Seeing way too much of this smarmy face recently has made me wonder why that little pointy dip in the center of Ryan’s hairline is called a “widow’s peak”. Many celebs have them; check out Leo DiCaprio, Marilyn Monroe, Sandra Bullock, and Jake Gyllenhaal, to name just a few. Movie vampires and werewolves often sport them, slicked down. When a man’s hair recedes, it sometimes leaves hair behind in a prominent peak. According to Wikipedia, the widow’s peak is an inherited trait, but that idea is disputed among geneticists. While both men and women can have them, there is a lack of data concerning what percentage of the population has them. Pointed hairlines, however, are definitely an anomaly. All very mysterious, but there does seem to be a credible explanation of the etymology of the term itself.
The origin of the phrase “widow’s peak” appears to date from the middle ages, when women wore headdresses called hoods. Some of them were designed with “peaks”, or points, in the center of the brim. It became customary for women in mourning to wear a peaked hood to symbolize their widowhood, and the style became known as a widow’s cap. This portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, provides a nice example. Queen Victoria, in the 19th century, wore widow’s caps for the rest of her long life after the death of her beloved Prince Albert.
Over time, a superstition developed that women with this peaked hairline would be more likely to see their husbands predecease them.
Eventually, even in the absence of evidence, Hollywood began to associate a widow’s peak with dark inner qualities, even evil tendencies. The evil queen in Disney’s Snow White is wearing a pointed hood beneath her crown, and Maleficent, most recently portrayed by Angelina Jolie, wears one with horns.
Today, while some people with widow’s peaks would like to get rid of them, most just accept them, and now there are many websites that suggest very attractive hairstyles for them. The old superstitions seem largely forgotten.