Thou Shalt Not Have Long Hair (After 40)

Hair: the eternal problem for men and women. Women worry about it when they have it and men worry about it when they don’t have enough of it.

I went on an art tour the other day and learned that when the French first took over Vietnam, they encouraged locals to cut their hair as a symbol of civilisation and self-improvement. Local men were reluctant because hair to them has always been a measure of sexual prowess.

I also heard that the American military recruited Native American men for their ability to navigate jungles during the American War. Prior to their mission, they had to get a crew-cut. What happened, allegedly, was that they lost their ability to navigate, since so much of it depended on the sensation and vibration of wind and sound in their hair.

And for women, the idea that long hair symbolises vitality and youthfulness is innate. I asked my mum once why she didn’t have long hair, as I’d seen photos of her with long hair and I liked it. She answered, “You are not supposed to have long hair after 40.”

This comment has been so stuck in my mind that I began to examine my friends’ hairstyles in the 40s age bracket. Honestly, I must say that very few of them have hair over their shoulders. Why is that?

Turning 40 is such a life milestone that it deserves a new look. As Coco Chanel put it, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”

Another theory is that most of them are mothers. Pregnant women were advised by other mothers not to have too much hair because it eats up nutrients which isn’t good for babies. Short hair was kept even after the baby was born because it was easier to manage while taking care of baby chores.

But is it true that middle-aged women should not have long hair? Fashion experts will tell you that after 40, you can absolutely wear your hair long or short, whatever style that flatters your face.

The problem is that you can really date yourself if you have the wrong hairstyle, aging you instead of making you look youthful. The golden rule seems to be a layered, face-framing shape that is past your shoulders to hide neck wrinkles. If you have a high forehead, bangs are a great option since they cover wrinkles on your forehead, eg Anna Wintour.

I look at actresses in their 40s and 50s today, like Cate Blanchett, Sharon Stone or Meryl Streep, and short-or shoulder-length hair seems to be the way to go once you have passed a certain age. Unlike hemlines, shorter hair seems to go with rising age.

Christina Yu is the creative director and founder of Ipa-Nima, an award-winning accessories brand. Email your questions to or visit