Age has taught me never to underestimate the importance of a decent haircut. Having ricocheted from one tonsorial disaster to another in my youth – including a DIY mohawk – I’ve found my signature style (a shoulder-length bob) and I’m sticking to it.
As I can testify, hair loses pigment, changes texture and becomes thinner as we get older; it basically needs more looking after which is why, presumably, older women tend to lop it all off. But while grey hair is coarser and dryer, the coarser bit can be quite handy when it comes to styling – it’s just key to make sure your hair is in tip-top condition. “The older you get, the weaker your hair can be,” says hairdresser and Pureology and Redken ambassador George Northwoo, whose A-list clients include Alexa Chung and Gwyneth Paltrow. “Ends get damaged, so it’s best to invest in a trim every eight weeks.”
Some hairdressers recommend a change of hairstyle for a quick age-defying boost and this can be a wonderful way to revitalise your image, but having a timeless cut that can be worn in a number of ways – I can tie my bob into a top knot – is my preferred option. Here are three of the best ageless hairstyles:
As outlined above, there’s a belief that as you get older, hair should become shorter – that long hair equates to being either a try-hard cougar or a slovenly old hag. I’m a firm believer in doing (and wearing) what you like, rather than following generic rules and anyway, there are loads of elegant women with fabulous long hair to disprove this notion. In the grey-corner: Professor Wendy Dagworthy, stylist and beauty entrepreneur Linda Rodin, artist Helen Storey and model Daphne Selfe. In the non-grey corner: actors Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, designer Vera Wang and creative director at US Vogue Grace Coddington.
Long hair has to be in good condition, as the celebrated colourist Josh Wood advises: “Hair treatments, masks, conditioners – whatever you want to call them – are a must in my book. Coloured hair needs to be treated like cashmere and washed with a gentle touch. Grey hair needs to look supple and shiny.” When I spoke to Wood on the phone and baulked at his suggestion of adding a weekly treatment to my low maintenance beauty regime, he rightly suggested that I could’ve been treating my hair while we were talking. Point taken. As Woods continues: “Go easy on the appliances, keep away from too strong a heat when using a hairdryer, and keep the use of tongs and irons to a minimum. The better you treat your hair, the better the condition – and the better you feel.”
Get the look with: Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Extreme, Josh Wood Glossing Mask, Kérastase’s Age Recharge range. And George Northwood recommends “switching up your regime” with Pureology Strength Cure Shampoo and Conditioner, and Pureology Strength Cure Fabulous Lengths, for long hair prone to breakage.
The tousled bob
Anna Wintour’s power bob may have ruled the fashion world for decades but the shorter, choppier version of this classic style feels fresher right now. Helen Mirren has a novel twist on the bob, which can also be messed up if the above feels a little staid: “This is the perfect way to update the traditional bob,” advises Northwood. “But it needs a lot of volume and texture. I would start by using a root-lifting spray on towel-dried hair and then rough drying the hair forwards. If you have a pair of tongs, just apply to a few random sections, then rub a finishing paste in your hands and apply through the lengths and ends to give a messy, matte finish. This is all about creating a textured DIY look.”
Get the look with: John Frieda Blow Dry Lotion and Redken Rough Paste
The grown-up crop
Chic as you like, the grown-up crop is another timeless option. Think Mia Farrow’s Vidal Sassoon cut in the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, Isabella Rossellini’s signature style and Julie Walters at the Baftas. “And Dame Judi is great example of an older woman who isn’t afraid of changing her style,” comments Andy Heasman, artistic director at Rush Hair. “Her pixie crop has been cut into a shorter style that gives her a cool edge. To create texture and movement, use a texturising paste and then work a bit of serum through the ends to give that red carpet shine.” Before going for the chop, Heasman recommends having a consultation with your hairdresser first. “It’s important to discuss what would suit your face shape and lifestyle before you take the plunge.” And it’s important to consider that although shorter, cropped styles have an effortless, wash-and-go appearance, they do require more upkeep. “Cropped styles grow out quite quickly and this means more visits to the hairdresser. To keep the style sharp, you’re probably looking at once a month.”
For added versatility, the longer, more Parisian version of the crop worn by Kristin Scott Thomas and French photographer Garance Doré looks equally glamorous. Heasman recommends a root lifting product to damp hair and using a round brush to create volume and lift on top, while making sure the sides remain flat. “It’s all about volume,” adds Heasman. “And this look shows that red-carpet hair doesn’t need to be long and flowing.”
Get the look with: KMS Hair Play, Moroccan Oil
Alyson Walsh blogs as That’s Not My Age @thatsntmyage and is the author of Style Forever: the grown-up guide to looking fabulous published by Hardie Grant 13 March 2015