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How to Wear Long Hair With Style and Flair After 50

Say bye-bye bob and give these flattering looks a try


spinner image from left to right actresses brooke shields nicole kidman and angela bassett
(Left to right) Brooke Shields, Nicole Kidman and Angela Bassett
Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty Images; P. Lehman/Future Publishing via Getty Images; Arturo Holmes/WireImage

Take a look around. More women than ever are growing, flaunting or faking long hair for its sexy vibe and edgy attitude. You might say long hair is the black leather jacket of beauty for grown-ups. Even my sleek, beauty-editor bob is now freed from flat irons and flowing over my shoulders in Sarah Jessica Parker-like waves. However, having long hair at 50, 60 or 70-plus is not the same as long hair at 25. I asked New York City celebrity hair stylist Gad Cohen, whose clients includes long-hair devotees Jane Seymour, Jaclyn Smith and Susan Sarandon, for inside tips to getting and keeping a mane attraction.

spinner image close up of the hairstyles of brooke shields angela bassett and jennifer lopez
(Left to right) Brooke Shields, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Lopez
Lionel Hahn/Getty Images; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images; Toni Anne Barson/WireImage

1. Update to a healthy length

Not every woman can have the extreme Rapunzel-like locks of Demi Moore, Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell … not without some artificial help. “I love that mature women are breaking all the old age-appropriate hair rules, but the truth is much of the extremely long hair we see on celebs today is due at least partially to extensions, pieces and even wigs,” says Cohen. “Adding some extra hair at least for public appearances has become as normal as wearing Spanx.” He cautions women over 50 not in the spotlight to be wary of making leave-in extensions a habit. “The constant traction and weight can lead to hair loss and sparse spots, especially on hair that’s already thinner, drier, more fragile or damaged,” he says.

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What does Cohen suggest? “Keep your hair at a realistic-for-you ‘long’ length — which may be shoulder length — or if hair is thick and healthy an inch or two below that. That is long enough to feel long and practical enough to pull back … and it works for fine, thin hair too.” Remember: Your hair’s main job is to frame your face, not your body.

spinner image close up of the hairstyles of julia roberts kelly reilly and jane seymour
(Left to right) Julia Roberts, Kelly Reilly and Jane Seymour
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

2. Cut bangs for a trendy tweak

“Any kind of fringe — full, feathery, side-swept or parted in the middle — can give long hair more of a look,” says Cohen, who first added bangs to Seymour’s signature long locks back in 2012. He adds, “Bangs instantly get you out of the old curling, teasing, overdone routine and into a more modern style. They make your eyes pop and provide coverage at the forehead, making Botox unnecessary.” I’m going to add here that bangs also divert attention away from deep expression lines around the mouth and chin area. Choose a long fringe for a chic statement, an asymmetrical side-swept fringe for a versatile option that blends well with long layers around the face or extra long curtain bangs parted in the middle for a trendy, very low-maintenance option.

spinner image close up of the hair highlights for julianne moore sarah jessica parker and andie macdowell
(Left to right) Julianne Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker and Andie MacDowell
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images; James Devaney/GC Images; Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

3. Add highlights for an update

Whether your hair is Julianne Moore red, Sarah Jessica Parker brunette-blonde-gray or Andie MacDowell silver-gray, Cohen says, “Long hair that’s multi-tonal (what stylists call “dimensional”) rather than one solid color looks thicker, glossier and more vibrant. In fact, even celebrity hairpieces, extensions and wigs are now a blend of colors to enhance authenticity.” Choose foil highlights or hand-painted balayage streaks to amplify any hair color physically by coating and expanding the texture of the hair shaft for a thicker feel and to create optical contrast and the illusion of more hair. New to highlights or have gray hair? Try baby lights just around the face. ​Ask for low-contrast highlights not too far from your base color or request ombre color, which is darker at the roots and lighter mid-shaft to tips.

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spinner image a close up of the hairstyles of jennifer aniston nicole kidman and catherine o hara
(Left to right) Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman and Catherine O'Hara
Steve Granitz/FilmMagic; John Phillips/Getty Images; Jeremy Chan/Getty Images

4. Get a lift with layers

Trendy, choppy layered cuts like the butterfly, jellyfish or waterfall that are raging on social media are not a great option for aging hair, so don’t get lured by the photos. “You don’t want lots of layers unless you have an abundance of hair or naturally curly hair,” says Cohen. “Very imperceptible ones known as ghost layers or invisible layers can add soft movement and fullness to the hair without compromising length or even shape. They give a modern, lived-in look rather than an over-styled one. Another option is cutting long layers starting at mouth/chin length around the face to give extra-long hair a more contemporary attitude when it’s worn down but also when pulled back in a knot at the nape or a low ponytail.”

spinner image close up of hairstyle for helen mirren courteney cox jennifer coolidge and meg ryan
(Clockwise from top left) Helen Mirren, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Coolidge and Meg Ryan
Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal via Getty Images; Leon Bennett/Getty Images; Don Arnold/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

5. Change your style habits, change your look

Just like fashion, hairstyles also go in and out. You can’t just grow it long the way you did in high school, college or the hippie ’60s, and you can’t curl, feather, tease or flip it like retro hair either. Long hair now has a looser, more casual boho vibe. “The key word is ‘undone,’ with an intentionally wavy or tousled effect,” says Cohen. “No need to cut your hair or force it to look a certain way. If it’s straight, keep it that way and aim for some airy carefree volume; if it’s curly, use the wave and don’t try to go straight. Try switching the part to create a little lift at the roots and height at the crown. Center parts are trending for long hair, and that’s noticeable in celeb photos. However, an off-center part — even slightly off-center — is more flattering to most women and gives the same look.”

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Want to wear your hair off the face? Cohen suggests “pulling hair back at the nape gives it a sophisticated ponytail rather than cheerleader-style higher on the head. So does a messy topknot. In both cases, leave out a couple of pieces  around the face for flattery too. Tightly controlled pulled-back hair only works for wet hair on the beach or for celebs in full stage makeup and jewelry mode for gala evenings.” I’ll add another option: Take Helen Mirren’s cue and use statement headbands and earrings to give long casual hair a fashionable twist.

spinner image L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Moisture Shampoo; Rene Furterer Karite Hydra Hydrating Shine Shampoo for Dry Hair; Kerastase Nutritive Heat Protecting Leave-In Spray for Dry Hair; Olaplex Volumizing Blow Dry Mist
(Left to right) L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Moisture Shampoo; Rene Furterer Karite Hydra Hydrating Shine Shampoo for Dry Hair; Kerastase Nutritive Heat Protecting Leave-In Spray for Dry Hair; Olaplex Volumizing Blow Dry Mist
Target; Amazon; Sephora; Olaplex

6. Keep it trimmed and treated

Stay on schedule with salon trims and at-home updates. “At 50, I always say, ‘go for shape, but don’t go short!’ A mini trim — known as dusting the ends — keeps bangs, any layers and the bottom line fresh without sacrificing length,” explains Cohen. Good to know for all, since hair growth slows down with age from its once peppy half inch a month/six inches a year rate! Compensating for other age-related concerns such as dryness, thinning and cumulative damage from chemical processing and hot tools is also crucial. “Choose products that require minimal effort but offer maximum impact like a hydrating shampoo, a leave-in conditioner (in addition to your rinse-out one) to detangle and prevent breakage, a heat protectant and a light blow-dry mist for volume. I like L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Moisture Shampoo ($9, target.com), Rene Furterer Karite Hydra Hydrating Shine Shampoo for Dry Hair ($14, amazon.com), Kerastase Nutritive Heat Protecting Leave-In Spray for Dry Hair ($45, sephora.com) and Olaplex Volumizing Blow Dry Mist ($30, olaplaex.com). All four enhance shine and hydration, keep highlights and hair color looking bright (even gray) and add fullness without any residue,” says Cohen.

Sounds like a smart plan for all … including me!

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