The Mystery of Little Edie’s Hair
One of the questions most often asked about Grey Gardens is “Why does Edie keep her head covered?” Is it part of her unique fashion sense? Is she bald? Is it her way of covering grey hair?
One story speculated that, as a sign of devotion to her mother, Edie climbed a tree in the yard of Grey Gardens and set her hair ablaze. With no hair, she wouldn’t be found attractive to men and wouldn’t have the confidence to venture back to New York City, securing her permanently to Grey Gardens.
But when Michael Suscy, the writer and director of HBO’s Grey Gardens (2009), interviewed a childhood friend of Edie’s, he seemed to have discovered the truth. In her teen years, Edie suffered from a bout of Alopecia (A disease that causes a person’s hair to fall out. It can occur without warning and last for a matter of weeks or decades. Most often it is brought about by stress.) This would explain Edie’s long absences from school and lack of photographs from her adolescence. Thankfully, her hair began to grow again by her late teens and Edie must have thought that her Alopecia would be gone for good.
Unfortunately, by her mid 30s, she began to lose her hair again. Instead of opting for wigs, which can be expensive and unrealistic looking, Edie used whatever she had at her disposal - towels, scarves, sweaters, or hats - to cover her head.
In this photo, you can clearly see that even into her 60s, Edie wasn’t totally bald. Opting for head coverings (grey hair ages a person, balding even more so) gave Edie a youthful and whimsical appearance. Still, when a particularly gutsy reporter would question her head coverings, she responded that she gave herself a crew cut with a pair of nail clippers because she was too busy caring for her mother to worry about her hair. Even David Maysles asked, in an unused scene they filmed. Edie’s response: “I just couldn’t bother with it.” A close observer of the documentary can see that some hair remains at the nape of her neck, around her ears, and near her forehead - but little place else.
Her unique head coverings were one of the many qualities that catapulted her into superstar status within the fashion community, serving as a muse for such designers as Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein. It also served as a frame for her beautiful face.