Long hair for the 40+ woman
August 17, 2009 11:28 AM   Subscribe

What are some possible hairstyle options for a woman over 40 who wants to keep her hair long?

I’ve been letting my hair grow out for the past few years, and for the most part I prefer it long; I’ve been told it looks better and makes me look younger than when it was short. It’s also easier to deal with on weekends when I can pull it back in a ponytail. But I’d like to find some new ways to wear it; I’m looking for ideas not just for haircuts, but also ways to work with what I have; hairbands, other accessories, ways to do a quick bun or up-do, that sort of thing—but appropriate for my age, whatever that might entail.

I don’t have bangs, just somewhat thin, straight hair that comes about down to my armpits. It’s in pretty good health, as I don’t color it (there’s some grey, visible from the front, that I actually kind of like).

I like quick, easy, low-maintenance solutions for my hair; I don’t like slathering it with product, though some mousse or hairspray is ok. Just pulling it back in a ponytail every day looks, to my eye, too severe; I’d like something a little more feminine. But leaving it just hanging ends up getting messy, making me feel like I constantly have to brush it.

Searching for “hairstyles for women over 40” ends up showing me all the celebrities in that age group with their pampered, styled dos, but what I want to see is a selection of average women my age, and how they wear their hair, that I might try. Or I’d love to hear from 40+ MeFite women who have a long-hair style they love.

It's a bad photo, but if you think seeing my current (lack of) hairstyle would help answer the question, you can see it here.
posted by TochterAusElysium to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 43 with similar-length hair and preference for easy care. I think you need a bit more layering to give you a lift around your face. Right now it's dragging you down a little. A little product and drying with a round brush would give it some bounce.

I tend to think hair accessories don't look so great as you get older. The best approach is to get it looking healthy, and that means giving it some movement. A few more layers will help with that.
posted by HotToddy at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2009

Your hair is pretty and you don't look 40. A few observations/suggestions as a 42 yo myself. I would suggest bringing the length up a bit, to just past the shoulders. You will still have the general appearance of long hair but won't cross the line into stringy. Also, I would suggest some long bangs or layering near the front - not bangs in the across-the-forehead model, but cut to a length anywhere between the bridge of your nose to the top of your lip at the front and then tapering back. Not sure I'm describing it well. It would add some body to the cut. Makes the ponytail slightly more challenging in that those shorter pieces need to be pinned back or tamed in some way, but I think it's flattering to most people. Upkeep can be as easy or complicated as you want, but a blowdryer and a big round brush can do wonders.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2009

I think your hair looks natural and lovely (as do you!).

I'm 26, but I wear my hair up almost every day - mine's thick and heavy and UGH when it's all over my neck. It's almost always a variation of a ponytail or messy bun. Here are some quick ideas:

- For ponytails, change the position and add a little polish to make it professional-looking. Try one really low, at the nape of your neck, and either part your hair on the side and pin the swept sides back behind your ears (terrible example here). Or, smooth a section of hair at the very front of your forehead back with a little height at the front and add a flat barrette - works with high ponytails too (equally terrible example).

- Add accessories - a side-swept ponytail as described above looks good with a scarf tied like a headband, with a little hair showing in front, or with a very thin, subtle headband.

- Wear a messy bun - my hair's thick enough to just twist until it coils on itself, and then secure the whole thing with a couple turns of an elastic. You may need to stick in a few strategic pins to keep it together. Change placement and front hair positions as desired.

- Consider changing your part to one side, or trying out long, side-swept bangs - they can create enough interest to make a ponytail work every day.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You look lovely. Have you had a "hairstyle" before? If you haven't dealt with layers and shaping and all that previously, you might want to take baby steps in that direction.

Emmie Lou Harris and Bonnie Raitt seem to do okay with long hair - although they do have thicker and wavier hair than you have.

There's a woman in my office (she may be in her late 30s - I'm a terrible judge of age) who puts her hair up with chopsticks if she has to be in meetings. She wears a simple ponytail at the nape of the neck if she's not seeing anyone. Works for her and our office is a dress-code minefield.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:49 AM on August 17, 2009

I agree that a little bit shorter, with some long layers, will probably solve all your problems. Less length means that it'll stay looking polished longer, and layers will give it some shape. Maybe look at Diane Lane's hair for reference?

PS- your hair looks way better than mine, and I'm 22. Jealous.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:49 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Until a few weeks ago I had long hair wch I wore (for about 14 years) with a centre parting and each side twisted up round the side of my head, the two parts joined at the back and twisted together and pinned at the back with clips. Depending on how long and thick your hair is you might have to clip it twice, or have to brush it through with water to get it to stay in place. It's low-maintenance. If this isn't clear, feel free to MeMail me (can't believe I'm giving hair advice on the internet).
posted by paduasoy at 11:55 AM on August 17, 2009

Once mine gets past the collarbone, it's a little ... age inappropriate. (Mine is thin and fine, so that might be part of it.)

Give up some length and do a side part with layers around the face. My SIL took me to her Seattle hairdresser once, and I'll try to find his name and shop. His first name is Billy, but of course that's not much help.

For variation, a ponytail at the nape with a simple small barrette or a tortice-elastic combo thing is good. I often do a french twist with a concorde clip.
posted by jgirl at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2009

I think the long, straight hair suits you, but I agree with others that it could use some shaping.

One of my bffs, who is 44 like me, has hair that is also straight and fine, and a bit longer than yours. She has a similar face shape to yours as well.

She often wears it up in a chignon with a big butterfly clip or one of these, and both look great.

She sometimes wears a headband with her hair long otherwise, and sometimes pulls her hair back with barrettes. And sometimes she wears a ponytail.

Another friend who's 47 and has long, straight hair often wears it in a simple French braid, pinned up.

If you can find a hairstylist who's good with working with long hair, she or he should be able to do a basic shaping cut that works with lots of different styles.

To my mind, long hair looks great on women of all ages, but once you're over 40 it's really important to keep it trimmed regularly or it can start to look straggly really quickly. (This is true of short hair, too, for over-40 women and my own short hair is starting to look like an angry dandelion so I should get off the Intertubes and go get a haircut!)

And yes, you look quite a bit younger than your age! You have fabulous skin.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:58 AM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Your hair looks healthy and beautiful.

I'm a fan of the French twist for long hair as it looks very professional, no-nonsense and tidy, but doesn't look "old" to me the way a bun or braid might. Also, once you get the hang of it, it takes all of 1 minute to do.
posted by Kurichina at 12:09 PM on August 17, 2009

For quick updos I recommend wrapping your hair into an bun (low or medium height works best) and clip it with whatever variation on the jaw clip works best for your hair type (there will be a million shapes and sizes at your local drug store). The trick is not to pull it back too tight or you end up looking severe -- it's ok if it's a little loose/messy.

The right jaw clip makes all the difference on this -- the one I have has four flat tines on the side that goes against my head, and five curved tines for the hair-grabby side. It is so much more comfortable than some others I've tried. (I tried to find a pic to link to, with no luck.)

I'm only 31, but I can't imagine any way this would be age-inappropriate for you, especially given how young you look. :)
posted by somanyamys at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2009

I'm an octopus clip fan. My hair is also long and thinnish and I never found jaw clips comfortable, but octopus clips are great. I usually twist mine upwards from the bottom and put the clip in with the hair ends coming out the top--with a little gel and spray this fluffs up into what I call the "pineapple" look, but it's actually very becoming and less severe than just a twist.

Oh, and since I just don't have the head shape that allows my hair to be pulled back smoothly and prettily without some help, I usually pull my front hair back in a curved barrette first (kind of the Elaine-from-Seinfeld pouf)--god help me, I grew up in the 80s and I can't quite deal with hair without SOME poof to it. Your taste/hair may vary.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:52 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

BTW, Sidhedevil, I am SO ordering one of those African beaded clips. Those look really classy.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2009

My hair isn't as long as yours but I get compliments when I wear my hair like this.
posted by b33j at 1:48 PM on August 17, 2009

I'd check out The Long Hair Community message boards for ideas (note that I haven't really looked around here much and can't provide a testimony for its usefulness). Another resource is one of LiveJournal's long hair communities (here). If you have an LJ account, you can join to ask questions and view posts that may be locked for members only. A lot of ladies in their 30s, 40s, and beyond belong to this particular community.

You may also want to look at Torrin Page's YouTube channel here. Her tutorials for updos for long hair are excellent (I've recommended them on AskMiFi before) and make me wish my hair would grow six inches overnight...
posted by Aleen at 3:09 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think your current hair - unstyled, no bangs or layers, and parted in the middle - is a bit of an outdated look and you would look younger with something more modern.

I'm 41, and I've been growing my hair out for a few years. My hair is very fine, very thin, and grows very slowly. Last summer, I screwed up my courage and got short choppy bangs. I seriously haven't been so happy with my hair in years.

I wear my hair straight some days and curly others. The bangs allow me to wear ponytails while not looking severe, they're very quick to style, and they work well with my natural curl when I don't blow the curls out. I also wear lots of clips with my hair twisted up, and sometimes pull my bangs back completely, or pin them with little barrettes.

This is me with my hair flat-ironed. It's much longer on the sides now. This is me with my natural curl, and the bangs have been quickly blow-dried. Bangs making my ponytail less severe. I'm wearing a ponytail holder with decoration there - a little extra something. I think that one is from Walgreens or Target, but if you feel like treating yourself, France Luxe has amazing hair accessories.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:30 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I go for the classical, renaissance styles when I wear my hair up, which is really helpful in the summer. I twist it in two sort of garlands and the top of my head and put tiny sparkly or gold clips at the top. The tiny ornaments look like a little crown of sorts and catch the light when I lecture. My younger female students are all over me for tips on how to do the do. I accent it with simple pearl earrings for additional light to the face. Very neutral rose tint makeup. That way, there's a little color but it's not over the top.

You have a lovely face, and with your current style and earrings and your facial shape and pretty eyes will become more prominent as a feature.

I also like a French ponytail with a pearl clasp, and try this sometime when you want a laugh----if you tie your hair in little girl dog ears and put some ribbons in it, for some reason this sends a lot of men right through the ceiling, yes, even if you have gray hair. ;)
posted by effluvia at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2009

Thank you all SO much for all this input. I've got tons of ideas now and already bought my first octopus clip (and a couple of other kinds to experiment with) and am seriously contemplating going back to bangs. For those who suggested specific styles I'd love to see photos...I actually had to google "french twist" - that's how little I (obviously) know about hairdos. I'm not marking any as best, as they're all good, and I'd definitely welcome even more ideas. You gals are the best. Thank you again!!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:16 PM on August 17, 2009

I agree with Squeak Attack. I think that you would look lovely (and more youthful, if that's your goal) with your hair brought up to shoulder length and layered for movement. In my opinion, the straight, flat, center parted long hair ages the vast majority of people who choose to wear it.
posted by crankylex at 6:29 PM on August 17, 2009

TochterAusElysium, I thought I'd throw in a few more specifics since you requested.

When I clip my hair up, I use clips like this one or this one. These might be the kind somanyamys is talking about. The clamping action works well with my fine hair, the flat section is comfortable against my head, and the clips can be used for ponytails, French twists, and putting up sections of my hair when blowdrying.

My French twist technique is very well outlined in this video, which refers to it as the "lazy woman's French twist." That's me! The end result is a little different for me though, because my hair is shorter, and I clip it higher on the back of my head. In the video, her ends make a sort of droopy spray, but mine stick up more in a little fan (I think it looks cute.) If you don't like the way the ends look with this style, you can always pin them down with a barrette or bobby pin.

I was checking out Torrin's YouTube clips that Aleen posted and tried a new style last night that worked out pretty well. It's the first step in this clip where she makes a low ponytail, and then pulls the hair through above the hair elastic. I need to practice some more on making it come out tidy, but I though it was a nice variation on a ponytaail.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2009

Ah, the first link! That's it! Yay, Squeak! :)
posted by somanyamys at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2009

I love you, Metafilter! Here's my "after" photo, with color, cut, new layers, and the works. Thanks again!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:32 PM on August 22, 2009

Your hair looks lovely! The color really brings out your blue eyes.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:42 AM on August 24, 2009

Oh, fantastic! You look great. Thanks for posting the update.
posted by HotToddy at 8:58 AM on August 25, 2009

Oh, that takes 10 years off! well done!
posted by b33j at 9:00 PM on August 30, 2009

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