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Too Old for That Joni Mitchell Look?

Vivia Chen

July 25, 2012

Long_Hair_©Silvia_BorattiI feel guilty about picking on Hillary Rodham Clinton's appearance, because I think she gets picked on way too much for the way she looks. She's a substantive person with a substantive job. And we should leave her alone.

So forgive me for pointing out that her hair has been growing like an unruly potted plant in recent months. For a while, she looked nicely put-together. But since she's been letting her hair grow, Clinton often looks haggard and rumpled.

I just hope she's not planning to let it grow long. I know this doesn't sound very liberated, but I find women over 40 with very long hair unsettling—particularly if it is straight and hangs more than a few inches below the shoulder. (And don't get me started on straight, blond long hair on women over a certain age!) They look rather sad and dated to me—as if they're desperately trying to rechannel Joni Mitchell in her heyday.

Putting aside my style prejudices, I wonder if women with long tresses might be playing havoc with their careers.

An entertainment lawyer in California insists that women over 40 who sport long hair are making a mistake—professionally and personally. Most women end up with "long, stringy dark brown hair shot with a few frizzy strands of gray," she says. But "even if the hair is long, glossy, and well-maintained, the juxtaposition of aging or—to be politically correct—'mature' facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn't work." The look is jolting and not compatible with professional comportment, she adds.

But another woman, who's a law firm consultant, says she "sees nothing wrong with wearing long hair to the office, if the cut is right. It's a matter of how you carry it," she says. "The same could be said for clothes. I am all about style. I am not saying do a Jennifer Lopez or Lady Gaga thing. But I would pay for a very hip cut and make sure it is always styled or I wouldn’t keep it long."

Corporate fashion stylist Gretchen Neels warns that all women professionals—even younger ones—risk coming off as flakes if their long hair proves distracting. "If you are one of the many flippers, twisters, combers, and caressers, stop it!" says Neels. "The constant fussing is a huge distraction to others who don't hear what you're saying because they are too caught up in your grooming/self-soothing routines."

It seems that the safer course is for women to keep their hair simple and short. If long hair makes you look less than neat and tidy, is it worth the bother?

But maybe I'm overly uptight about the whole issue. Readers, what do you think? Can you look cool and professional with long hair at the office?

Followup post: Get Out of My Hair!


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I can appreciate your point of view. But, ultimately, I don't think hair length matters that much. In my view, it's better to do what you want than worry about what others think.

Vivia is obviously desiring for American Women to fall in line and become communist drones who all march to the same tune. If you have long hair and want to look professional and in command, you wear it up in a chignon or french twist. You don't cut if off and donate it or discard it. The indians (from India) believe it is your life force and that when you cut it, you lessen your strength. Should we all harvest our American inmates organs and be slave laborers too? This is a dumb article meant to prey on the weak minded. Who are you Vivia? Why is your opinion of value? Convince me.

wow! The venom that spews! And from a seemingly innocent article. I know I'm very "late to the party", but I feel like taking up for Ms. Chen. Some of the opinion is expressed in a snarky manner, but I suppose that's how the kids talk these days. I would like to say that perhaps this article is not here to make sure that everyone over 40 cuts her hair at the risk of everyone snickering behind her back, but more so that those of us who might google "long hair at work" or "long hair after 40" or some such thing can find some relevant information. It's still a personal decision. Much in the way that spandex may be one-size-fits-all it doesn't look good on all of us, the same hairstyles may be recreated on peoples' heads, but it may not be the most attractive or practical thing for you to have.

Hair length is a personal choice. If a woman has confidence, style, and healthy hair, she can pull off long styles after 40. I'm somewhat baffled by the comments--you gave us something to think about and you included quotes exploring both sides of the issue. I know we would love to think that looks don't matter in the workplace, but this is the real world and they do.

I agree. I have always been a beautiful blonde. For much of my life, I kept my hair long. I cut it short in my 20s to look professional for a job interview in New York and later grew it out again.

I can say that as a younger woman, men were not attracted to me with short hair.

I grew it longer to remain beautiful and youthful, hoping to attract Yes, I received a lot of male attention, but ultimately was treated and dismissed as a little girl.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw an older woman who was trying desperately to hold onto her youth -- which is exactly what I was.

Make no mistake. Growing old is horrible. You lose your looks. Your skin sags. Men no longer notice you. Plus you have to compete with a whole new crop of young women.

If you were like me, you will remember being accosted by men in their 40s 50s ad 60s whenyou were in your teens and 20s.

Men prefer youth. I even remember all the men who used to hit on me, bemoaning the fact that they were now stuck with older, uglier middle aged wives while tehy themselves were middle aged.

They all wanted to get with a fresh, young body.

I never indulged them...but the message I received is that men value youth.

I have since accepted my foray into adulthood and cut my hair into a short stylish cut. I now look elegant and sophisticated. I look credible and command authority. Cutting my hair also made me look more youthful. I will never go back to long hair again.

Still haven't found the man, and maybe it isn't my fate in life to get married. But I will know he loves me for me and not some sexualized caricature when and if I finally do meet him.

There are sites all over the Internet on women twirling hiar...as some kind of grand, flirtatious gesture. Ladies, doing this kind of thing reduces your credibility and makes others think you are stupid, vacant, and immature.

Women with long hair past a certain age...who twirl...and try desperately to look young are pathetic....Grow up and become an adult.

What ever happened to "Never judge a book by it's cover"?

Do what you want to do, and be who you want to be. THIS is sexy. Why follow what someone else wants you to with your own looks? If a woman feels sexy, then this is the most important thing. All articles like this do is form insecurities in younger women. Instead, why not write an article on confidence and being comfortable with who you are?

Newsflash: We are not here for anyone else's entertainment or to decorate their world- we are here to make a difference in the world, to live our lives and be happy. We're here as mothers, sisters, wives, grandmothers, aunts, girlfriends. Stop being so judgemental towards others and worrying about what other people think about your hair/etc-- it's so passé and really reveals your true colours.

Women should never tear each other down. This is wrong! We're all trying to make our way in this world.

If women want to grow their hair long, it's their choice. I applaud any woman who is not afraid to be herself. Professionalism is NOT measured by looks, but by experience, knowledge, success and how well you conduct yourself.

“Wow!! What an incisive, amazing, brilliant, spell-binding piece of journalism, or should I say, investigative reporting by Vivia Chen!! The thought that a woman with a brain as amazing as Vivia Chen’s has wasted her life pursuing a career in a field as dry as law - when she could have been inspiring young women, shaping their minds, and teaching them to succeed in their careers - based on the length of their hair, or the height of their heels, or the length of their skirts, or the size of their breasts or bottoms, or the color of their lipgloss, or the length of their hijabs - or anything but their brains, skills, drive or character - makes me sad; very very sad. With role models like Vivia Chen, who needs Gloria Steinem or Golda Meir or Indira Gandhi or Marie Curie or Sandra Day O’Connor? Amazing, Vivia Chen! Simply Amazing.”

I really do understand the backlash from commenters, and it is dismaying how much attention we pay to how women look. But I have to say that old women with long hair really do look stupid. So do baby boomer parrotheads, middle-aged men with ponytails and/or earrings, anybody wearing flipflops in an urban setting, super long fingernails on anybody any age, and people who wear too much makeup. I don't care if you're a man or a woman, you should dress and style yourself according to your age. Why don't grown-ups want to look like grown-ups? So sad. Grow up and cut your hair.

Men who bald prematurely should get implants; otherwise, their firms can assume they are over-the-hill. Men with slight builds and rounded shoulders should wear padded shoulders or face lower compensation. Men with comb-overs might as well leave the profession, as they are most certainly doomed. In my 30 years of practice I have done a huge amount of work for clients who have never set eyes on me. Good thing, I suppose--according to Vivia, I'd be destitute otherwise.

This article is beyond offensive and the author continues to buy into the notion that women are defined by their looks. This article is age-ist, sexist, and shameful. Please read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf before you write another word, you idiot.

"Blond" as the author has used it here, is incorrect. Blond is the masculine form of the word. When describing fair-haired women, the term is blonde. Please forgive me for pointing out that your writing is looking rumpled and haggard.

"If long hair makes you look less than neat and tidy, is it worth the bother?"
Yes, because it feels fantastic.
And because well-behaved women rarely make history.

Vivia, clearly you are not the belle of the ball in the looks department. Therefore, you should refrain from making judgments about a woman's appearance. Clinton looks "haggard and rumpled?" You look boring, uninteresting and unsexy. And quite frankly, your haircut is played out.

Aww, sweetie... that's how people look when they are busy taking care of business and not basing their entire worth on their appearance. Because youth doesn't last, but the ability to facilitate major social and political change does. Go make yourself feel useful. Find a place to volunteer, maybe at a voter registration drive or soup kitchen. Walking the streets in the summer heat will make your hair look like shit within minutes, but you'll gain a sense of accomplishment that outweighs the one from plucking out all of your grey hairs. And nobody gives a damn what you look like when you are helping the homeless. It's pretty awesome like that.

I'd say you're "overly uptight about the whole issue". I'd also say that if you feel guilty about doing something (as you say you feel "picking" on the Secretary of State), then perhaps you shouldn't do it.

I would hope that at this point in history women are valued far beyond what we look like in the professional sphere. Yes, being well-groomed and dressed appropriately to our industry are both valid concerns in the workplace, but to automatically condemn a woman for longer hair simply due to her age seems a bit... shortsighted? Immature? I don't know.

I think women today have more to worry with than what some young woman believes about the appropriateness of their hair length. So I'm off to go worry about that, rather than whether or not my poor, sorry, forty-two-year-old long-haired self is looking pathetic and desperate.

Good grief.

Stop hating, it is unbecoming.

For the record - 49 yers old, and I haven't had short hair since I was 15. I make no comments regarding Hilary Clinton's hairstyles - but when it comes down to Muggins, may I just say that I deeply resent someone telling me how *I* should wear my hair. I want it long, I like it long, I can do more things with it long, when I have very short hair it curls out of control and I look like a demented dandelion (especially since I turned full silver!). So please - don't presume to make judgments. Cut your hair as short as you wish... and don't snark on other women who do not choose to do so.

Well since you are not posting my feedback anyway, what you wrote about blondes is racist.

And while you are taking shots at people, why not the old men who drive hot sports cars? By your logic they should all be driving old beaters.

My previous comment was civil, but you obviously derive your living and kicks from slinging swill. Ever consider a career in politics?

I am a very busy hairstylist with a large portion of my clientele being lawyers at all levels in silicon valley. This is a topic that I find brought up allot in salons in general, not just working professional women and particularly about Hillary Clinton setting it off with her current longer hair.
Starting with Hillary, she in fact does not look good in any stye of long hair. However it is not because of her age as much as her face shape and body type. First of all she needs it short to at least chin length and above with great multi blonde soft color and a cut with movement. She is too short to have long hair because it makes her shorter with her neck disappearing. This can happen as you get older, particularly when your short. She needs elongation. Every hairstylist knows as well that shorter styles with aging also can give your face sort of a lift as the hair is styled away from the face and flows sort of upward with softness. The absolute key though is the color, not being flat in any way and certainly no grey. She does always seem to have that nailed. With all that being said, Hillary may be the one telling the hairdresser to keep it long as it seems to be easier. I would highly guess this is the case for her, the care factor with her well known busy, stressful traveling current job. Clients tend to pic longer hair no matter what for that very reason. You just "can pull it back" in a ponytail, with a headband, or some sort of a disastrous clip when styling is just not your morning choice. I have seen this routine countless times no matter how hard you try to teach your client how to style their hair to look optimal. So therefore your long hair can turn into a topic of negative concern. She may not have a stylist with her at all every day like previously when shorter. I assure you she is so confident in her job she is not really thinking about her hair a great deal. In fact, I think she voiced that lately when the press actually targeted her on what appeared a slow news day. So with that, I do respect clients such as Hillary as I see the need for maybe not the best over all style but where her priorities need to be. The main mission then is to give her an outstanding color so that can be more of the focus for style, softness, and taste. To me, her color has been close to perfect every single style she has ever had, thank goodness. Again, remember her cut may be coming right from her demand of ease. Unfortunately at this point though with it being too long, she has to explain it. So there in lies the "bugaboo". Who wants to talk about their hair when they are dealing with our national safety and position? I am quite sure Hillary can handle ALL of it.
I Do agree in general long hair is not the best as we age but there are so many exceptions depending on the client. All hairstylists would agree with me. The first is again, great color and cut if it is long. Determine if long hair choices pull the face down in any way, especially if they are short, heavily wrinkled, not willing to color it, fine hair that is horrible long (the type that always has been horrible long), it doesn't fit their overall "style" as they are not really into fashion (I always take into account their makeup, purse choice, clothes, all of that), and last but not least, they do not want to do anything to style it every day that it requires to look good. Again just pulling it back or whatever. All that being said I do have "older" clients that I would never give them anything but a long hairstyle. They are tall is the number one reason. Short hair makes their head look too small and they are too elongated. Long hair can give that height such softness and flow just like you see in any modeling situation. They must have long hair even if we have to do hair extensions. Personally I only like long hair in any other situation if they take care of it with great color, cut, conditioning, and great hair in general. In addition doing the haircare, styling at home I teach them and then keeping it perfect as my job, every few weeks coming in the salon.
So the professional working women must do their job and we must do ours. If you are a professional working woman all this you know. Choose a great stylist that herself looks professional and trust your relationship to guide you through your changing age with a look that everyone admires because it fits you perfectly. You must invest in yourself, so clients will invest in you. By the way, one of my long time, in demand clients that is a lawyer forwarded me this article/blog highly suggesting I comment as this stirred up quite a common topic.

I used to have long hair. My hair was about nine inches below my shoulders. My Mother told me that I was becoming too old to have long hair when I turned forty.
I now have hair that is a couple of inches below my shoulders. It is easier to take care of short hair than long hair. I don't think that long hair should be limited to younger women. While having long hair shouldn't determine your professional status, neither should height, weight, race, gender, and how one dresses. While these shouldn't make a difference in how one is perceived professionally, they all make a difference . What should be and reality if often very different. Recognizing that something occurs and reacting to the reality of the situation, is reality. You have to understand something if you want to change what is happening.
I understand that some people dislike long hair on older women to the point that they diminish their capacity to do their job professionally. This isn't accepting a prejudice as truth, but accepting that someone else has a prejudice that governs how they see others.

Oh ROFLMAO @Lyndsay Faye - succulent downstairs oyster?!?!?!? I can't stop laughing and I'm in my office (I'm the Director of HR for my company, I swear!) with my 48 yr old face and body and long straight (with bangs, no less!) blonde hair, and my dress is above my knees and I'm not wearing HOSE either with my platform sandals!!!!! And my toenails are painted black, and lime green, with silver sparkles. No seriously, this is just too dang funny! And sparkly silver eyeshadow! And black eyeliner! And a thumb ring! And a tattoo on my shoulder! Ha - I never knew I was such a rebel!

Honestly, I think you are a closed minded idiot for writing this. Take care of long hair and it can be worn successfully no matter what the age. Check this link out http://goodenoughmother.com/2010/10/middle-aged-hair-affair/ amazingly beautiful hair and look it is even, God forbid, GRAY! Because Jane Seymore and Sara Jessica Parker are so hideous with their long tresses?

As long as hair is reasonably thick, well-trimmed, and taken care of, it looks good long at ANY age. These "fashion police" articles are so 19th century!

Also, if I may quote Sophie.
"Cutoff at 40 as a "rule"? No, that's ridiculous. What's with the rigid rules? If it looks good on you and is in line with the settig, you are fine. Same with clothes, dress in a way that flatters your body type and is appropriate for the situation."
What qualifies as looking good on you? What does flattering your body type actually mean? You can be 90 pounds, or 900 pounds and feel best in the very same outfit.
I'm not saying you should wear your leather jacket from 8th grade to a business luncheon, only that you should be dressing because you like it, not because magazines say it matches your face or body type.

As a 17 year-old female, what worries me the most is not that my hair will be out of style in a few years, but that other women make these criticisms of each other. We are supposed to push each other to our best selves, to progress. In the work place, at home, or on the streets. If that means long hair, short hair, no hair, grey hair, then that's that. Criticizing one's hair, while they are completely able of their job, mind you, seems so unbelievably juvenile. How is hair any indication of status at this point in time? Why are these commentators women? Why are we breaking each other down still? It's 2012.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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