be in very short supply on a icy, hidden, rebel stronghold. So – busted.


Leia at Bespin

Leia at Bespin

This is the only hairstyle I was ever able to achieve with suitable accuracy. In fact, I wore my hair like this to the premiere of the prequel. (Shut up.) In case you’re interested, this is how to do it: pull your hair into a high ponytail and separate it into three sections – two larger ones on the outside, and a smaller one in the middle. Braid the larger sections and loop each one underneath. Secure with bobby pins or tuck them into the ponytail holder. Then, wrap the middle one into a bun that covers the ponytail holder and pin it. You’ll also probably need a fair amount of gel or something similar to make sure the bun stays in place (occasionally mine would threaten to unravel because it’s sitting on top of the braids). Optional: pull the wisps out by your ears. Frankly, that touch is a little too early eighties, so I don’t blame you if you skip it.

However – the length and thickness here still doesn’t match the length and thickness we see in Leia’s hair when it’s down on Endor. So while the style is doable, I still question the execution. Next!

Jabba’s palace.

Slave Leia

Sigh. This is just a single braid and a hairpiece. Totally plausible. What doesn’t make sense with this is that she dashes about the galaxy fighting rebellions in completely inappropriate hairstyles and her most practical style shows up when she’s not doing anything but lounging in metal underwear with a giant slug. Maybe Jabba’s the one with sensible taste.

Endor – braids.

Leia on Endor with braids

This is similar to the Hoth style, although it’s not exactly the same. (Trust me. I checked.) This one has even more complicated woven action going on. Same deal – technically plausible, but suspect because of the complexity factor. I don’t think there was a lot of time for primping before embarking on the super dangerous, one-chance mission to destroy the new Death Star.

Endor – loose.

Leia on Endor with loose hair

And here it is, the style that undoes most of the other ones. Not only does the hair as we see it here not hold up, this style itself doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s simply a braid laid over her head like a headband. There’s no possible way it could be braided from her own hair still on her head. I suppose it could be Ewok fur. Which is totally gross.

I skipped over two more hairstyles – the simple bun she wears at the end of Empire (which, while simple, is rather small for the mass of hair the more complicated braids demand), and the braids she has dressed as the bounty hunter rescuing Han from Jabba’s, which are just knotted at her neck and have the same problem as the bun does. So, neither helps out the Leia hair plausibility factor.

The other damaging fact here is that long, thick hair is very heavy. When my hair was long, I couldn’t keep it gathered in high ponytails for a long period of time because it would literally give me headaches. And don’t even get me started on split ends or the amount of conditioner you need.

So, there it is. I’m aware there was no useful function in doing this, but now the internet, the true and rightful home of all things without useful functions, is no longer lacking a ridiculously detailed expose on the reality behind Princess Leia’s hair. You’re welcome.

Cross-posted with my blog Deliberatepixel.com.


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. OMG, yes, this is all true. <3

    Although I will say that I did pull of the Leia Buns when my hair was waist length and I wore it like that to the first prequel on opening day.

    I just assumed she had lots of hair pieces that she used instead of headbands and ribbons and such.

  2. Is it too much to believe that C-3PO is fluent in six-million forms of hair styling as well?

  3. Did Carrie Fisher ever address the Magic Buns? Hair buns, I mean? They must have been some sort of modified earmuffs.

    I wonder if she still has them.

  4. So she was writhing around in a gold bikini and you noticed her hair?! That’s amazing. If quizzed after I saw the movie I couldn’t even be certain she had hair.

    Now when I see elaborate styles or even just long hair I think, “If we are ever in a position to share a bathroom I am completely screwed.” It is sad and dorky, true, but on the plus side my wife almost never asks what I am thinking about any more.

  5. This is a great article; I’d always wondered about it.

    I’d assumed the sort of sideways-head braids were extra, and not her hair. Same with the piled hair for the awards ceremony; either lots of extra hair, or at least a cone-thing in the center to wrap it around.

    But I’d always assumed that it would be possible to do the hair-buns with a gonzo-huge amount of hair, which would require you to have your hair incredibly long all the time. Alas, i’ve been dis-illusioned, my innocence is lost, and am a shell of my former self. :,(

    It would be really fun to book-end this by having someone in the hair and makeup crew of the first films write an article about how those various styles WERE done.

  6. I actually have pulled off the Endor one. I think, anyway. It’s hard to see very clearly in the picture, but if you start an inside-out french braid at the nape of your neck and just carry it around your hairline all the way back to the nape and pin it. It’s doable.

  7. This is an excellent exposition that frees up so many self limiting ideas I have about my hair.
    If Princess Leia is wearing hair pieces, so can I. Embrace Hair Technology. That’s the message I take away.

  8. Maybe she has a large spool of hair inside her head. When she needs longer hair, she just presses a release and pulls it out. To shorten her hair, she just inserts a crank in he ear and reels it in. There’s a ratchet mechanism to keep it from moving when she doesn’t want it to. This should be easily achievable with a combination of 11th century mechanical technology and tardis tech. (Obviously, he head would have to be much larger on the inside.)

  9. Well, check out this webpage, under the Star Wars section:
    That young woman has awesome hair to begin with, and she’s very talented in working out the styles.

    I did a very basic version of the double cinnamon buns for the 2004 election. (I dressed up as Princess Leia and carried a sign that read “Help me, John Kerry, you’re my only hope” at a rally.) My hair was about hip length then; it’s longer now. And I spend too much time on long hair boards…

  10. I thought the giant princess buns had been explained most brilliantly by Mel Brooks when Vespa takes her hair muffs off in that scene in Space Balls.

  11. Clearly Leia, born of a family most in-tune with the force, decided to use all her force powers on keeping her hair in place.

  12. @phlebas: According to Ms. Fisher during her appearance on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me the hairstyle(s) were actually created on a daily basis. No mention as to whether extensions were involved but she did say that hair and makeup was a bitch and that when she hosted Saturday Night Live and they gave her a wig she had what we now call a face/palm moment.

    She also pointed out that she was rather high all the time back then, so add as many grains of salt you feel are necessary.

  13. Much as I enjoyed the article, I’m not sure that they are as implausible as you think- specifically “the buns” When I toured a museum on the Hopi Reservation, the Hopi docent had several pictures of Hopi hairstyles and one of Leia in “the buns”, which looked very similar. The docent claimed that Leia’s hair style was directly inspired by traditional Hopi designs. Since many of these were photographed by Edward S. Curtis, they were fairly well distributed. see http://www.native-languages.org/hair.htm and search “Hopi hairstyles” on Google books. If pre-industrial Hopi can do it, so can Leia. Unfortunately, according to IMDB Patricia McDermott, the hair stylist for “A New Hope” hasn’t worked since 1992- dead, or retired? If we could find an e-mail for her, perhaps we could ask her about the provenance and plausibility of the buns.

  14. So *obviously* her hair is super thick and (situationally) extremely long, which is an established Princessly Attribute; few normal women could come close to duplicating most of her hairstyles without yards of extensions or hairpieces.

    There are least 2 different iterations of the buns, the loose-lobed buns as above and the more easily achieved “cinnamon buns”. I only say “more easily achieved” because I have *no* idea how to do the former properly, but the latter looks like a loose twist bun with the help of about 20 hairpins. I’m with you on the discomfort factor; all of that weight concentrated on such specific points on her scalp would most likely give her a *raging* headache.

    Hoth looks like a very tidy dutch crown braid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y6OJBxBWGo

    It takes *lots* of practice, and I’ve had more success starting from the back of my head than from the front as the video suggests. It’s surprisingly comfortable, too. Judging by this screengrab from the ep V trailer ( http://i31.tinypic.com/t7e2r4.gif ), if that were really her hair I’d say she’d dutch crowned it clockwise from the back, then snaked the trailing end of her braid across the back of her head and pinned it in place.

    The Endor braid looks like another dutch crown at first glance, but would make more sense as two separate normal braids wrapped around her head with the remainder looped and pinned across the nape of her neck.

    So yeah. All very time-consuming and requiring long, thick, manageable hair. None of them practical for anything requiring sudden movement.

  15. The original ‘Star Wars’ hairdo was copied from young Hopi Indian women hairdo’s from the 1800’s to early 1900’s

  16. Clearly, Princess Leia was using her latent Jedi powers…i.e. the Force. Amazing that Vader and Luke never picked up on it until Yoda spilled the beans.

  17. People, are you all forgetting that Leia is an alien, not an Earthling. She may look human but she isn’t, nor is her hair.

    Its all convergent evolution as far as appearance but the biology is completely different.

  18. For the record, Lucas said the buns were a throwback to the Mexican revolutionary era:

    In the 1977 film, I was working very hard to create something different that wasn’t fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico. Then it took such hits and became such a thing.

    But, you know, I was kind of joking, too.

  19. About the “Endor — loose” style: what sort of rebel leader lets her hair down before a battle? That one picture aptly summarizes the transformation of an action heroine into a useless ornament. Congratulations, George Lucas! At least nowadays you’ve got Twilight to make your treatment of female characters look good by comparison.

  20. @Mykie: Leia invented vajazzling.

    As an aside, don’t some of the ancillary comics and novels say that she had Jedi potential herself? Maybe she somehow harnessed her midichlorians for spontaneous hair growth.

  21. Re: the Mexican origins of the buns- I haven’t found any pictures supporting that, rather than Hopi. Has anyone else? Absent documentation, I suspect Lucas is misremembering their origins.

  22. I always thought that her hair was a bit odd. But hey; maybe it’s held in place with the power of The Force. We know that The Force is strong in that one! ;->

    This subject is just too big for only one blog post. You need to build a web site devoted to it. >;->

  23. I had the original Princess Leia doll as a girl. The doll’s hair was kept in the “buns” with the help of 2 doughnut shaped disks (one on each side). Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to get her hair back in the buns once you took them out.

  24. When my daughter was 10, her Halloween costume consisted of a long white dress, a squirt gun and her hair tied into two smaller buns on either side of her head. They were the wrong buns, yet she was instantly recognizable. The costume was such a success that she later wore it to a Star Wars trivia day at the local library and came home with a costume prize and a perfect trivia score.

  25. My American Indian grandmother used to wear her hair in the Endor and Hoth braids wrapped around her head for about 50 years. She did have exceptionally thick black hair that fell past her waist. I used to love watching her brush, braid and put it up. I, sadly, did not inherit her hair.

  26. Not to be overly pedantic here (although it is one of my strongest talents), and it’s my fault I didn’t get a better picture of the back, but the styles with braids wrapped around the head are not just braids wrapped around the head. That’s fairly easy, and I used to wear my hair like that a lot. But if you rewatch the films and pay attention to the back, both styles have more complicated interweaving of braids in the back. Plus, the thickness of the braids around her head, especially Hoth, still don’t match her hair when it’s shown down.

    Clearly, I’m a bigger dork than you guys. I win. Or … maybe not.

  27. The Hopi buns are done over a frame. The nineteenth-century ones are braided, but Leia’s were twists, which makes it harder to keep them from unravelling. I’m gonna say fake pre-made buns attached to her hair like extensions.

    I used to try to recreate those styles all the time. I have very thick hair, so my braids were thick all the way to the ends when it was down to my knees, and I was able to do a smaller version of the award-ceremony hair. I also did the Endor hair fairly well when my hair was shoulder-blade length. But Carrie Fisher’s hair was never that thick, and the required length and thickness was different for each style. Wigs would have been easier, but I’m sure they were extensions. The easiest way would have been to pre-braid it and attach and loop the braids.

  28. @Delano: I took that to mean “Mexican Revolution Era” rather than specifically Mexican. If you google 1840s hairstyles, you’ll find a lot of things that look more similar to Leia’s hair than the Hopi buns. Nothing exact, but you can see how her hair was inspired by the looks of that era.

  29. aside from the fact of the need to create a yet another registration to post a comment being appalling in the 21st century, you’re forgetting several things:
    – Leia is not a human with human hair.
    – They have robots capable of performing complicated delicate surgery in just a few minutes, so why not braiding?
    – The physics of their universe is fundamentally different from ours, so why wouldn’t it affect the behavior of hair too?

  30. @charonme: Yeah, I miss the blogs from the olden days of the 20th century, where you could just comment willy-nilly.

    For the record, I think registration has less to do with technology level and more to do with the fact we foster here a community of people interested in engaging with the writers and readers on a regular, profound basis, rather than hit-and-runs.

  31. I'd like to debunk one of your thoughts. I personally have hair just long enough that I can almost sit on it and have successfully pulled off the Hoth braids. It requires a third braid twisted in the middle and you must have hair of even thickness all the way down which means very healthy hair with no split ends and a LOT of bobby pins but it IS dooable.

    As for the weight, I am an artist and am very used to my very long thick hair up in a bun for very long periods. You stop getting headaches when this becomes a fashion of habit.

    Oh, and a very old technique they used in the Victorian era was using 'bumps' which were padded pieces with hair sewn around them and hidden inside the hair to make it look bigger. This is how Gibson Girls got their signature fluffed out look with a decent sized bun in the middle. I'm sure something similar would have been used to wrap her hair around for the cinnamon buns look. Also there IS the possibility that her hair was longer in ANH than it was by Jedi.

    Just sayin.

  32. Actually most of these styles are pretty easy (though you are right about most hair tapering towards the ends).
    Leia’s default style is Cinabuns, these take literally seconds to do (it’s my default style for jogging), take hair, twist until it curls up on it’s own add hairpins. These are actually pretty resistant depending on how tightly you twist them, not sure they’d stand up to quite as much as she puts them through but hey this is film with space battles I think we can give her hair a little creative licence.

    The Hoth and main Endor styles are variations of the crown braids (examples: http://images.suite101.com/946314_com_800pxmsc_2.jpg
    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/126/320141165_177b9fb9f8.jpg ). If you plait your hair a lot these are painfully easy to do, there are a lot of tutorials on how to do them on youtube, and with a bit of practice you can do them quite quickly on your own (I’ve managed to get my time on crown braids down to 8 minutes).

    Endor loose is a lace braid (http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/replicate/EXID52502/images/lauren_conrad_tiny_headband(2).jpg), which is like a cross between the crown braid and a sideways French braid, it also appears to have ribbon (or possibly leather thong) plaited into it, out of them this was probably the most time consuming style as it’s a thin braid.

    As for the heaviness, styles that involve braids (especially the crown braid based styles) tend to not feel as heavy as regular pony tails as the weight of the hair is more evenly distributed.

  33. i have to confess – i’ve pulled off every single one of these except the cinnamon buns. my hair is to my knees, but i’ve been doing it since it was waist length [the award ceremony i cheat, using a small small inner bun to wrap braids around] the full-braids-around-the-head no longer works as my hair is now TOO long… except when i can con my boyfriend into helping me, by tucking in the extra foot [feet? a foot on each side] underneath the rest.

    the headband is easy, but easIER if you use two braids at the back underneath the rest of your hair, wrap them over, then pin on top and use a hair tie at the back [again, behind/below the rest of your hair] this got me in trouble at a screening for EverAfter. lol

    now, Padme Amidala just CHEATS outright!

    this may be more a function of my hair – it’s very thick as well as long [but 90% of the time, my hair is in a bun. so i almost never get hair induced headaches. that helps] because i’m half cherokee and half irish – people noted for their long and thick hair

    i have no clue on the side buns – and i’m pretty sure my hair is too long to do that now, too. le sigh. i got it to work with braided buns, but it just didn’t look right.

    also; yes, this is so long after you wrong this, but blame TVTropes. i do :D

  34. I braid for Renaissance festivals. The endor hair is easyyyy– both of them. Hoth too. I’ve had people ask me to recreate these specifically, and with hair to about midback, it’s not difficult at all.

  35. I loved reading this article, Im watching episode 4 now and i.m not a fanatic but enjoy watching star wars every time its on tv, strangely I was thinking could she hear very well whilst wearing the ear buns, and I came across your post… a nice read and I liked how you dissected each style

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