The tress code: you’re never too old for long hair (even in your fifties)
Thirty used to be the cut-off age, but now the fashion crowd are changing the rules on length.
Some people do it after university, others when they start their first job. Maybe you made it to 30, or perhaps you held out until 40. I’m talking about the rite-of-passage salon booking; the severed ponytail on the floor; the unmistakable sense of having finally reached adulthood.
Until recently, long hair was something best left behind in one’s twenties, along with leather trousers and unsuitable boyfriends. However, having successfully reclaimed the trousers (you can keep the bad boyfriends, thanks very much), grown women are now growing their crops, bobs and mid-lengths into veritable manes. Long hair on women over the age of 50 may once have brought out the ducking stool and pitchforks, but the likes of Demi Moore, 53, Elle Macpherson, 51, and Julianne Moore, 55, are proof that the mutton/lamb axis is a fallacy when it comes to modern coiffure.
“It’s more youthful to have longer hair when you’re older and shorter hair when you’re younger,” says the hairdresser Luke Hersheson. “You don’t have to cut it short now — that’s what your mum did.”
Witness the Identikit newsreader helmets of the 1990s and how both tastes and social order have softened since then; as 50 becomes the new 30, the motivating factors behind requesting a Lady Di cut feel less pronounced, less urgent. You no longer need to cut your hair to get a proper job.
Not only that, but long hair is now longer than ever. Ten years ago, anything below the shoulder used to feel positively Rapunzel-esque, but in fashionable circles below-the-bust tresses are increasingly normal. Trophy hair no longer comes from a glossy blow-dry or the must-have cut of the season but from how little it looks like you’ve had done to it. By that token, growing it to extreme length is the ultimate style statement — especially given the current fetish for dressing down to an almost ascetic degree.
The model Laura Bailey, 43, is noticeable for her longer-length, au naturel locks and flaxen rope of a ponytail on the front row. The Parisian stylist Caroline de Maigret, 41, has made an art form of turning up to shows with still-damp curls hanging down her back. More street-stylers have a thick curtain of hair to pose behind than don’t, while for some hair has become an accessory in its own right.
Vogue’s fashion features director Sarah Harris, 36, is known for a mane of silver hair that reaches almost to her waist. “I like the versatility,” she says. “I love older women who wear their hair long, but it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Keeping the same style from 20 to 60 doesn’t often work, but I think the rule about turning 40 and chopping your hair off has completely changed.”
Beyond the minimalist fashion crowd, there’s the glossy posse of women for whom super-long hair is glamorous and sensual. Amal Clooney, 38, and Victoria Beckham, 41, for example, have also toned down the bouncy blow-dries of yesteryear to something less overtly styled (Karren Brady ringlets are out), but their hair still comes with the sort of high shine and sleekness only a salon visit can bestow. To them, long hair is as much a status symbol as an It bag — with almost as much investment having gone into it.
For some, long hair is as much a status symbol as an It bag
Anabel Kingsley is the daughter of Mayfair’s trichologist to the A list, Philip, and has followed in his footsteps professionally. She believes women are more conscious of looking after their hair than they used to be, something that has enabled more of them to grow it to greater length.
“The longer your hair is, the more weathered and fragile it is likely to be,” she says. “It can be quite dry and brittle, and has a tendency to tangle.”
She recommends using Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer mask (£31 for 150ml, philipkingsley.co.uk) to strengthen the mid-lengths and ends, and brushing the hair with a wide-tooth comb or paddle brush when wet. If you suffer from split ends and breakage, your bristled brush could be to blame.
Models swear by Viviscal’s hair-growth tablets (£49.99 for 60, hollandandbarrett.com) to fix damaged, distressed, overly styled and coloured hair between seasons, and the brand has just launched a “densifying” shampoo,conditioner and elixir too (available nationwide, from £9.99).
However, if your efforts at long hair are frustrated by an inability to grow it beyond your shoulder, this may well be a cross you have to bear. Some clinics have warned against extensions; many trichologists believe they can weigh down hair and cause traction alopecia.
Meanwhile, those with early-morning starts, grabby-handed children and little time for deep conditioning treatments may also find that the trend for extra-long hair is one responsibility too many.