Reaching a certain age doesn't necessarily mean reaching for the scissors. Here, our top tips to care for longer hair.

Years ago, as my 40s loomed, I thought I should dress more like an adult. Out went the jeans, boots, love-worn biker jacket of my 20s. I began trawling the Eileen Fisher racks for suitably respectable clothing. It was a sad, dark time.

But when I hit 50, the opposite happened. Perhaps I'd had my fill of trying to look age-appropriate but now I dug in my heels.

And rather than cut my hair to a sensible bob or crop, I grew it longer. And, apparently, I'm not the only one.

Crack open a magazine, and you'll see Jacky O'Shaughnessy, 63, posing in lace underwear for American Apparel while staring directly into the camera, all red lips, impossibly long legs and chest-length silver hair.

Model Cindy Joseph, 64, has a successful career fronting blue-chip brands like Nivea and Garnier.

And Meryl Streep still wears her honey blond hair down to her shoulders. It's an image of women that Harvard professor and evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff sees as slowly insinuating its way into the culture.

"We aren't there yet but we are moving in that direction, slowly and steadily," she says in an interview. "There is greater diversity in beauty imagery than there was 10 years ago – more ethnic diversity and the beginnings of size and age diversity."

Which raises the burning question: what about "the chop." The chop?

It's what Times of London columnist India Knight calls Pointlessly Short Hair, that "inescapably dowdy" scissoring chosen by many women after certain big birthdays. Pointlessly Short Hair can de-sexualize a woman faster than a pair of high-waisted mom jeans and is, according to Knight, in her new book, In Your Prime: Older, Wiser, Happier, nearly impossible to pull off, only suiting women with "an impeccably firm jawline, great skin and good bone structure."

Still, one can understand the comfort in surrendering to the chop.

Hair care has always been a way of keeping women in harness. The '50s salon look required a strict regimen of curlers, backcombing and cans of Aqua Net aerosol. No wonder Vidal Sassoon's wash-and-go cuts of the '60s were as freeing to women as the death of the corset. And longer hair can be a challenge to maintain, especially when menopause may slow hair growth and thin the already existing ones, a one-two punch that requires us to develop new coping and styling techniques.

Hair is a potent sexual symbol, inextricably linked to our sense of selves as viable sexual beings. Hair grows fastest in females 16 to 24 and, as cultural anthropologist Grant Mc-Cracken observes in Big Hair, "Long hair as a sign of youth, vitality and sexuality is everywhere in Western tradition." So no wonder that when we cut it off, we can feel a Samson-like loss of power, a loss of self.

Perhaps instead, the best thing to do with our hair, whatever the length we choose, is to flee the strictures of always being impeccably coifed and instead adopt a looser style.

According to hair stylist Sally Hershberger, best known for creating Meg Ryan's iconic blond shag, "Once you get older, you have to get messier or you look like a newscaster or a real estate lady," she tells Zoomer. "Conservative hairdos are aging. Hair needs movement."

And maybe a leather jacket to go along with it.

Copyright 2017 ZoomerMedia Limited

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