I myself used to have a short hairstyle that, I liked to believe, resembled Princess Diana’s. I loved feeling the breeze hit my bare neck. I loved how it looked with a black turtleneck and a pair of diamond studs. I even grew judgmental of my long-haired peers, smirking at their need to have that unnecessary accessory in order to feel feminine. This all came to a crashing halt, however, one day when I looked at a photo of myself and realized I looked less like Di and more like my middle-school gym teacher. That was about seven years ago, and since then I’ve let it grow to its current long length.
According to Valery Joseph, the man who regularly looks after my strands at his Upper East Side salon, I am just one of a number of his clients who have chosen to go long. “For a few years everyone wanted a bob, but now they’re all going long again,” he says. “I think it’s fine, so long as it’s healthy and full.” But he doesn’t hide his opinion when he thinks the length has gotten out of control. On my last visit, he took one look at my ratty locks and greeted me with a pointed “Hello, Samson!” before quickly snipping off a good two inches.
McMillan has his own cutting-off point. “Under the boobs is not appropriate, but kind of right above the boobs is,” says the stylist, laughing at his phrasing. “I know, it’s kind of weird, but that area between above the boobs and below them takes a woman from groomed and tailored to grown-out hippie grandma. Those two inches are crucial.”
According to the experts, long hair also needs to have dimension. Paul Podlucky, Aerin Lauder’s hairstylist, who works out of his cozy studio apartment off Madison Avenue, says it’s all about the layers. “A good haircut has structural integrity,” he explains. “Length constitutes weight, so wherever you have shortness, you’ll have lift. That’s why I’ve always pushed layers.”
Alan Tosler of Tosler Davis, another salon in New York, agrees. “You can soften hair a lot just by angling it around the face,” he says.
Keeping the strands healthy is also key. Long hair, even a teenager’s, is usually weaker, due to daily wear and tear. As people age, even newly sprouted hair tends to be coarser and frizzier. In other words, it’s not the time to skimp on conditioners and styling products—and a good blowout helps appearances too. Says Brian Thompson of the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York, “Think about it in terms of engine oil in a car. The hair needs to slip over itself more effectively.”