Elders and Influenza
Scaring the Pants Off Elders – Part 1

VINTAGE TGB: Long Hair and Old Women

EDITORIAL NOTE: I needed a day off from writing yesterday, so here's a vintage TGB for you today from October 2009. The Elder Storytelling Place story is new, linked as always at the bottom of this post.

Forty-seven-year-old TGB reader, Peggy Race, emailed recently asking about old women and long hair.

“I'm getting subtle pressure to cut my long hair,” she wrote. “It is down past my shoulders at the moment and there seems to be some sort of law that states only young women can have long hair.”

Peggy's right that in general, the advice for women older than (even) 35 is to cut their hair short, and long hair, especially long gray hair is cause for comment, usually negative. The reasons given depend on the source:

  1. Women's magazines: Short hair is more manageable.

  2. Salon owners: Long hair makes women past 35 look older than they are.

  3. Bigots: Old women look stupid trying to appear younger.

None of these reasons is valid. Short hair takes a lot of work starting with frequent visits to the hair cutter. Unless you are blessed with the kind of hair you can run your fingers through and look great, keeping short hair neat can involve curlers or straighteners or curling irons and mousse or gels or whatever else keeps it in place.

Marianvaneykmccain My hair has grown nearly down to my waist now. I trim off the dead ends now and then, wash it every other day, let it air dry – it takes only an hour – and brush it. How simple is that. I pull it back in a clip for a low pony tail or pin it up in a bun. Either way takes only a couple of minutes. Marian Van Eyk McCain of elderwomanblog (pictured), wears her long, gray hair in a single braid.

It is conventional wisdom that long hair on older women calls attention to wrinkles and sags and makes them look older. Older than what? This reason presupposes that looking one's age is a bad thing which I've spent nearly six years arguing against on this blog. Plus, salon owners have a vested interest in short hair to keep women coming back for a cut every few weeks, so don't listen to them.

As to the last reason, unless a 50-plus woman is walking around in a miniskirt, bare midriff and too much makeup with her long, gray hair, I don't understand the objection. And even if she does wear all those things, who am I – or you – to judge her.

Nearly 40 years ago while walking across West 57th Street in New York City, I noticed a woman in front of me with long, straight hair hanging nearly to her waist. No big deal; many women wore long hair then, but not gray hair, as this woman had.

I'd had a friend who had gone completely gray in our mid-20s, so I was curious to know how old this woman was. I sped up and reached her at the next corner. Hoping for subtlety as we waited for the light, I took a peek at her face. She was not, like my friend, prematurely gray. She was, I was guessing, in her mid- to late fifties and she looked fabulous. Of course, she was also tall, slender, had cheekbones and a smooth jawline, four things nature left out of my anatomy.

Even so, I determined then and there that when I got old, I would wear my gray hair long. Part of the reason for the decision, even at age 35 or so, was that I disliked every moment and resented every dollar I spent at the hair shop. I thought it was necessary then for – well, what did I think? I'm not sure now; it probably had something to do with men.

Long hair is problematic in old age if it is thinning. Mine is and I'm still vain enough to not want to show off my balding spots. That's where the bun comes in; it covers the thin area on my crown quite nicely.

Given the prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace, it's probably a bad idea, if you're not retired, to stop coloring your hair and wear it long or in an old-fashioned bun – although in the past few years, young professional women have increasingly worn buns. But I'm pretty sure the same style in an older woman would be seen as “letting herself go.”

If, however, employment is not a concern and it pleases you to have long hair, gray or not, I say go for it, Peggy. The people who are who are pressuring you to cut it are out of line.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: We Hold These Truths


One of my best memories of my grandmother was watching - and occasionally "helping"- her braid her hair in the mornings. AQ

I think in the early 1900s elderly women all wore their hair long, usually up in buns. My grandmother's hair was always long, until she went in the nursing home. I had a great-great aunt in her 60s whose hair reached to her feet! I'll never forget the privilege of brushing that long hair for her!

I love the bun hairstyle Katherine Hepburn wore most of her elder years. Thought it looked sophisticated and kept her image of a strong, classy woman!

Whose business is it how we wear our hair? Mine has been long most of my life. A couple of years ago I had it cut short and had to fix on it constantly in order to look presentable. I've let it grow back shoulder-length in back and a little shorter in front. Other than the products I use for thinning and $12 for an occasional trim at the walk-in salon, I spend nothing on my hair and do nothing to it. It is snow white, and I get compliments on it constantly.

I wear my hair in one long braid that comes nearly to my waist. I love how the gray is becoming more and more pronounced as the years go by. I believe this is a flattering style for me and love the simple care required. Ha, I consider going to a salon a waste of time and money.

Love this! In regard to my long gray hair, I get the most negativity from my 85-year-old mother!

I loved seeing this post again. I stopped coloring my hair and let it go fully silvery-grey about ten years ago, in my early fifties. The past few years, which have been consumed with caring for in-laws in their 90's, I have let it grow, since it was difficult to spend much time on it, or to go to the hair dresser regularly. Having had it trimmed ony twice in the past two years, it is now midway down my back. I don't plan to change now, but I would like to gain more skill in putting it up or braiding it. I never had daughters, and never developed skills in the hair dressing domain. Any suggestions?

My mother has asked me on several occasions when I am going to cut my hair. I don't know why she doesn't like it. And yet I get compliments often even from complete strangers.

I wear my hair short because it's easier to care for. I don't have to do anything except shampoo and brush. I have wiry hair and if it is long it has to be curled to look decent. I guess I could let it grow so I could wear a long braid, but that would take years and in the interim I would have to mess with bobby pins, curling irons, etc. I only get about 4 haircuts a year (cut short so it eventually gets collar length) and I pay $20 each time. I don't consider that a major expenditure for not having to style it.

I'm letting mine grow again and it's almost shoulder length now. My plan is to get it long enough to tie back. I was sorry when I cut it. I like long hair and to my surprise it's much easier to manage. Poo to critics.

I went back to work at age 62,
with white hair. One comment I heard was "Every office needs a grandma." I didn't like it, but I did like the paycheck.

I stopped having my hair colored after I retired from my last job. It grew out white, looks great, and gets lots of compliments.

Besides, since I loathe the idea of anti-aging and "letting oneself go," it would be hypocritical (as well as futile) to fight growing or looking older than I am.

Of the few women I know and or see my age who wear their hair long (gray or colored) my only thought is I wish I had that hair and could look that good wearing it. I enjoyed long hair in my youth, but even then it was difficult unless I ironed it or used a straightening process. I wear my hair quite short getting in cut every five weeks or so. It suits me especially since I swim regularly making my bathing cap a snap to put on.
Also, before stepping out in the cold, I can now dry my thinning, short hair in a matter of minutes.

An hour or so in the pool every day drove me to try shorter hair. My hair is very thick in back, and sometimes it isn't dry even after a whole day.

Yes, too, for years I had perms, wore braids, and did all the hair stuff to keep me looking vaguely acceptable. Now I wash and wear....after I pat down the spikes and curls. Who knew I had curls? Not me.

My hair thinned considerably, so that if I let it grow, I'd have a rat tail and not a ponytail! A bun would be coin-sized, a braid the thickness of a child's woven friendship bracelet. I'm laughing as I imagine it. Moreover, RA has robbed me of the ability to put up my hair. Sometimes we don't get to choose our hairstyle. Fortunately, I like it extremely short. I can just run my fingers through it a few times as it dries to fluff it, without hurting my hands, and it holds the style.

I love this column. Thanks Jan and Ronni. It reminds me of all the reasons to be who I am and empowers us.

Marcy B., tell those people you are not their grandmother. Do you think any one at the State Dept. said that to Hillary? I think that is agism, harassment, and maybe illegal.

Annie, all of the above is so true. I worked long enough to accomplish what I had to do and walked out the door last year.
I could write a book about discrimination to the older worker.

one issue with long hair that's not been mentioned: My mom had long white hair she was very proud of. It was midway down her back & she wore it in a loose pony tail most of the time. after every visit I had to pick l-o-n-g strands of hair off the couch, out of the bathroom sink, off the kitchen counter, etc. not pleasant.

My mother hated long hair on any female -- she called it a "generic hairdo." One of my sisters had very long hair, she could sit on it! But truthfully it wasn't very attractive on her -- but it was HER hair and she and her husband both liked it very much.

My hair is salt-and-pepper. Actually I have stripes of dark hair and stripes of grey hair. It's long right now, about three inches down from my shoulders. I generally wear it in a bun at the nape of my neck. I don't think it's all that attractive, but I hate fooling with curlers, etc.

You know one of the problems is that we don't attend slumber parties when we're older so we don't get a chance to learn new things to do with our hair. The bun I wear now I learned to do on the internet, using one of those clip things. But I have also gone to a hairdresser, told her what kind of hairstyle I wanted and offered to pay her more if she would show me how to do the hairstyle myself. That's how I learned to use a round brush. You might try to get a hairdresser to help you - for a little more money -- it worked for me!

I have always had long hair and I don't care who likes it or who doesn't. I had a hairdresser tell me that older women look bad with long grey hair!...I never went back there again!...I have a new salon now....People ask me why I don't get bored with it being the same all the time and they want to give me a make over!.....Is no one out there comfortable in their own skin?

About a year ago I decided I wanted to be able to have a French twist. It took a long time to get it long enough that I no longer had to add an extension. It's just below my shoulders now and I am delighted with it loose or ponytailed or Frenched. I recall my mother constantly nagging me to cut my hair when I entered high school since she could no longer force me to cut. We had had many fights about that issue. (Maybe she thought I looked too old with long hair before adolescence?)

I may get tired of it and cut it again, but for now I'm enjoying all the combs, barrettes and hair ornaments that I can fool around with, It does take longer to dry and I use a lot more shampoo, but since I am retired I have lots of time.

Long live long hair! I'm keeping mine long no matter my age. It's thick, wavy and beautiful. Besides, I don't care to look like every other older woman who goes short.

The most stunning women I have known had long white, silver, or salt-and-pepper hair. Just think of Emmy Lou Harris! One friend of mine had long, thick hair that she kept dying black. When she finally stopped and let it go silver, people would literally stop her on the street to comment on how beautiful her hair was.Mine is neither thick nor long, but I never got compliments on it until it went gray.

Emmy Lou cut her hair!

I think people should wear their hair the way they want.

Having said that, I don't think the disapproving comments are usually aimed at older women who wear their hair in a braid or a bun; but it's rather the old gals who let their long hair hang free.

Ronni--I think that you and I exchanged comments before about my wearing my hair short for the same reason that you wear yours long - it's easier that way. Until age 14, I had long hair. Ages 14-30 I wore it short. Age 30-50, I wore it long, then cut it short again. I cut my own hair, have never colored it (well...once when I was 21!), and only have to run a comb or brush (or my fingers) through it to be ready to face the day. When it was long, I put it on big rollers to smooth it out - which took 3 hours under the dryer 3 times each week (usually while I slept). Short hair is freedom to me! (Bonus points: my husband prefers short hair on all women.)

Few women are *required* to wear their hair any length but the one they like, and, as these comments show, there is a range of preferences. As we age, both sexes experience thinning and loss of lustre, whatever the colour. I find long, sparse hair less appealing, but some lucky men and women retain a good head of hair all their lives.

Amen,lady! I agree, since when has looking one's age become a bad thing? I am 31 and I have had all lengths of hair. I have decided though, to grow it out long and keep it that way once and for all. To me, long hair is just like being connected to our roots, to the goddess, the divine feminine, whatever you want to call it. I like to see older women with long hair, especially gray. My grandmother is in her 80's and has long snow white hair, and on the occasion she lets it down, looks just beautiful to me. Beauty comes on all ages. I feel letting my hair long is also a protest to all of those who think you shouldn't. Women who choose to cut their hair short to look younger should know that they don't look younger and why would they want to? To please someone else? No one is going to value you until you first learn to value yourself. Period. Let it all hang down ladies! If you are older and want to have long hair, keep it healthy, love it and care for it but don't dye it some ultra blonde shade in an attempt to de-age yourself. You will look like you are trying to. Just let it be as you are.

Totally agree Rebecca loved what you said about growing long to protest ive been doing that for at least a dozen years now my sisters don't like my hair and suggest a shorter look Im sixty girls I don't take advice on personal issues like hair and clothing any more.

How interesting to read all these comments! I was looking in the mirror today and thinking "should I at 85 yrs be keeping my hair quite long"
I now have realised after reading what people have said that its lovely for an older lady to be proud of long hair so long as its kept in good condition and I shall continue to do so and enjoy it.I only wish we could erase some of the so called "character lines on our faces which are there even if we have good bone structure.

My hair is long down to my lower back, I'm 60 years old. And yes short hair is harder to manage, and I can make my hair look short, I can wear my up, I can braid my hair, wear a pony tail I have so many options, short hair is limited. I get all kinds of comments about my hair I keep it blonde and it's shiny, I wash my hair once a week I will use dry shampoo in between washings, personally I don't care what other people think or say about my hair I like myself enough not to care. So if someone asks me why I have long hair I just tell them my husband likes to pull it during love making, that shuts them up! Lol

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