Can Older Women Have Long Hair and Still Be Professional?

Glasses and long hair, originally uploaded to Flickr by Carutapera | PixelAlibi.Long hair on older women: the perennial question.  Despite our extensive oeuvre of hair-related questions here, I don’t think we’ve done this one* (and it was hotly protested among commenters in response to The Careerist’s recent diatribe against Hillary Clinton’s long hair, as well as among her own readers.  (Although looking back, we have done the “should I cut my hair for my first job” variation on the question.)

Let me begin by saying I’m biased: at 35, I have probably the longest hair I’ve had in a long time.  This is for a few reasons, I suppose:  first, the last time I did a major cut (donating 9″ to charity after my wedding), it kind of grew into a triangle shape, and now both my husband and my hairdresser protest heartily whenever I try to cut it anywhere near the top of my shoulders.  Second, it’s growing like a weed right now (which will probably change when we finish weaning). Furthermore, I look back on pictures from my early 20s to mid 20s, when my hair was at its all time shortest, and feel a sense of disconnect with that person.  So I think I’m kind of solidly in the camp of “I’m going to wear my hair long until I can’t.” (Pictured above: Glasses and long hair, originally uploaded to Flickr by Carutapera | PixelAlibi.)  

(Pictured below: First, a recent picture of me, taken in anticipation of writing a story on how to make a blow-out last for days.  This was Day 3, if you’re curious.  Second, a picture of me from when I was around 26.)

But when can’t I have long hair? At what point is the time for me to say, I’m going to pack it in and get a shorter cut?  There are some oft-cited reasons, I think:

– “Because shorter hair is easier.” On most people, sure, and I’m 100% for change if it makes your life easier.  But as I’ve mentioned before, my hair keeps getting curlier with age — so for me the easiest thing is to put it back, and in my estimation it’s easier to work with, and I have better results, when it’s longer. (Or, I can get a blowout, as pictured above, but I can do that with any length hair.  Although I’ll bet it wouldn’t last for quite so many days.)  When my hair is short I have to wrangle with it for far too long in the morning with blowdryers, flatirons, and styling products, and, well, at a certain point a woman would rather live her life than wrangle her hair.

– “Because it looks frizzy and frayed.”  I think of this with the aging hippie — the woman who won’t go get a hair cut or use conditioner because she, like, objects to The Man. Or something.  (I fully admit I am not an expert on hippie ladies.)  But if you’re getting your hair cut regularly and it still stays long, I say go for it.  (Also: use conditioner.)

– “Because it looks too youthful.”  Does it? But if it does — so what?  I don’t buy the argument that “it creates a disconnect if you look young but don’t act young.”  I am an entirely different woman now than I was in my early 20s, when looking “youthful” was a problem.  I hold myself taller, I speak more authoritatively, and guess what, if I want something done you’ll know it.  I’ve learned how to manage subordinates, and I know how to impress clients.  If I lacked authority — and acted young — I can certainly see how long hair would contribute to the giggling/incompetent vibe.

– “Because everyone does it.”  Well, a), fooey on peer pressure.  B) Is everyone doing it?  Really?  I can think, in two seconds, of three older women I know in real life who have long locks, and amazing careers.  I happen to think Hillary Clinton looks great with her longer hair (and minimal makeup).  And hey: if reality TV stars are all wearing longer hair, shouldn’t we all be wearing longer hair?  (I’m actually thinking of a particularly well put-together broker on one of the property shows I watch, Selling New York, but come to think of it, pretty much every other reality star that I can think of also has long hair.)

I went back to Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office last night, which is one of the sources that people often cite when they say “women can’t be professional and have long hair.”  But her example in the book involves a woman with “waist-length strawberry-blond hair” who is told to “lose the Alice in Wonderland look,” which suggests to me her hair accessories (headbands, etc) may have made her look too young (in addition to having hair that was probably in dire need of a good trim anyway).

I don’t know, ladies — what are your thoughts?  Do you think long hair can be professional if you have the gravitas to pull it off? 

* And, drat, after writing this entire thing I’ve realized I have covered many of these points, as part of a longer post about whether platinum blond hair is professional.

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  1. Associette :

    Ooo good topic! I think that you can wear your hair at almost any length, so long as you maintain it and style it to keep an overall professional appearance. Is your hair past your shoulders? Well, give it a nice blow dry when you wear it down, or tuck it back into a neat bun when you dont want to blow it out. If your hair is short, same goes! A neat blow out is a must (or with those with lucky stick straight hair, I suppose they can just wash and wear). The problem comes in with people who do not maintain their mane, IMHO, that is when things start to look unprofessional.

    Mine is mid-length now, which I think is a good interview length, but I am growing it out again because I think a nice blow dry (a la P. Kate’s engagement picture) looks the most professional on me.

    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

    Taken from the book
    When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
    Editd by Sandra Martz
    Papier Mache Press–Watsonville, California 1987

    • Cornellian :

      have read this before, but love it.

      • I love this.

        I just wish women of all ages would live boldly and not wait till they’re [older/more established/10lbs thinner/etc., etc…]

  3. Unhappily Married :

    Threadjack for a little rleationship advice, please.

    I have been with my husband for 16 years, married for 13. If I met him now there is no way I would have dated him more than once or twice. I was a very different person then and being with him felt familiar and comfortable in ways I now know were and are unhealthy.

    I have been in therapy for years and have improved my self-image quite a bit, but I have realized that my husband is not capable of changing to be the kind of partner I long for. I have been on the brink of divorce (lawyered up) twice, and both times he has talked me into staying with promises of change, and both times the change has been short-lived. I feel like we are now well into “fool me twice, shame on me” territory.

    The “stay” list goes like this:

    1. He loves me as much as he can and he would be devastated if I left.
    2. I’d take a significant financial hit including possible spousal support obligation.
    3. No guarantee I’d be happier.
    4. The thought of going through the process makes me quail.
    5. I may well end up a lonely old woman.
    6. When we are getting along, we have a good time.

    The “go” list goes like this:

    1. I am freakin’ miserable way too much of the time and I hate to live my life this way.
    2 Bottom line is he’s got no empathy or compassion for me and he doesn’t really have my back. He will always put his wishes and desires and feelings ahead of mine.

    Any thoughts? Any hints on how to enjoy the good parts without letting the bad parts ruin it? Anybody come back from being super unhappy in your marriage and ended up happy?

    • anon for this :

      How about a trial separation?

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Looking at your go list, how is this even a debate??? I’m feeling ranty, so please forgive me if this comes off as harsh. Other ladies here will be more kindly and sensitive, but you are selling yourself so short and valuing yourself so little (is that redundant?) that it’s blowing my mind. If this is you after improving your self image “quite a bit,” that makes me really sad, and also makes it apparent why you married this guy in the first place.

      This guy is not going to change, not now, not ever. He is getting a pretty good deal as it is, so why would he bother to change?

      Re: your stay list –
      1) who cares? if you’re unhappy, i don’t see why it matters at all that HE is happy. apparently he doesn’t care that you are unhappy.
      2) that sucks, but is it worth your sanity? you can always make more money, some way, somehow
      3) but you are guaranteed to be unhappy if you stay
      4) yes, of course it will be hard, but you know the outcome if you stay, and you have a shot of being happy if you leave
      5) the risk of that is better than being saddled to a man who makes you “freakin’ miserable” for decades? a man that has “no empathy or compassion” for you? “doesn’t really ahve your back”? “always puts his wishes ahead of you”? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? you will make friends, and may find love. what you have now is nothing at all.
      6) yeah, so? so he’s not evil 100% of the time. that doesn’t mean that he’s worth staying married to.

      It seems to me that this stranger on the internet cares more about you than your husband does. If your list above is accurate, please, please get a divorce. You are worth so much more than this.

      • karenpadi :

        Not married but I agree. I’ve left 2 marriage-ready relationships for these reasons (except #2).

        Re: #3 and #5, take it from this cat lady who’s commonly mistaken for a lesbian due to haircut (not a bad thing–I just wish guys were more enlightened about hair not defining s*xuality)–you will be happier and you won’t be lonely. That’s not to say it’s immediate. It will take some time to identify real friends and to make new, solid friendships. But you will be in control. Having control over my life brings me great happiness.

      • LadyEnginerd :

        I guess we were writing at the same time. I agree.

    • Anon for this :

      Is counseling an option? Given your past experience, I would limit it to some amount of time (a year, maybe) so you don’t just use counseling as another stalling tactic.

      Otherwise, the simple fact of the matter is that you’re miserable now. I am currently mulling around similar feelings with my significant other (not married, but we’ve been together for 7 years). What I finally realized is that, for me, the possibility of not being a “lonely old woman” is not a good enough reason to be miserable every day of my life. It’s sort of like avoiding things you love in the interests of longevity – is that extra ten years worth it if you never get to eat your favorite pastry or whatever?

    • I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Honestly, I think your go list is as long as it needs to be. If those two things are true, then you’re better off separating. I’ve been married for 7+ years now, and I think the entire basis of our marriage might boil down to: we have each other’s backs and we put each other’s wishes and desires ahead of our own. If your husband refuses to do that, and refuses to permanently change, life is way too short to be miserable and unhappy.

    • Wow. You could be me. The lists are the same. When things are good they are fantastic. That is starting to outweigh the burden of me having to be responsible for about 96% of everything – tracking bills, cleaning, budget, saying “no” to things outside of said budget, keeping track of our siblings (parents not much help there), dealing with emergencies…you really said it – “he doesn’t really have my back.” I love him, I really do, and he loves me…but at what point does the burden of being the responsible party 100% of the time forever outweigh that?

      I don’t know. I’m stumped too. I’d interested in the responses.

    • LadyEnginerd :

      Let’s look at your list, thinking only about you:
      Stay #1: Does avoiding his unhappiness make you happier or just resent him more? Does he take your feelings into account in the same fashion?
      #2: Will your significant financial hit still allow you a comfortable, if downsized, life? Have you thought thru what that life would realistically look like?
      #3: Yes, but it also sounds like you are guaranteed to be miserable if you stay (read your go #1).
      #4: The prospect of being in an unhappy marriage for the rest of my life also makes me quail. Would you allow your decade-younger self to sign up for your life now?
      #5: Yes, but you could also become a lonely, old, AND married woman if you stay. Which is more likely?
      #6: This is the ONLY valid reason I see on your list. Do you, with the help of your therapist, see any way to spend more of your life getting along than not? If it requires work from the both of you, is he willing to do that work every day for the rest of his life? Are you?

      Go #1: No one should have to live their life in misery. You don’t have to be a martyr.
      #2: Why would you want to be married to someone who has no empathy or compassion for you and who isn’t supportive of you? You say this is the bottom line, and from what you wrote I must say that I agree.

      I know this sounds harsh, but I really don’t see from your post that you have much hope for it getting better. I know I’m young and foolish (I’m engaged, not married), but would you allow me to sign up for 50 years in the marriage you’re describing? If not, why are allowing yourself to sign up for 40 more years of the same?

    • That you’re so miserable so often makes me sad. *BIGHUGS* are in order, first and foremost.

      I think that if someone truly loves you, he will have your back, and have empathy and compassion for you….

      …so there’s a huge tension between your assertion that he truly loves you and his not showing a baseline level of empathy and compassion that normal people get from not-super-close acquaintances. He knows what you want and need and still doesn’t care enough to exert himself to give it to you– why should you care about his happiness if he clearly is showing (not by empty promises, but by his deeds, which speak volumes) he doesn’t care about your happiness?

      Dump him. Lawyer up.

      I’m a happily married person friends with a happily divorced woman who told me that she was so unhappy, that she realized two things when she thought about her emotionally withholding husband:
      (1)” I’d rather have half my stuff than all of you, because you mostly suck.”
      (2)” I’d rather be lonely and be by myself than feel lonely married to a schmuck that doesn’t support me or have my back in any way. ”

      Your story could be her story, except she pulled the eject button and escaped to save her own life. She learned to be happy while alone and then met a great guy a few years later. It all worked out well. I wish you good luck.

    • I left. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Granted, I have Professor Bhaer now, which means that loneliness-fear isn’t an issue, but when I think about how unbelievably unhappy I was, I know it was totally the right decision. I used to think about leaving, and have all the same fears as you, and then have to stop thinking about it because the go-list was very similar (my ex had social anxiety disorder that he essentially refused to deal with, and hadn’t been a partner to me in years, as our whole lives revolved around accomodating his mental health issues) and I couldn’t believe I was going to have a whole lifetime of feeling that way.

      Now that I’m gone (and have gained back the 20% of my body-weight that I lost in the 4 months after leaving), I can’t beleive that I was seriously considering staying for another 50 years or so. I am so.much.happier. now.

      • Anon in ATX :

        OT but my 10-yr. old self is still upset that Jo refused Laurie. I think was the first time I encountered a character in lit. that did not follow the typical mold. Of course, that was what Jo’s motto was so it would not have been right for her character, but that 10 yr. old girl would have loved it!

        • But the Professor is SO MUCH BETTER for her, lol. Laurie would have driven her right-crazy.

          My ex is so not Laurie; the whole thing would at least have been way more fun if he were…

    • My Second Marriage Is So Much Better :

      I will tell you my bias upfront: I think you should leave. Immediately and permanently.

      I believe that if you make a thoughtful decision after careful analysis and your very best efforts many times over, but it still is not working, your best option is to leave.


      I left my first husband when I discovered several years into our marriage that he was one year into an affair. I never looked back. The decision was very easy because I have a zero tolerance policy about fidelity. Our marriage wasn’t bad (not like what you describe), but there were issues. It took no courage to leave because of the affair. It would have taken more courage than I had to address the other issues and eventually leave. I think he did me a favor by forcing my hand.

      That was 16 years ago. In the interim:

      * I spent many years single. It was fabulous.

      * I had a one year relationship that sounded a lot like yours: high highs and low lows. After extensive therapy (individual and couples), I left. It was a very difficult decision for me to make, and the chaos that I let that decision cause in my life created problems for me professionally. Several months later, he came back. I had told him not to contact me unless and until he had worked on X, Y and Z. He had not, but I did it anyway. The resuscitated relationship lasted only a few weeks and was hideously bad. I wish I had not done it.

      * 2 1/2 years after that, I met my now fiance. We have been together 6 years this week. (I know; I call him my husband because we are all but married, pending his kids getting through college and their insane mother being out of our life.) I never knew how much a strong and healthy marriage could add to every aspect of your life. That sounds naive. I met him at 40, and I should have known that by 40, but I didn’t. When I think of all the time I spent not being with my husband, I am not sure what to think. On the one hand, I needed to go through all of that to be able to be having the relationship I am now having. On the other hand, I wish I could have had this relationship all along.

      Another way to think of it is this: you have X years left on this Earth. Do you want to spend them in a bad marriage? Or do you want to spend them happy, either because you are better off on your own, or because you find a better mate for you?

      One last (financial) way to think of this is: You are going to have to support him financially whether you are married or divorced (I assume this based on your post). Would you rather be giving him money AND be in a bad relationship and unhappy? Or would you rather be giving him money and be happy, either alone or in a good relationship.

      • My Second Marriage Is So Much Better :

        “I believe that if you make a thoughtful decision after careful analysis and your very best efforts many times over, but it still is not working, your best option is to leave.”

        I should have added that I obviously think you have satisfied this standard. And then some.

    • Seattleite :

      I left. And only after I left did I realize just how much energy living with him took, and how much better it is to be alone, but have energy to nurture myself, than to be coupled in a draining relationship.

      Please read “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay.”

      1. Irrelevent. What matters is the quality of the relationship, not the level of love on either side.
      2. “I am making $X per year by living like this.” Worth it? yes/no
      3. No guarantees you’d be unhappier, either, so I’m calling it a wash.
      4. IME, making the decision was the hardest part of the process. I have children, and my XH pulled some financial shenanigans during the divorce. But it was still easier than the constant second-guessing and guilt for wanting a divorce.
      5. You’ll probably be lonely if you stay. You’re lonely now, aren’t you?
      6. If having a good time with someone isn’t a good reason to marry someone, it isn’t a good reason to stay married.

      Hugs to you. And do read the book.

      • I was in a very similar, very long-term relationship, and was so relieved once I finally got away. It is depressing and demeaning to be stuck in a relationship where you are not valued or treated with respect. When your wishes and desires and preferences and feelings and general well-being are treated as unimportant by your partner, how could you be happy or keep your self-esteem?

        I second the recommendation for “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” – it really helped me think through things rather than thinking in circles. A pro/con list is never going to help you make the final decision – I used to do the same thing, and that book make it clear that that approach is not the most helpful way to think about things.

    • Wow.
      ” Bottom line is he’s got no empathy or compassion for me and he doesn’t really have my back. He will always put his wishes and desires and feelings ahead of mine.”

      This is your future talking here: I stayed with a “no empathy or compassion” guy for years because I was afraid of going thru a divorce, afraid for the kids, what if I’m alone… all the crap you’re telling yourself to put off the inevitable. And the only thing I would do differently is get a divorce way, way sooner. And not be so damn nice in the settlement because “aw, I’m causing him so much pain”. He caused it himself because- remember- “no empathy or compassion.”
      Look- you tried. You’ve tried twice. If he’s like my ex, he can put up the caring facade for about two weeks. But it’s just that, a facade, and will come crashing down when you need it the most.
      And let me tell you as plainly as I can- the happiest day of my life was when I woke up and realized it was all over, all done. He was gone, settlement finished, and the day- the whole friggin’ DAY was MINE. I did not have to worry about him, hear his nasty attitude or feel awful wondering if I should get a divorce. It was done. That was 12 years ago and I still remember the joy of that day. I could go out and find what made me happy, what gave me a sense of living again.
      I am 55, and, along with myself, I have friends who divorced the kind of guy you describe. We are all happy- three of them met and married great guys. Not okay guys- great guys. We know what to look for. I date because after a taste of freedom, of doing what I want , when I want, I don’t think I could ever marry again. But never say never.

      ” If I met him now there is no way I would have dated him more than once or twice. I was a very different person then and being with him felt familiar and comfortable in ways I now know were and are unhealthy.” So you wouldn’t date him- but you think it’s okay to stay married to him????
      Look- you know what you have to do here. I have a feeling that like me, you’re a sensitive person and hate causing anyone pain. And that keeps stopping you. So you have to soldier up- reach down to your strong self, the you that would fight for a child being poorly cared for and let her do her thing. Get your girlfriends ready- tell them you need support and love and encouragement. If there are any who can’t muster that- check with them after the divorce is over. Get your finances figured out before you say anything about a divorce to him. Lawyer up. Take really good care of yourself. Cut him loose mentally so he can’t keep playing you. And quite thinking about divorce as the worst thing in the world. It isn’t. The worst thing in the world is being married to someone who “doesn’t have your back”.

      Good luck- and lots of love and strength.

    • I’m divorced and now happily remarried. The worst part is worrying about taking that final step, out of the marriage and on with the rest of your life. However, it’s not as bad as you fear. In fact, you’re probably not prepared for the immense relief you’ll feel once it’s done.

      Being in a marriage that makes you miserable is like being in prison. Even if the other person is really a very decent person (as was and is my ex), if he’s not the one for you, he does not deserve to eat up the rest of your life.

      Unless you believe in hereafter or reincarnation, this is it. This is your life. Live it in a way that you won’t regret.

    • Divorced after 16 years of marriage. Very happily remarried after 8 years of being single. I tried and tried, we did counseling for years but much as you’ve said about your husband, my ex just couldn’t see me as being anywhere on his list of important people in his life. It was so bad that when we went to events together, people didn’t realize we were married.

      I won’t tell you what to do. I’ll just say I’m glad I left. Alone the rest of my life would have been better and the financial hit was just money. It wasn’t easy, and getting over the whole mess took a while but it was most definitely worth it. I am so much happier, happier than I ever thought I could be.

    • i'm like this too :

      My mom went through this and left and deeply regrets it. It turns out that her freakin misery was not related to my dad – when she left and divorced, she found life even more miserable because she was unable to cope with the 100,000 little things that you have to cope with without a spouse (ie, no one with her at the hospital, no one to help her with simple errands like meeting the cable guy, financial pressure, etc.)

      It sounds like you have a history of mental health issues (which is the same in my family). My advice to you is 1) Good job on working with a therapist and moving forward on some of your issues. 2) Why do you think that your spouse has to change at the same rate that you are changing, and 3) Be as specific as possible about the concerns in #2 of your con list. To me, #2 is not specific enough.

      Also, remember that ultimately, divorced or single, only you are responsible for your own happiness. Read “The Happiness Project”.

      Also, you have more options that just divorce or stay. Why not get a separate place for a 6 month lease and try to engage in your own happiness project? Travel alone for a week to give yourself space to think.

      (In my own marriage, I did come back from a lot of the feelings you are dealing with – I got a separate apartment for 6 months and we still dated but I worked hard on me. Now I am wise enough to realize that my unhappiness was of my own making, and unrelated to my spouse. I am responsible enough to accept my spouse for his flaws and stop expecting him to be anything other than he is. But this is just my experience.)

    • “Bottom line is he’s got no empathy or compassion for me and he doesn’t really have my back. He will always put his wishes and desires and feelings ahead of mine.”
      Wow, life can be really hard, especially after you have kids and in the midst of the fights and stress sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is a genuine feeling that the other person has your back, despite them occasionally behaving badly. If you don’t even have that, what would be the point?
      Also, what if you get sick or injured or one of your future children does and you have to depend on this person to be caring and compassionate? I would seriously get out before you invest any more in this person.

    • I could have written this exact post (except I have kids and have been serving my sentence for almost 20 years). I am so scared of the process and the cos of divorce but I am making my plans and hope to get out in the near future.

      • I’ve been married 18 years and with my husband for 23 years. There have definitely been times when I’ve felt frustrated enough to start thinking about whether life would be better on my own. And I too have wondered whether I would choose to be with my husband if we met today rather than at age 21, and whether there might be someone out there who would be more compatible with the person I’ve become over the years. But we’re still together because we *do* feel compassion for each other and always “have each others backs.” Without that, our long history wouldn’t mean much and the ongoing effort it takes to work through our disagreements and keep growing our relationship absolutely would not be worth it.

  4. long-time lurker :

    Closing in on the big 40 in a couple years and I think I will keep my shoulder length hair. Its thick and difficult when shorter, and I wear it up in a twist 90% of the time at work. Few older female role models at my firm (what’s new) but they seem to take a variety of approaches. Only one has hair longer than mine that she regularly wears down (and it looks good on her). I do agree with some of the commentators that i.e. rear end length hair is a little odd on anyone not just an older woman. I think the goal is to find style that is reasonably neat (and works with your hair type) and keep it out of your face.

  5. karenpadi :

    I don’t know where you get the “everyone does it”. Maybe I’m wrong here but I only see women with long and shoulder length hair (which is long!). Babara Walters, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condi Rice, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Nancy Pelosi (sometimes), Olympia Snow, and Jan Brewer all have long hair.

    Really, the only powerful, over-40 women I can think of with short hair (shorter than chin-length) are Elena Kagan and Cecile Richards.

  6. Hahahahahahaha. Sorry, that’s the laugh of a 55-year old with long gray hair. Of course, I work in the Internet world, but even if I were a lawyer in Manhattan, if I’d reached this phase of a successful career, I’d still go long and gray.

    Who the hell decided women have to be So Thoroughly Bossed around our grooming? I get the clothing thing, and of course we all stay within general societal boundaries, but the no long gray hair on women I am still parsing out. The initial analysis indicates the root cause isn’t pretty.

    • Anon in Canada :

      “the root cause isn’t pretty”


    • research lawyer in SV :

      Love “privilege” and your insight into things.

      When I was in my 20’s I thought I would cut it all off at 30. Then I turned 30 and upped it to 35. 35 came and went and I thought, well, somewhere in my 40’s. I did have some various “shorter” cuts for awhile and my hair was harder to manage. Now at 50 I’m gradually letting some grey show ( much to my mother’s chagrin!) but keeping it long, well cared for, and neat.

      When is the world going to “grow-up” and recognize that diversity is a good thing – even when it comes to hairstyles?

      • Thank you. Thank you very much. I ask myself the same question.

      • Mindy Street :

        Thank you both.
        rl in SV, you said something very significant that I think needs to be restated: long, well cared for, and neat.

        Just because a woman is no longer very young, it does not mean she is trying to look that way. Thinking about this issue reminded me of the older women from when I was a child, with their elegant updos and how long that hair was when they took it down (mid back, some even a few inches longer). And it was healthy hair, not all damaged and straggly.

        On the diversity note: Ditto with the part or full gray Hindi ladies with the braids that nearly hit their waist.

        And as a corollary: long, poorly kept hair looks bad at ANY age.

  7. Of course. I started my career in my mid- to late-twenties after grad school and have always worn my hair long. The key is in not looking unkempt or disheveled. My advice: Invest in a good straightening iron and wear a blazer to work everyday. Has worked for me.

  8. Pet peeve alert – feel free to skip…

    Your bra has 2 straps. They go over your shoulders and are attached to the cups (in the front) and the band (in the back). Unless you mean “shoulder length,” the bra strap is not the appropriate frame of reference in hair length. That’s the band.

    Thank you.

  9. FunnyCoincidence :

    It’s funny that this was posted today. I got my hair cut at lunch today (before I got the e-mail!) and it went from a few inches below my shoulders to short (he cut at least 6 inches). I’ve had tons of compliments on it and the most interesting one (from more than one person) is that I look much younger with short hair. I’m in my early 40s and I think long hair is fine and so is short hair. For me, it’s easier to keep it neat and professional when it’s shorter. The nice part is that if I get tired of short hair, I can grow it long again.

  10. I feel like most women I know have medium to long hair and plan to keep it like that. Personally, I feel like I look much more attractive, get more compliments, and feel more confident with short hair. In the ’90s I had Gwyneth Paltrow circa Sliding Doors short hair, and I loved it! I think a lot of women have the misconception that long hair always equals attractive, and I think that can be false at any age.

    • AnthroMouse :

      How funny! I’m in my 30s and I feel like I’m about to buck the trend – I’m planning to cut my hair quite short (boy-short in back, with longer hair over the ears and bangs) from its current below-the-bra-band length. I’ve had it that short before and gotten lots of compliments along the line of ‘you’re so daring’. But I know that I’ll also get a lot of questions as to how my fiance feels about me cutting my hair, too.

      I really see how hair length & sexuality are entwined in our culture – to have long hair is considered feminine, sexual, deliciously repressed if pinned up, and so on. And I agree with an earlier poster that part of the discomfort with older women having long hair (unless pinned up) is that we also are, as a culture, uncomfortable with older women being sexual. I think that’s why it’s also fairly rare to find younger women with truly short hair (chin length and above) unless they are challenging societal norms – you’re perceived as unfeminine, unattractive, nonsexual by heteronormative standards.

      Of course, the only way to deal with this is to be aware of it – and do what works best for you anyway.

    • LOVE Siding Doors!

  11. onehsancare :

    Attended a depo yesterday with a young associate from Big Law. When we began (at 10:30, so not the crack of dawn), her long hair was damp and wavy, and not brushed. I thought, “Well, she’s not at home, traveling, just not at her best.” By the end of the day, her hair was dry, but never brushed. Even though she was in a lovely black suit, she looked like she’d just tumbled out of bed, fully made up.

    I was curious about how long she’d been a lawyer, so I looked her up on the firm’s website, and saw from her photo that the not-brushed look is her standard. It’s not age that matters–it’s whether the hair is actually styled and kept tidy and professional.

  12. This is so funny, because i was JUST talking to my hair stylist about this this morning! And even though she is not a fan of Hillary Clinton’s current hair cut, we agreed that this is a dumb, outdated and totally bullsh1t rule!

  13. Sorry to be commenting all over the place on this one, but I don’t think anyone has posted this response to the question yet, and it cracked me up:

  14. Hair is a lot like clothing with fit (enhance your face), quality (texture, color, product), and appropriateness for the situation (80s music video hair vs. Something less ‘hitting the club’ vibe).

    Add to that the changes in your face/body and hair as well as life as you get older…things may need to change. But it is very individual.

    Best defense: a great personal shopper/honest friend for clothing and a great hair stylist.

    I had four inches cut off last year. (still past shoulders). I look younger (not dated by the hair), more professional and when i want, just as sexy. Who needs fast fashion?

  15. Older women + under 40 = oxymoron [I know, it’s supposed to be only a total of two words].

    Hillary’s hair was adorable when she graduated from law school – longer and very curly – and looks good on her whether it’s down straight-ish or up.

    Don’t we live in a free country?

  16. My hair is finally thinning…which for me is a good thing. I could NEVER have long hair in my youth because there was far too much of it and I’m a small build with small features. Now it’s still thicker than average but at least manageable so dammit, I’m growing it, even though I’m in my late 40s.
    I figure as long as I keep it from being frizzy (not easy in the climate I live in) what’s the problem, I always wanted long hair and better late than never.
    I don’t shampoo my hair (just my scalp), don’t blowdry, don’t straighten, don’t brush – all of these things harm my hair. I condition, condition, condition, oh and I never let hairdressers near it. They don’t understand thick wavy hair and as I keep it in great condition, I don’t need to get it cut.

  17. WishfulSpirit :

    I really liked this article’s perspective. I think long hair can look very professional on a 35+ woman, but it does have to have some shape. The long, one-lengh, horsetail mane can be aging because it often conveys the “desperately holding onto your youth” vibe (the same way a woman dressing too young does).

    That said, my hair was mid-back most of my life, now it’s a curly bob and for me, it looks better that way. I have a square face and need some framing to balance it out.

  18. I have just passed the big 60 and have been wearing my hair down nearly to my waist for the last forty years. My husband calls me Rapunzel. That is good enough for me!

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  20. My hair is long enough to touch my butt, but none of my co-workers know. I keep it in a very professional and neat bun every day. It takes me less than 3 minutes (that includes the time to brush it out) to put it up each day. Long hair for me is a time saver, and no one can possibly argue that my librarian-style bun is unprofessional. I plan to grow at least 10 more inches of hair, and my colleagues will be none the wiser.

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