Eeek! It's the floating soccer mom head! Help me escape!
February 25, 2008 8:23 AM   Subscribe

How can I absolutely, positively avoid the suburban matron/soccer mom look when I have short hair?

After having below-the-shoulder long hair most of my life, I'm now pretty much a convert to short-hairdom. When I got my long hair cut off, there was a universal "You look terrific! This suits you so much better!" reaction. Plus, it's easier to care for. So, for the foreseeable future, I'm keeping it short.

The look I aim for is the gamine/rocker-chick look - think Joan Jett, Natalie Portman, Jean Seberg, etc. How do I make sure I maintain this look and not tumble over the cliff into a soccer mom abyss? I've seen so many women with short hair - even ones with cute haircuts - and they look so gawdawful matronly. What are some subtle things in regards to hair, makeup, fashion, etc. that make the difference between "gamine" and "frump?"

I'm in my 40's, which means I have to fight hard against looking matronly. I used to get my hair streaked with purple, but due to job reasons can't anymore. I especially want to guard against looking middle-aged and frumpy when I have to dress more conservatively than is my wont due to work reasons. My "natural" style is more artsy and funky. I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard, but at the same time I don't want to fall into a frumpy, desexualized, she's-given-up abyss.
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe check out Agyness Deyn's various hairstyles - she's a UK supermodel with a serious punk rock vibe and looks fantastic in her short hair. The second to last one in this gallery looks everyday-awesome to me.
posted by ukdanae at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Frequent What Not To Wear Watcher* here. Keeping your hair styled is really important - the matron thing comes from going too long between trims and not keeping to a regimen. Make sure you use a conditioner (if your hair needs it) and styling products consistently. You may want to visit a salon monthly to keep things from collapsing. That can get spendy, though.

*Blame the girlfriend and my huge crush on Stacy.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:29 AM on February 25, 2008

A man's opinion: short hair + smoky eye + long earrings = HOT MOM
posted by jbickers at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2008

I think the secret is to be really fit, healthy, and energetic, so your face stays expressive rather than lumpy.
posted by amtho at 8:32 AM on February 25, 2008

Hair gel perhaps? I have short hair and (not with this cut, actually, but last month's cut), hair gel made the difference between "poofball" and "sleek layer of hair lying next to my ears" (maybe I'm explaining that poorly, but you get the picture.) Even nondetectible amounts of gel (ie, not the "wet" look) helped a lot.
posted by salvia at 8:32 AM on February 25, 2008

I had a haircut at the Bumble & Bumble school a week ago, and the "teacher" woman encouraged the student to thin out my hair more than I would have liked, because puffy short hair looks matronly. Which is right, the more that I think about it- old lady short hair is hard, puffy, unmovable. Young hair has movement.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:33 AM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, TPS said the first thing I thought of: stay away from puffy styles.

Also, don't wear jeans from the 80s, and stay in shape.

When choosing styles for work, "classy" always works. Wear fitted, classic/classy styles. Clothing that transcends age wins.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:40 AM on February 25, 2008

I hate to say this -- really hate it -- but I think that if you're able to get or stay thin, this will help. (I've never been able to do it.) A lot of women my age dress semi-"matronly," but if they're thin, they automatically look younger and cooler than those who aren't. You can look good at any weight, but it gets harder as you're heavier.

I also have found that the more outrageous your hair salon, the more skilled the stylists -- even if you're getting a relatively tame style. Follow those who have the purple streaks still. Avoid places that cater to those who wear sweatshirts with holiday-themed appliqu├ęs.

(And you know what -- screw your job. They should love you as you are!)

And on that note, I'm off to have a few baby carrots.

(Love your username, by the way.)
posted by theredpen at 8:42 AM on February 25, 2008

I think the key is to keep the ends straight. When hair is uniformly flipped (either under or out) it starts to look matronly. I have short hair and I have to straighten it to avoid matronly flippage, and I'm only 25.
Come to think of it, when hair is uniformly anything it starts to look old. Just keep things a little messy or uneven, but not sloppy.
I'm not sure this was helpful at all.
Good luck.
posted by greta simone at 8:42 AM on February 25, 2008

Yeah, avoid puffy, and go piece-y instead. A thick styling wax or paste can create a textured, chunky style that's hip but still works in an office. Whenever I see an older woman with short hair all styled out, I always assume she was in a punk band 20 years ago. :-)
posted by junkbox at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2008

Trendy clothes and jewelry with your cute, short haircut will make a big difference. Accessories too!
posted by rglass at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2008

Please don't do that Victoria Beckham bob thing. That looks good on about .1% of the women who try it. Or the Lisa Rinna thing. Nor this'n'.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:54 AM on February 25, 2008

Aveda has a styling moussey/waxy thingy that comes in a little blue jar and it's a hair lifesaver when it comes to making hair piecy instead of puffy.

Aha! here it is!

I've also always been a fan of their Self Control Stick.

Both are great if your hair tends to the curly/wavy, too...

Dittoing the funkycool earrings suggestions above. and local boutiques should help you out there.
posted by at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2008

Avoid having it feathered or softened too much, which is what most hairdressers will try and do. Be bold and ask for a nice sharp cut and wear it that way - maybe not as out-there as Agyness Deyn but somewhat in that direction. Another model who has had a variety of modern short haircuts and who may provide some inspiration is Anja Rubik.
posted by fire&wings at 9:15 AM on February 25, 2008

Yeah, piece-y not puffy. A little bit of spikey on top goes a long way. And artsy funky accessories will help you out a lot.

You didn't mention your current hair color... it might be something to play around with. I've noticed that, generally speaking, short hair that's all one color and at some extreme of the natural spectrum (dark dark brown, platinum blonde, awesome red) looks more youthful and hip than tons of ashy highlights. Dark brown's probably the easiest of these to pull off, but of course this depends on your natural coloring.

(You are seriously making me want to chop off my hair right now by the way!)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:17 AM on February 25, 2008

Dittoing the funkycool earrings suggestions above

Be careful with jewelry, though. Honestly, I think most jewelry looks pretty matronly- it's too big, it's too "artsy", the women are wearing too much. If your clothes are frumpy and ill-fitting, a "cool" pair of earrings is gonna look silly. The whole outfit needs to be coordinated. All the pictures I see of fresh young things nowadays, they're not wearing much jewelry.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in my 40s and have lots and lots of hair. If my stylist doesn't thin it aggressively, I get the matronly helmet-head look. So for me it's lots of thinning, lots of texture/uneven ends, and occasional ironing.

Glasses can make a difference. I supposedly have "cool" glasses. I also have to agree from unfortunate personal experience that weight has a big influence.
posted by PatoPata at 9:20 AM on February 25, 2008

I chopped it all off seven years ago and have never looked back. The right short haircut will make you look sexy and stylish by default, and will make you seem even more feminine than long hair.

With short haircuts, getting a good cut really, really matters. It's worth finding someone you understands what you want and can execute it properly. This may mean more money than you are used to spending. If you're ever in New York MefiMail me and I'll send you to my personal hair genius.

As others have noted, you'll want a good product (ArtTech Texture Line Material is mine). And as others have noted, have your stylish use skillful "texturizing" (as my stylist calls it) to make sure your cut will be cute instead of severe.

Ok. I could go on.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:22 AM on February 25, 2008

Facial tattoos.

That was my first thought, too.

Even if purple streaks aren't an option, there is a lot you can do with hair dye and still be ok in a conservative workplace. Bright red, platinum blonde, and other vivid colors go really well with short hair and generally look pretty much not soccer mom, especially if combined with some gel or other product. And if your hair is short, you can change out the color frequently, keeping things more interesting.

Nothing feathered or puffy, definitely. Sharper edges and more carefully styled are good. "Mom" hair is all about no fuss, no work, no damage from herding small children (just like "mom jeans"). So if your hair takes work every morning, you are probably not wearing "mom" hair.

But a lot has to do with how your hair and clothes work together -- no matter how funky your hair is, a stand-out pair of mom jeans will set the tone irretrievably.
posted by Forktine at 9:25 AM on February 25, 2008

ThePinkSuperhero is right -- although a cool pair of earrings will definitely help you out on the short hair front if you can't do the kinds of colored stripes and stuff you used to do, you need to keep the rest of the outfit pretty simple. I'm practically Steve Jobs-like in my adherence to a standard uniform (cardigan, fitted t-shirt, Levi's jeans... or an indian print skirt if it's hot as heck in the summer). The things all those pieces have in common are solid colors (except for the skirt) and no terribly weird styling. I can peg the "soccer mom" types who come into my shop immediately because they all seem to dress alike. Don't fall into the trap of dressing like everyone else around you and you'll be fine.
posted by at 9:27 AM on February 25, 2008

Find a good stylist at a "hip" salon and make her promise to never let you leave with anything resembling mom hair. Get frequent haircuts and let your stylist get creative. Once she's invested in your hairstyle, there's no way she'll let you out of there looking frumpy.
posted by jrichards at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2008

TPS and bitter-girl are so right on the 'funky' jewelry thing. To me, that is the epitome of suburban mom trying to look hip, especially if you take the craftsy approach. And change your make-up when you change your hairstyle.

With the hair, you might have to experiment -- I find there's a 'right' length for particular face shapes that might require a variation to the cut you choose -- say a half inch longer or shorter. And indeed, keep it simple cutwise (keep repeating "Jean Seberg") but don't be afraid to find a signature element like a strong color -- white blond or a good red or a chocolate brown -- or a spiky treatment or swept straight back.

Tilda Swinton's hair looked phenomenal at the Oscar's -- it seemed chin lenght but combed and waved straight back. And I like Diane Lane's in those Loreal commercials --very chic. No to the Posh/Katie Holmes look, no to bobs in general!

Have fun and post a picture!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:42 AM on February 25, 2008

I'm 37 - I just had my second baby and I have a busy career that doesn't allow me to go as edgy as I'd like. Last week I bobbed my hair- chin length, slightly angled from back (shorter) to front, with long, heavy bangs. I had it done by an uber professional- b/c there are subtleties to this bob that make it non-frumpy (of course, I can't explain what they are- but Roberto could tell me/ you...)

Anyway, it is super easy to do in the morning- I can quickly blow dry with no fuss or I can scrunch and make it wavy... I always dry the bangs straight. The length and heaviness of the bangs add a sort of nico/ chrissie hynde effect (which is in now anyway) without the hairstyle being distracting at work (office/ finance). A smoky eye under these bangs really works.
posted by InstantSanitizer at 9:50 AM on February 25, 2008

PS I don't care for the fashion-victim Posh bob. But, I think Katie Holmes' hair looks pretty good.
posted by InstantSanitizer at 9:53 AM on February 25, 2008

Be careful with jewelry, though. Honestly, I think most jewelry looks pretty matronly- it's too big, it's too "artsy", the women are wearing too much.
You're talking about this, aren't you? She's trying so hard not to look like a mom that she ends up looking exactly like my mom.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:17 AM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

A month ago, my boyfriend and I saw "The Darjeeling Limited." Natalie Portman's hair, however minor a part it played in the overall film, stuck with me so much that by the end of the film, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "let's go home and cut off all of my hair." And we did.

For 20 years I had below-the-shoulder natural ringlets. They were a signature. Over the last five years of increasing levels of athletic activity, all those high-maintenance curls became a tangled mess most of the time that took hours and hours to dry and never looked good. At all. I wanted to look edgier than I did with those girlish ropes of curls. I cut my hair to about 2" and started using "product" for the first time in my life. The look I've so far settled on is the one Keri Russell had going on when she did the same drastic chop. I struggle with The Poof, which makes me look like someone's mom, but all the pomade helps. Oddly, I hated Keri Russell's hair when she cut it. Now I think it was an improvement over her big triangle of hair.

I wear glasses, too. For years I've worn little round ones, but have recently switched to small rectangular frames, which looks much more sylish and striking. It's been a weird, wild trip having short hair and there are days when I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I feel better-looking this way, though.
posted by hollisimo at 10:26 AM on February 25, 2008

Yea, stuff like that. It's not that it's always ugly or bad, but it just reads as old to me. Old women wear more jewelry than young women (they can usually afford the better stuff!). A better way of staying young and chic looking, as mentioned above, is to stay reasonably thin and wear really great, well-fitting, classic clothes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:26 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice!

More on me: My hair is, alas, wavy/curly, so I have to work harder to get it to look spiky and piecey. I've used Jonathan Silky Dirt - which works great to define but smells like ass. I also like John Frieda's Ocean Waves (which smells much better).

I have a genius hairdresser (Genevra at Peter Thomas in Berkeley, for all you SF Bay Area types who seek an absolute Yo-Yo Ma of the scissors and dye bottle). My former short haircut looked great. all fell out, every last hair, because of chemo, and what I have now is the two-inch-long grow-back from that. It curls and poofs like a mofo and I'm doing everything I can to straighten it out.

My hair is also now gray. Ugh. Before the great follicular exodus, I went from red to dark espresso brown streaked with purple and it looked GREAT. I'm thinking of going back to dark brown; I'm a very fair-skinned brunette with dark brown eyes, and while I wish I could pull of Gwen Stefani style platinum blonde, I simply can't. I mean it looks really really bad and requires tons of blush to overcome. I'm an exception to the "go lighter as you get older" rule - blonde seriously makes me look like an aging hooker.

I love jewelry, and have a vast earring collection. One nice thing about short hair is that everyone can see my earrings! Almost all my jewelry is handmade and/or artsy or at least funky-looking and silver. Very little gold, and no diamonds or anything like that - garnets are my favorite. The rest of my clothing is fairly simple, partly because I'm short and hard to fit, partly because I want to stretch my budget by getting things that combine well. Much of it comes from thrift and consignment shops.

And my weight - yes, I've put on a lot of weight in the past year or so. I used to be really thin, and while I don't think it's realistic for me to get back down to a size 2, I know I could shed 25 pounds or so and look much better. I'm definitely working on that.

I'm going to keep all this wonderful advice in mind, and give my hairdresser a call, and go to my appointment armed with a few Agyness Deyn and old Jean Seberg photos. If nothing else, I can lose the gray, which will help immensely even if I can't get purple streaks. It's hard not to look matronly with gray hair.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2008

I agree with the classic, simple look. I AM a soccer Mom, and rebel against it with chic, simple khakis, slingbacks and understated accessories instead of the Mom jeans and sneakers look.

I wish you had posted a pic on your profile of you with your new do, though, because I would really like to see it! Too often, all we have to go on are celebrities (like the afore-mentioned Posh, who somehow manages to look sleek and scary razor-sharp at the same time), and I'd like to see the new short look on a 'real' person!
posted by misha at 10:55 AM on February 25, 2008

I feel your pain -- I've spent most of my life avoiding matronly short hair! My hair just does not work if it's past my earlobes, but the wrong haircut can instantly make me look like exactly like my mom (who definitely looks like someone's mom). And I'm very young-looking (26 but regularly mistaken for under 21).

I finally found a solution. First I got my very talented stylist to cut my hair like Katie Holmes in these photos. Then -- and this is the vital part -- I spent a mere $30 on a really nice Helen of Troy ceramic flat iron, one that goes up to 450 degrees. My hair is a poofy triangle of lameness without my flat iron.

Besides poofiness, I also recommend avoiding an all-ends-perfectly-curled-under-or-flipped-out look. Two things that totally scream "mom" to me are a) ends curled so perfectly under that you can practically see the outline of a round brush (which is like my mom) or b) ends that flip out perfectly, either in the opposite, round brush, '50s-mom way or in the hip, year 2000, held-in-place-by-a-heroic-amount-of-pomade way. I think softer ends -- either just straight, or a little bit "messy" -- are a less matronly and more flattering look.
posted by korres at 10:55 AM on February 25, 2008

God, I wish I could jump on this train becuase I am in the same boat but worse- my hair is curly. There are just. no. options. All trendy, edgy styles are straight. I just can't manage them.

All the ideas gave me food for thought though, so maybe something will jump out at me.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:01 AM on February 25, 2008

My hairdresser has been getting her ideas from the Japanese pop magazines. If you have straight hair, they're very cool. And no, they aren't all best suited for 13 year old girls, which is what I thought when she first suggested I look through the magazines.

I think we have different soccer moms here, or something. When I think of soccer moms I think of thin, in shape, women in Subarus with aggressively blonded/ high-lighted and hairsprayed hair. Like a younger Hillary Clinton. Or Maria Shriver.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:23 AM on February 25, 2008

Oh. And they tend to go for the "natural" look which involves too much foundation.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:25 AM on February 25, 2008

I have short hair that doesn't look matronly, at all. Here's my secret: Don't wash it very often. It might sound nasty to you, but it works wonders.
posted by lunit at 11:59 AM on February 25, 2008

Oh my god, a short cut in silver with appropriate attention to earrings, makeup, etc., just screams NOT matronly to me, especially if you can rock that color with confidence. Can you maybe get some subtle black streaks and beef up the silver a bit? That would rock, imo, and is totally how I picture Joan Jett in her dotage anyway.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2008

Rosie, if your hair changed texture after the chemo fallout, and is now curly, can you embrace the curl? Instead of trying to make your hair be as straight as it used to be? I'm thinking something like this.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:10 PM on February 25, 2008

Oh! Rosie! A fellow curl-head! Yes, you really should check out that Aveda stuff I mentioned above, the waxy stuff in particular is a lifesaver. I also think the grey hair is superfine, particularly if your stylist tones it so it's not yellowy or brassy.

Then again, maybe you shouldn't be listening to me, 'cause I thought the photo Mr MoonPie linked was kind of cute. Necklace a bit big maybe, but cute.
posted by at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2008

ooo- but if you do it wrong, you'll look like that Costco Magazine woman, Pat Volchok, who is super Mom-ish in a bad bad way.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:18 PM on February 25, 2008

I'm thinking something like this.
Indeed. Hubba hubba. Seriously. I think Pat Volchok's hair is super-cute, too, but I'm a sucker for curly hair.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:40 PM on February 25, 2008

As a 40-just-plus gal who watched her grandmother's hair turn the consistency of straw after decades of dying it black, I believe that coloring one's hair should be done judiciously in later years. To me, nothing is sadder than an older woman with badly dyed or outgrown colored hair. I stick with a minimalist style for my hair, which is fine and prone to slight curling when it's shorter, so I keep it ear length. As for color, it's is a dirty blondish, and since my mom went gray in her fifties, I know that's probably in my genes, too. Aging happens, and I hope to do it gracefully. Ditto on keeping trim; fitness goes a long way toward a youthful appearance. That and lots of sleep and smiling!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:46 PM on February 25, 2008

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