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Too Old for That Joni Mitchell Look? Print-ready version

by Vivia Chen
The Careerist
July 25, 2012

I feel guilty about picking on Hillary Rodham Clinton's appearance, because I think she gets picked on way too much for the way she looks. She's a substantive person with a substantive job. And we should leave her alone.

So forgive me for pointing out that her hair has been growing like an unruly potted plant in recent months. For a while, she looked nicely put-together. But since she's been letting her hair grow, Clinton often looks haggard and rumpled.

I just hope she's not planning to let it grow long. I know this doesn't sound very liberated, but I find women over 40 with very long hair unsettling - particularly if it is straight and hangs more than a few inches below the shoulder. (And don't get me started on straight, blond long hair on women over a certain age!) They look rather sad and dated to me - as if they're desperately trying to rechannel Joni Mitchell in her heyday.

Putting aside my style prejudices, I wonder if women with long tresses might be playing havoc with their careers.

An entertainment lawyer in California insists that women over 40 who sport long hair are making a mistake - professionally and personally. Most women end up with "long, stringy dark brown hair shot with a few frizzy strands of gray," she says. But "even if the hair is long, glossy, and well-maintained, the juxtaposition of aging or - to be politically correct - 'mature' facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn't work." The look is jolting and not compatible with professional comportment, she adds.

But another woman, who's a law firm consultant, says she "sees nothing wrong with wearing long hair to the office, if the cut is right. It's a matter of how you carry it," she says. "The same could be said for clothes. I am all about style. I am not saying do a Jennifer Lopez or Lady Gaga thing. But I would pay for a very hip cut and make sure it is always styled or I wouldn't keep it long."

Corporate fashion stylist Gretchen Neels warns that all women professionals - even younger ones - risk coming off as flakes if their long hair proves distracting. "If you are one of the many flippers, twisters, combers, and caressers, stop it!" says Neels. "The constant fussing is a huge distraction to others who don't hear what you're saying because they are too caught up in your grooming/self-soothing routines."

It seems that the safer course is for women to keep their hair simple and short. If long hair makes you look less than neat and tidy, is it worth the bother?

But maybe I'm overly uptight about the whole issue. Readers, what do you think? Can you look cool and professional with long hair at the office?

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