Last year on a trip to Paris – to see art and write – as usual, I spent as much time as possible out and about enjoying the city. Comfortable shoes, my journal and a pen. Heaven.
One afternoon, alone in a café, I couldn’t take my eyes off an older woman who sat nearby. I noticed her first from the back, with a mane of long, thick, silver hair that fell over broad shoulders and a brightly patterned scarf. She turned, getting up, and I realized she had to be at least eighty.
She was still stunning.
Long hair on older women surprises us
She was statuesque, the sort of woman one calls “handsome.” Her poise and self-possession lent a particularly elegant air; I wondered if she was an actress or had been a model. She paid her check, and I watched as she walked away.
We don’t expect to see older women with long hair, such an overt symbol of both sensuality and sexuality.
Is style only for the young?
When a woman begins to age, she may cut her hair, dye her hair, or both. Often, it seems like there’s a slow descent into the state of over-sprayed, over-processed “blue hair” that is so maligned. But some women manage to keep their hair in great shape, or purposely grow it and style it as if celebrating their sensuality, or as a proud remnant of their youth.
I remember Katherine Hepburn’s very particular up swept style; the knowledge that she still had long hair was somehow a sign of her femininity – offset by her legendary strength and outspokenness.
In her role in Chocolat, Dame Judi Dench, whose hair is usually very short, wore a long, slightly messy pinned up style. It added vulnerability to her crusty character, and we saw in her the beauty that she must have owned when she was young.
Sexy sixties style
Recently, I saw a film with Susan Sarandon, from 2007. She’s a beautiful woman at any age, and certainly not “older” in my book. Nonetheless, at sixty-two, the retention of flowing red curls in that particular role screamed self-aware sexiness, as if to say “I’m still here, and very much a woman.”
Similarly, Sonia Braga, retains her magnificent dark hair – a trademark for many years.
Then I think of Helen Mirren, remembering how much older she looked as “The Queen.” Not only an extraordinary performance, but the hair style (forgive me, Your Majesty) wreaks of 1955 – the uptight old lady “do.”
When you see the actress in other roles, while her hair isn’t necessarily long, it sweeps down across her face. And it’s undeniably sexy.
Recollections, practicality, psychology
I wore my hair long as a child, and short from 16 until 30, when I grew it (rebelliously), only to cut it again when I had babies. Some friends liked it because it made me look more “French” – at the time, I was making regular trips back and forth across the Atlantic to Paris. And with toddlers, there wasn’t much mirror time, so a cropped cut was practical.
But in my 40s, newly separated, it was one of my sons who suggested that I needed to grow my hair if I was going to date. “Guys like that,” he said. It made me smile at the time, but he was right.
What he didn’t know and couldn’t know was that I needed the longer hair – the way it made me feel. Without question – freer, younger, sexier, and much more flirtatious. Just right for re-entry into the dating world. Classic dress and longer hair gave me new confidence.
Even as I age (only very slightly, of course), I feel more feminine with longer hair. And reassured that I am still here, as a sensual, sexual woman.