From Helen Mirren’s Long Locks to Julia Roberts’ Lush New Bangs, Older Women Are Embracing Sleek, Modern Hairstyles
Helen Mirren attends the 'Golda' première and European Shooting Stars 2023 red carpet during the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Berlinale Palast, Berlin, Feb. 20, 2023. Photo: Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Over the past few years, women rounding 60, 70 and beyond have embraced a gamut of modern looks from sleek silver tresses and kaleidoscope colour washes to the latest trend, length. Au natural or colour enhanced, it’s all about long, lustrous locks — at any age.
Once upon a time, a woman pushing 60 was automatically issued a pixie cut. The accepted, expected, options were that or its long-running predecessor, the grey bun. Having passed through the Old Lady Factory, the “older” woman’s hair now signalled that she had closed up shop sexually and entered the phase of life where she was more concerned with practicality than paramours.
Thankfully, the last decade or so has seen a broad, boomer-spearheaded redefinition of what our culture considers “age appropriate” and, having ditched the dusty thinking, women now enjoy endless magazine columns and extensive Pinterest boards devoted to achingly cool grey hair looks that we’d never have conceived of as recently as the ’90s. These days, that once, apparently mandatory, chop is just a choice.
Our informal ambassadress is, as ever, Helen Mirren. Septuagenarian face of L’Oréal and longtime pioneer of vanguard hair for the older dame (in her case, literally), Mirren went silver before it was fashionable — and made it so. Soon, celebrated beauties from Andie MacDowell to Jane Fonda had embraced their natural shades of pewter and white, while salons saw a surprising influx of women in their 20s and 30s requesting silver hair. Maye Musk, Kristen McMenamy and an armada of grey-haired models cropped up all over the place. Everyday women followed suit. So much so, that hair care companies began issuing new grey colour ranges or expanding the silver lines they already offered.
Next, Mirren was blithely dying her white hair an unexpected shade of candy floss pink, kicking off a pastels to purple trend for older women. A bold look that, up to that point, had been regarded as the realm of punky teenagers, but which now presented grey-haired babes with a rainbow of options beyond the hackneyed classics — Pale Blond and Menopause Red.
Now, in her latest act of hairesy, the intrepid Mirren has grown her hair past her (famous) breasts.
While some older women simply can’t be bothered with the expense and upkeep of maintaining a head of long, glossy hair, I’d suspect a healthy percentage of those had hair they found difficult to begin with. Too thin, too curly, too much hair, hair that required particular products, endless tending, routine blow outs. If appearing more youthful is not a priority — for professional objectives, romantic reasons, sheer vanity — they’ll happily be done with the hair hassle, thank you very much.
On the other hand, women blessed with enviable manes of wash-and-wear hair, would be less eager to chop it all off in some outmoded “seniors” ritual. Long hair is symbolic of fecundity, femininity, sexual allure — youth. As a 54-year-old whose low-maintenance (outside of highlights) hair has never been shorter than my rib cage, I can’t see ever cutting it short. I don’t have to fuss with it or blow dry it. If I want it out of the way, an elastic band or chopstick does the trick. Short hair wouldn’t be easier for me, it would just be shorter — and less flattering. That loads of women, mid-life and well beyond, are opting to keep their long hair doesn’t surprise me. I’m one of them.
Really, outside of Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Thompson, and Judi Dench, you’d be hard pressed to find many famous women over 50 who haven’t rejected the chop. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Lopez, both 53, Jennifer Aniston, 54, Nicole Kidman, 55; Salma Hayek, 56, Sandra Bullock, 58 — they can all swing a plush ponytail. Aniston launched her own line of hair product brands in her 50s. She’s clearly not shedding her illustrious, money-making mane anytime soon. Or ever. Check out Michelle Yeoh and Demi Moore, 60-year-olds, Julianne Moore, 62, or Christie Brinkley, 69 — a woman’s 60s no longer dictates “above the shoulders” hair. Into their 70s, Meryl Streep, 73, and Cher, 76, still boast the long locks of earlier years.
Times have changed. You needn’t look further than Jennifer Connelly, 52, cast as the romantic lead in 2022’s Top Gun. A couple of decades ago that role would’ve gone to an actress in her early 30s (at most), no matter how ancient the actor she was paired with. We live in an era where a 52-year-old Naomi Campbell still rules the catwalk, as enthralling as any model half her age. No shock she’s kept her signature sleek, waist-length hair. Attending a red-carpet event in Switzerland this week, Julia Roberts, 55, turned everyone’s head when she showed up with her long, layered Serge Normant cut freshened up with bangs. Another hairstyle associated with younger women; a lush fringe also has the excellent advantage of saving a lady a tidy fortune in Botox.
“With Julia, we had been talking about bangs that she wore in the past,” said Normant. “She always liked them.”
Why should bangs, like long hair, or pink hair for that matter, be a thing of the past?
“You’re not supposed to have longer hair after a certain age,” Mirren, 77, mused during an interview on Lorraine, a British breakfast television show. “But during COVID, I started growing my hair and I hadn’t actually had long hair since I was in my 20s. And it sort of grew and grew and grew, and I couldn’t be bothered to cut it, basically. I thought, do you know what, it’s pretty cool. I think I’ll stick with it for a little while. It will come off eventually but I’m enjoying it. It’s quite radical.”
In other words, life is too short to have boring hair. As Maya Angelou once put it, “The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and … a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you’re wrinkled”.