What Is a Towhead?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Certain fibrous plants such as flax or hemp can be woven into cloth, but only after the fibers have been painstakingly combed out and twisted into a usable thread. Part of the combing process yields a tousled mass of light yellow fiber known as tow. Because these pale and tangled fibers resemble fine blond human hair, the term tow head is often applied to natural blondes, especially young children.

A towheaded girl.
A towheaded girl.

This term should not be considered an insult, since it strictly refers to the flaxen quality of a person's hair. A young, fair-haired boy might be distinguishable from a sibling because of his hair color, so others may describe him as a towhead. Sometimes, the unruly quality of a young blond's hair may also earn him the honor of the nickname.

Towheaded boy.
Towheaded boy.

Many people envy the light tones and curliness of a true towhead's hair. Very young boys with exceptionally light and curly hair are often compared favorably to cherubs, angelic beings often portrayed in religious art as fair-haired and innocent. While some children's hair color may darken over time, a few do retain the qualities into adulthood.

The word "tow" is Germanic in origin, and refers to the fibers often used to create burlap sacks for crop collection and storage. In fact, some people who live in rural communities still refer to burlap bags as tow sacks. Tow sacks made from flax or hemp did have a distinctly yellow or tan appearance, although not always as blond as the expression implies.

Other shades of blond could be dishwater, "dirty," or platinum. A person with jet black hair could be described as raven-haired. Some redheads are considered "carrot tops" or flame-haired. Some sources suggest the description towhead has largely fallen out of common use in recent years, but it can still be heard in more rural regions of the country.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I always thought 'towhead' meant people whose hair is only blonde as a child, but darkens as they mature. For example, I and my brother were platinum-blonde towheads and now have dark brown hair, my father was a towhead and his hair grew black before turning salt and pepper.

Why else would the word only be used to describe blonde children? Have you ever called an adult 'towheaded'?


Tow head just means having light hair the color of flax or hemp fibers. Obviously only the old folks seem to know about those old fibers and their color. It is like describing someone as flaxen haired. Same difference.

Personally I don't believe anyone who says their blond hair is the same color as when they were a child. Everyone's hair darkens with age.


I am 25 years old and I have extremely light blonde, curly locks. My picture was actually placed in the hospital that I was born in for "baby born with blondest hair" and it hasn't really darkened very much.

My grandparents have called me a tow head since I was just little. It is not an insult. It just means that I have blonde hair. I am proud to be a tow head. We are a dying race.


having blonde hair. watched it on full house.


I never heard of this until I heard it on full house.

So I'm like does that mean someone who got kicked around a lot in the head?


I had not heard of the term until the other day when my friend’s grandmother called her a tow head. I thought she was referring to the size and shape of my friend’s head, but it doesn’t look weird or anything.

So my friend was born with and still has blonde hair, that must be what her grandma was talking about. I don’t think she would call her grandkid anything disrespectful; although, she did get a laugh at the confused looks on our faces.


In Modern Street vernacular "Toe Head" [insult]

means someone having a head with the dimensions of a Big Toe (fat Head ) example : Fred Flintstone was a "Toe Head". Some implication of stupidity and/or stubbornness is also attached to this description.

Sentence :

Keith said "I can't stand Dick Cheney,

what a Toe Head"!

Not to be confused with "Tow Head".

Street Definition by


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