Should Middle-Aged Women Cut Their Hair? Experts (And You) Weigh In

Long locks on older women have become a hot hair topic.

Writer Dominique Browning penned her account of wearing down-the-back locks well into her 50s in The New York Times, and spoke about her trials — even her mother has pushed her to cut it — on this morning’s Today Show, in the clip above.

When StyleList recently covered the topic of thinning hair, a reader responded by asking why women feel the need to chop it all off after a certain age — igniting a nearly 200 comment-long thread that battled back and forth between the long-haired Demi Moore’s and crisply-cut Jane Fonda’s of today.

Demi Moore wears long locks over 40. Photo: Getty Images

“Most older women…look younger with shorter hair. It gives an innocent and modern look that uplifts the aged face, where as long hair drags it down,” argues StyleList reader Keli. “Every woman with long hair that I’ve seen would look much better with a short cut.”

Yet reader Marisa did cut her locks off — only to regret it. “I cut it short one time, and I hated it! I don’t care if you think I look better with shorter hair — it’s not about what you think, it’s about how I feel about myself, and I’ll be damned if I cut my hair off like some of these other women,” spit back the reader.

Much like the question of wearing white after labor day or blending on shimmer eyeshadow past a certain age, many are just tired of conforming to conventional style rules.

“Bull…I don’t care for this unwritten rule that states after age 35, one should cut her hair. As a chick, we have enough ‘rules,’ thank you,” snapped reader Esperanza.

To cut or not to cut after 40?

We took the question to the country’s leading stylists, who set today’s hottest hair trends with their celebrity clientele, yet offer the kind of down-to-earth tips ‘everyday women’ can appreciate. Their verdicts may surprise you.

New York salon owner and stylist Mark Garrison says that technology and a different kind of lifestyle won’t have you aging your like your grandmother did — and along with that, your hair will most likely age very differently as well. “Women at 40 are just getting started — hasn’t the aging process been reversed so much that those old beliefs aren’t relevant?” asks Garrison. “Conscientious women take so much better care of themselves these days with diet and exercise, that they reflect a youthful appearance. With a youthful appearance, a younger style can be worn if the hair is healthy and doesn’t look fried and over-chemically processed.”

The time to cut hair doesn’t depend on your age, but rather the health of your hair, agrees San Diego salon owner and stylist Jet Rhys. Some very young women with ultra-fine and brittle hair won’t be flattered by long cuts despite their youthful age, while other much older women with thick manes of carefully conditioned hair can look ravishing with longer locks. “Wear your hair, don’t let it wear you!” urges Rhys, who sports a blonde close crop cut that belies her California surfer locale. “Age shouldn’t be a factor, it has more to do with lifestyle,” adds Rhys.

‘Break the rules!” adds Ted Gibson, who has tressed Angelina Jolie’s long strands for years. Shoulder-length can be an especially flattering cut for women over 40 advises the stylist, who refers to Teri Hatcher, Vanessa Williams and the Real Housewives of DC, NY and Beverly Hills as living embodiments of the new chic.

Teri Hatcher and Vanessa Williams look gorgeous in shoulder-length locks. Photo: Getty Images

Many women do notice a change to the texture and health of their hair as they get older, and it’s not just your imagination. As you age, the diameter of your hair shaft begins to shrink — which often results in thinner strands and a decrease in shine and vitality unless you lucked out with especially good genes. Rhys says that many women react by over-styling their hair, which actually does more harm than good. “Hair can sometimes look poufy and matronly just by the way we style our hair after 40,” says Rhys. “Ditch the round brush and keep your style movable and loose.”

Garrison agrees, especially urging the curly-haired women to enjoy the texture that they may have hated and continually tried to coax straight in their early years. “Let your long, naturally curly hair express itself — now that’s youthful!” says Garrison.

If you do decide to rock long locks later on in life, the hair cut you get can mean the difference between looking fabulous or just downright frumpy. “For longer hair to flatter, it needs some shaping around the face, as in a ‘face frame’ so the cheek bones are shown off,” advises Garrison. “An angled bang is great for accenting the eyes without being severe. Also, bangs are good for those little lines creeping up the forehead.”

You’ll want to stay away from the dead-center part and the all one-layer length or else risk looking like a hippie in search of Woodstock — layers throughout the hair will add movement so it doesn’t just hang. A great cut can even take years off your age. “A cut that compliments the bone structure and gives lift to the face is better than cosmetic surgery,” claims Garrison. “I love hair with a bit of volume and a trace of curl with rollers or an iron. Avoid flat-ironed pin-straight hair, it shows every flaw.”

Another key to looking like a savvy beauty instead of a woman desperately chasing after her youth is to always observe what Rhys calls the ‘golden rule’ of longer hair in your mature years. “Your look should be fresh, not young,” says Rhys, adding that the strategic use of color, such as highlights around the face, and a sleekly angled cut can bring long locks to a classier level that is more flattering to mature women.

Yet sometimes, it’s just time to chop it in order to rejuvenate your entire look. But how do you know when it’s time?

Instead of basing a haircut on your age, study the condition of your hair. Is it overprocessed, thin and lacking in shine? Then it’s time to head in for a session with the scissors, says Rhys. “Cut it to at least the top of your collarbone and add bangs — it’ll give you a new spring in your step! Your old style will look more youthful, thicker and healthier.”

And just because you’re cutting, doesn’t mean that you have to go the chop-shop route. A length that sits somewhere between the chin and the top of the shoulders is flattering on most women, especially when paired with a sexy grown-up bang and layers that move.

Whatever length is your fancy, StyleList reader Jackie sums it up with a wise attitude. “It does not matter to me what people think, I wear my hair to suit me. I’m at the age where I don’t need to impress anyone.” Reader Esperanza agrees, and proposes one last proposition to end all the fuss. “No more rules for women! Except extending a helping hand.”