Estée Lauder scion Aerin Lauder and her mother, Jo Carole Lauder, agree about many things beauty-related, from their devotion to brown eyeliner to the importance of applying a good moisturizer twice a day. But on one issue they simply do not see eye to eye. “My mother thinks I should cut my hair,” says Aerin, whose long, glossy, chestnut-colored hair is as much a part of her look as her posh Park Avenue wardrobe. “She told me to cut it just yesterday! She said my hair is so long that it’s ridiculous.” Aerin, a 37-year-old mother of two, has no immediate plans to take her mother’s advice but says she understands where Jo Carole, now in her early 60s, is coming from. “She’s from that generation of not growing it superlong,” Aerin explains. “But I just think long, layered hair looks very feminine, pretty and soft.”
There used to be a rule about a woman’s age and the length of her hair. Simply put, long was acceptable only for the young. Beauty guides like Beauty Begins at Forty, a 1984 book written by Barbara Coffey, a former Glamour magazine editor, didn’t mince words on the topic. “After 40, don’t wear long hair. Chin-length is a good length that provides versatility,” pronounced the author. Those who dared to transgress this rule, it was implied, were veering dangerously close to Jane Seymour territory.
But almost 25 years later, it’s not just the ingenues who are letting their hair down. Demi Moore, 45, she of the pixie cut in the days of Ghost, today has a flowing mane that falls to the middle of her back. Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kyra Sedgwick and Natascha McElhone, all in their mid-30s to early 40s, have hair that reaches their breasts. Even Meryl Streep has recently grown hers long again. And one year away from turning 60, she looks as sexy as she did 20 years ago.
“I definitely don’t believe that you have to cut off your long hair after 40,” says hairstylist Chris McMillan, who in his eponymous Los Angeles salon tends to the lustrous locks of Aniston and other leading ladies. “Women take better care of themselves on the whole. Their bodies are healthier, their skin, their hair—everything is healthier. It doesn’t all go to pot after 40 anymore.” It’s true. Whether it’s Pilates, dermatologist appointments or low-carb diets, well-maintained women in their mid-30s and 40s don’t look like their mothers did at their age. They’re dressing more youthfully and letting their hair grow long to match.
Even so, not everyone is enamored of the over-40 long-hair trend. Salon AKS co-owner Alain Pinon believes that a shorter haircut is often a better way to go. “Women are in great shape in their 40s,” he says. “Long hair hides your shoulders, your neck and your bone structure—it closes everything up. We’re still attached to the idea that long hair is very feminine and that men like it better that way. But when you go short, everybody steps back and looks at you differently.”
And it goes without saying that one needs to dress appropriately to balance the look. “If you have long hair and you’re wearing age-appropriate clothing, it looks perfect, finished,” says Lauder. “But if you have long hair and very young clothing, it looks bizarre.”
Here, McMillan wouldn’t disagree: “If you’re going to have long hair, keep the outfit simple. A lot of women I see in Malibu, they’re overtanned, their long hair overstreaked. They think they’re twinsies with their daughters, and that’s not appropriate. When you’re in your 40s, you’ve got to keep it chic and simple. Do a long bang that swoops to the side with soft layers around the face, or a low ponytail like Carolyn Bessette. She was the perfect example of chic long hair.”