Does Long Hair Make You Look Younger?

long hair makes you look youngerReader A has an interesting question about the perennial problem of looking too young…

I’ll be spending this summer in my Michigan hometown working as a student ADA. They’ve even promised to let me try some misdemeanors. My problem is that I will be working in a very small town where many of the people knew me as a child. Furthermore, despite my conservative and classy attire (thanks for your help on that!) people still guess I am a mature 20 year old, rather than the 26.5 year old I really am! I’ve decided that the problem might be my long hair, which falls approximately in the middle of my back. My boyfriend, like most guys, doesn’t want me to cut my hair into an “old lady hairstyle.” Can you recommend an appropriate place between sorority girl and dowdy matron? How long is too long?

Hair is a highly personal thing — it really depends on the woman, her stature, how she carries herself, and more.  Most will tell you that a length somewhere between your shoulders and the top of your bra strap in the back is acceptable. Some women look great with it longer than that; some don’t. (For this author, for example, hair that reaches the bottom of my bra strap makes me look as if I’m headed to Woodstock.)  We would also suggest you consider your makeup carefully for the summer — a bare face can look just as young as an overdone face, as readers have noted previously.  (Pictured:  Long Hair, originally uploaded to Flickr by madaise.)

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If you really don’t want to cut any of your hair, we would advise you to learn how to put it up in a way that is professional yet flattering.  For example, we’ve written before of our love for the low ponytail tucked-into-itself, and we recently(ish) saw the blogger at I Am Style-ish describe how she did a big bun. Real Simple also recently described how to do a “quick” French twist and YouTube is filled with women talking about their hair, in depth.  Even just a big claw can help you pull your hair up in a way that’s flattering.

If you do end up deciding to cut your hair, please consider donating it — you have to cut at least 8″, but it can make a difference in someone’s life.

Readers, how long do you think is too long?  What are your favorite up-dos for the office?

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  1. I completely feel the OP on this one. I’m 25, a recent law school grad, and have hair to about mid-back/bra strap length. I’m quite aware of the fact that I look younger than I actually am, but that’s also partially due to the fact that I’m short and have chipmunk cheeks. My guess is that your longish hair is not the only thing that makes you look younger than you actually are.
    Personally, I think the key is making sure your hair is neat, groomed, that it is NOT getting in your face, and that you are NOT playing with it. Otherwise, do what you feel comfortable with.

  2. RecentLawGrad :

    I have struggled with looking too young for years — I was still getting carded at rated-R movies until about a year ago (when I was 28 and a 2L). And I have a petite frame, only stand 5’4″, and have small facial features. Here are a few things I did that helped me seem (if not look) older:

    1. Working out/muscle definition – Most little girls don’t have guns, some strong women do. I was not an athlete before law school, which I mention only because it IS do-able for people who think they will never be athletic. I think it’s especially important to look physically strong even though you are a tiny female, because it’s a subtle visual cue that counteracts the natural tendency of others to assume that you are meek. Take a cross training class at a local gym; get a personal trainer; learn to lift weights properly and find a physical activity that you enjoy. Give it at least 2-4 months to see results depending on how in shape you are already. Feeling physically strong and getting good at things outside of law school can really boost your confidence, which will make you seem older. Getting into shape takes some time and dedication at the beginning, but once you build a base, you can ease off and just maintain without nearly as much effort.

    2. Posture – pay attention to how you carry yourself: straight back, shoulders back, lift your chin. You will seem taller and more confident.

    3. If your voice tends to be naturally high (like mine), focus on “speaking from the diaphram” to make it lower and try to project your voice more if you are soft-spoken. You will sound ridiculous to yourself at first, but it can make a huge difference. I started practicing this a couple of years ago and I still forget to do it a lot of the time, but it is becoming more and more natural.

    4. Finally, this sounds corny, but focus on the energy you project to others. Caesar Millan’s book “Be the Pack Leader” talks about how humans and animals subconsciously pick up on energy from others (which is also a theory discussed in Dan Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence”). Millan advocates the use of “calm assertive energy,” which the book describes. I think you will notice a real difference in the way people treat you. (Having control over the energy in an interaction is a subtle form of dominance, and no one will be worrying that your hair is too long.)

    • 100% support books by Millan and Goleman – especially if you feel insecure about age!

    • Dunno Millan’s book, but Goleman is excellent. Still in print after 15 years, which is impressive, most books get one or two print-runs and then are never heard of again.

      Agree also about paying attention to your voice. I teach ESL, and my first advice to students is to slow. down. and give yourself time to enunciate properly. Nothing more annoying than people who gabble when they talk.

  3. Layers, layers, layers. The length doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether the cut and style are up-to-date and mature. Spend the money on a good hairstylist. The $50-75 is absolutely worth it, and can give you a cut that’s still longish, and professional-looking, and versatile enough for fun in the off hours.

    (Attitude may make you seem competent, but in front of clients, it never hurts to dress like a woman 5 years older than yourself either.)

    • Where are you finding a good stylist for $50-75?

      • In my town. She’s great. (I’m in a medium-sized city on the West Coast.) I had to look around, though.

        Regardless of the price wherever the original asker is from, it’s still worth it.

      • Wow…I never realized $50-$75 was so inexpensive for stylists. I grew up in a town of a couple hundred thousand, went to undergrad in a city of 1 million+, studied abroad in a French city of several hundred thousand, and now go to law school in a city of several hundred thousand. I have never paid more than $40 for a shampoo/cut/style, not counting the tip, which I am generous with. I’ve always gotten my hair done at salons and spas, and never gone to a chain haircut place.

    • Absolutely. I go to a fabulous, fabulous stylist, did I mention fabulous, and I let him do whatever he wants. He decided that I should go long for a while, and suddenly my hair is just an inch or two over the bra strap in back and I think it looks great. It is very layered and definitely looks 1000x better than the long hair I sported back in college. Anyway – with my long hair I still look in the mirror and see professional – maybe others disagree. I don’t get all the comments that short hair is so much easier – my hair takes about 5 minutes to dry/style and I’m done.

      @afl – My guy is the owner of a chicago salon and books up about 6 weeks in advance, which is actually a good thing as it makes me have regular appointments scheduled way in advance, and his fee is $75 (for just the cut/shampoo). Didn’t realize that it was such a steal, seemed on the high end to me!

      And, to Lola’s comment – Tim Gunn agrees with you. In his Guide to Style, he says that there are a few things that you should spend money on, and you should always go to the best hair stylist you can afford.

      • fully agree. I’m 36, have long hair past my bra strap & keep it regularly cut & colored and “fresh”. Sometimes wear a bun, polished ponytail or down. Long hair just looks bad when it’s left alone. Keep it maintained and it doesn’t matter professionally.

    • speaking of stylists, does anyone in NYC have a recommendation for a good one where I can get a hair cut for under $100? I hate, hate, hate trying to find a hair stylist and always just end up getting frustrated trying to find one (because they seem absurdly expensive) and walking into astor place haircutters for my $25-30 haircut with whoever is available at the time. I think it’s time for a real hairstylist…

  4. I feel you on this one… my story… I’m a couple years older, 29, and had the same issue of looking younger with long hair my whole life. After B-School I told myself I’d cut it shorter in stages. Again as with you, I had the boyfriend (now hubby) who swore up and down he doesn’t like short hair on girls. After having enough of the mop, I came home from the salon, minus 12 inches, with the shoulder length bob and he couldn’t stop playing with it. I have since kept it at an asymmetrical bob (very short in the back, longer in the front) style. I get many more complements on it and it fits my active/work life.
    My advice, if you’re thinking about cutting it, work related or not, go for it. Such a great experience and it will always grow back if you don’t like it.
    Good luck!

    • FYI, if you ever go to another hairstylist and want the same cut, it’s typically known as an angled bob. An asymmetrical one is usually longer on one side.

  5. I gotta pose a question.

    So what if you look young?

    I am constantly mistaken for being younger than I am. I’m in my late-20’s and sometimes people think I’m as young as 19. I’ve gotten the “you’re the lawyer?” question before. I dress professionally but I put my hair up in a messy bun and don’t wear makeup. I’m sure I could look older if I wanted to, but….meh. It just doesn’t bother me that much. I used to think I should look “older” by wearing makeup and fixing my hair, but then one day I just thought to myself, who cares if I look young?

    Am I missing something? Am I doing myself a disservice? Should it bother me? Why does it bother some people?

    • I think the risk is that you won’t be taken seriously and you won’t be treated with the respect you deserve.

    • No offense to those whose job duties include making copies, but I worked pretty hard for my law degree, and don’t like being asked to make copies.

      • wow. really??

      • Agreed. I got so tired of people assuming I was the partner’s assistant that I started putting “ATTORNEY” in my e-mails, in my voicemail message, on my name plate, business cards, etc. It’s less of a problem now – I think as I’ve gotten more confident, I don’t exude the “I’m just here to carry his bags” vibe anymore.

  6. I go between two hair styles: (1) very long (which I wear tied up or in a bun) and (2) short stylish bob.

    Shorter hair, if it is cut well and healthy, can keep you looking young! I get a lot of complements on my shorter hair cuts. . . more than when it is long.

    PS. BF prefers short hair. He thinks long hair is often dirty and gross (I am starting to see his point – too many American women have long, burnt out, mistreated hair).

  7. If you’re still measuring your age in half-years, then maybe the problem is you? Just saying.

  8. I also have the “problem” of looking much younger than I actually am. A year ago (when I was 21) I, per my sister’s request/insistence, went to visit my sister’s office. She introduced me to her superiors, one of whom expressed genuine shock when I mentioned that I was 21 since apparently she assumed I was 12. Yes, TWELVE.

    As I do have long hair (it falls about three inches past my bra strap), I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to cut off at least six inches once I graduated law school and was searching for a position, if I hadn’t already cut my hair during the course of law school in order to interview for summer positions.

    Although I am willing to cut my hair in order to secure a position, I would much rather not. Not only do I prefer the way I look with long hair, I also feel more comfortable when I have longer hair and, surprisingly, I find longer hair easier to style/otherwise take care of than I do shorter hair.

    Corporettes, given the above pros and cons, would you still suggest, when the time comes for me to commence my job search, that I cut my hair or that I stick with what I am comfortable with and keep my beloved long locks?

    • If you really love your hair, then I say keep it! As long as it is cut neatly and you don’t touch it or play with it, you should be fine.

    • Just ask your hairstylist to help you style it so it looks professional. Long hair does look younger, but no one can tell how young it is if it’s pulled back. Develop one go-to “older-looking” style and use it when you’ll be meeting people for the first time.

      Styled long hair also looks more mature than hair that just hangs there. You could consider getting layers or blowing your hair out if you want to wear it down.

    • Be careful about why you feel more comfortable with long – do you hide behind your hair? For instance, is your hair often covering part of your face, or do you find yourself purposefully ducking your head in uncomfortable situations so your hair covers your eyes? If it has become a protective defense measure, you need to do something about that. Even try just wearing it back for several weeks, to see how your behavior changes.

    • Amber, Erin M. and Emily:

      Thank you for your input! I never really thought about the “playing with hair” issue. It looks like I’m going to be keeping my long hair…but my side bangs will have to go.

      Also, Emily — I think the reason why I feel more comfortable with long hair is twofold. First, I feel more attractive. Granted, I know that I should not be focused on being attractive at the workplace but feeling more attractive *does* help me exude more confidence in everything I do, work most definitely included. Second, shorter hair tends to either tickle my back or neck, making me feel more uncomfortable. I seem to be more aware of my hair when it is shorter — then again, that may be because I’ve had long hair for most of my life.

      Thank you again!

      • NB, I know the job market is insanely tough out there, but the only employer who might feel that your hair is “unprofessional” would be a jealous woman who has already cut hers, and has bought the limiting short-coif canards. Actually, attractive long hair may well give you an edge with a male interviewer. That’s being honest.

      • I had long hair, nearly waist-length and wavy, reddish-brown, for years. I remember thinking the exact same things, that I would feel less attractive in some way. Then, I realized that I hadn’t been “styling” my hair, I had been simply trying to get it out of the way with brains, buns and ponytails; it wasn’t as though I curled and styled my long hair.

        I cut it off in two stages: first, to just below my collarbones, and then to shoulder-length when I realized how amazing it felt. I actually felt more confident, which is the first thing that affects how attractive you seem. Long hair doesn’t work for everyone; it didn’t frame my face well.

        Good luck in your decision, and if you want a small change, try cutting four or so inches and see how you feel.

  9. That’s weird. Every time I cut my hair, people kept saying I look younger. And I already look younger than my real age so I kept my hair long.

  10. I’ve never been accused of looking younger than I am – when I was graduating middle school, the local librarian wondered if I would be needing literature on choosing the right career – she thought I was graduating from high school…

    But I’ve had the same hair-do for a long time, and that was long hair, that just kept growing longer. (Strange, right?) Every time I would go to the hair dresser, I would end up with a similar hairstyle as the one I’d had when I came in, only a few inches shorter.

    So on last Wednesday, I ended up going into the salon, telling the stylist that he could do what he wanted but that I wanted a change from my old style.

    It’s quite a bit shorter than what it used to be. Now it barely covers my neck, whereas before it was a long way down my back. But what he did, that I love, was cut it up in layers, so that it is not a sleek bob that looks like something my mother would wear. Instead I can now play with it – make it look rougher when I’m going out with friends, and sleek it down and make it look professional when I’m going in to work.

    Despite being able to put my longer hair up, or in a pony tail, or pig tails, or whatever, I feel like I have much more versatility with my new hair, without stressing much about it. I look thinner, taller (not so much hair dragging me down) and the age that I am, instead of younger or older.

  11. “shaped well, clean, styled nicely” – I’d add – not in your face. You should be able to do your work without flipping it around or needing to brush it out of your way.

    Leave the issues of boyfriend/self, short/long, young/old alone and just be sure that’s it meets the above criteria.

    I think the shorter hair you see on many older women is more an issue of time to spend on it.
    Notice how much longer Mrs. Clinton’s hair has gotten lately now that she’s not on the campaign trail daily?

    • Good point. If I had long hair, I’d pay close attention (or ask a close friend/co-worker) to make sure that I am not twirling my hair, excessively playing with it, etc. That’s what is going to make you look young. To answer the original question, yes, i do think that chin to shoulder length hair looks more professional and less “young” (or stated another way, I don’t know of any lawyers whose hair is longer than that, except for those who are just out of law school.)

  12. Wow, this is such a common problem! I got asked by the cafeteria check out woman last week how old I was and she told me that I looked too young to be working here. I was wearing a gray pencil skirt and black sweater – looking quite professional, if I do say so myself. Being 5’1″ doesn’t help.

  13. I had the same problem when I started working after law school a year ago; at the ripe old age of 27, I still looked 20. Long California-blonde hair down to the middle of my back. One day a gentleman in the elevator in my building asked if I was “going to visit my dad at the office,” and that’s when I knew I had to make a change.

    I got this haircut, and it worked like a charm:

    Slightly longer in the front than in the back, it is a bit more modern and angled than your typical “bob” and it is flattering to most face shapes. It’s easy to take care of and I get compliments on it constantly. The best part: I look like I know what I’m doing, which helps at the office. :) Best of luck to you!

    • That wouldn’t have ever happened had you been wearing your hair up. Anyway, there is no shame in looking young. I wish that I still did. As short haircuts go, however, that one looks good.

  14. I am finding a good sylist for $22. She is actually a barber (licensed) and is the best haircutter I have ever had. Long hair does not make us look younger or older. (If only.) Hair of any length can be great if styled well. 1% of all women have truly beautiful hair and should not cut it. As for the rest of us…if the boy fried squawks, he will soon get over it.

  15. shallotry :

    It’s hair. It grows back. A slightly shorter, more professional looking cut for your summer gig will grow back into long locks soon enough.

  16. can anyone point to some decent websites with haircut photos of cuts you could actually wear to the office? I am looking for a new style and I the sites I find on google are a total nightmare.


    • Try searching Google Images ( ) for pictures of the style(s) you have in mind. Type in “haircut” or “hairstyle” and Google will suggest various search terms (e.g., “short hair” “round face” etc.). I find it’s easier to scan the Google results than to look at styles on the typical hairstyle websites.

  17. I’m from the old school, so I think that virtually ALL women should wear long hair. And usually the longer the more beautiful and youthful. My wife and sister are both in their 50’s. My wife hasn’t had a short haircut in 12 years. It’s at her hips now. My sis was coaxed by me and a male friend to grow out her 2-3″ pixie cut two years ago. She tried it, and now she and her hair look so pretty it’s staggering. She LOVES it!
    For younger women, hairstyle is not AS important, but my honest opinion is that a Norah Jones, Katherine McPhee or Hayden Pantierre looked twice as hot with longer hair. Very few women look better with cropped locks, but they do exist. The time will come when young women WISH they were mistaken for being much younger. Don’t rush time…

  18. Anonymous :

    youll look like a rugby player. Hair styles are for oldies who have hair loss.

    • While I agree with you that younger women are usually more beautiful with long hair, this over 40 opinion is WAY off base. SOME women are wise to cut b/c of extreme thinning, but for those with normal hair, short cuts often exacerbate age. I’ve literally seen women who look much more alluring, and 10 years younger, thanks to a hair grow-out. I can name my wife, sister, SIL and many others in my immediate circles. If the woman feels that pulled-back hair is too “severe”, change the part or add face-framing FRONT layers or light bangs. Never lose the tantalzing length in back.

  19. The problem I have with long hair is it buys into gender expectations and stereotypes of beauty. I’m in technical sales, and every female account manager under the age of 35 looks the same. Boooring!!! Check out Vogue Oct 2009 for pictures of Michelle Williams – adorable! I cut that out and gave it to my funky fabulous hair stylist. No frump for this 43 yo professional!

  20. I look younger than my age (it’s those Asian genes!) and sound older when I speak. After working at the same company for three years, I’d like to think that my reputation for competence and excellent work has transcended my age and/or my appearance. Sometimes my managers exclaim “I forget how young you are”–always a great compliment.