The XX Factor

Why Don’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?

In this morning’s New York Times , Dominique Browning (former editor of House and Garden and author, after her layoff, of Slow Love ) asks “Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?” At 55, she’s taking flack about her mane from her mother, her sister, and her agent, among others. But Browning loves her hair, arguably rebellious, retro, high maintenance, and sexy. I’m with her. Alhough I’m a long way from Browning’s definition of middle-aged (which I’m sorry to say I think is a little bit optimistic), I wear my hair long and don’t really have any plans for chopping it off at some pre-determined date-and I’ve certainly noticed that short hair is on the expected list for women once they hit, say, 65. Sitting in the airport the other day, watching my fellow travelers (and playing spot-the-Americans), the question I was asking wasn’t why can’t older women wear their hair long, but why don’t they? Why the ubiquitous, and largely unbecoming, short permed ‘do?

Maybe the answer is some sort of reversal of Browning’s article: After a “certain age” women no longer feel sexy, rebellious, or high maintenance, and their practical hair reflects a practical outlook. Maybe it’s more of a fear factor: Retro is fine, but mutton dressed as lamb is a phrase no one wants used to describe her personal style. To cast it in the most positive light, maybe there’s nothing more truly rebellious than rebelling against our preconceived notions of what constitutes sexy or womanly. But if that’s the deal, why bother coloring it or perming it? I respect Browning for rocking her long locks, and I love the shorn, gray undone look. (I have long-term plans for a straight silver bob, myself.) But I see the women rolling their wheely bags through the airport with their curly poodle dos as conforming to a less attractive cultural norm: the one that says that at a certain age, you have to be past it. And why buy into that? Especially if it means getting a perm.

Photograph by Digital Vision/Thinkstock.