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February 07, 2008

Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

For what it's worth, I almost always prefer women with shorter (but not crew-cut short) hair. Some guys seem to prefer long hair on women.

I don't know why.

But I'll at least speculate about myself. It might have had to do with what I saw when growing up. But not, please note, when I was really young. When I was a child and even into the lower grades in school, the fashion for women's hair was shoulder-length (I'm talking most of the 1940s here). My mother wore her hair shoulder-length in those years and even later.

Here's the possible connection: When I reached puberty (1952 or 1953, say) the fashion had shifted to shorter hair. By shorter I mean a range between a couple inches above the shoulder to perhaps 4-6 inches long, sometimes combed back along the side of the head in a faux-DA style.

Younger women are no longer my cuppa tea, but I've noticed for quite a few years that many (most?) like to wear their hair really long -- from the lower part of the shoulder blades down even to the small of the back. This does nothing for me. Something to do with poor face-framing? The possible imprinting at age 13 noted above? I dunno.

Given my inability to deal with this vital subject, herewith are some questions for the rest of you to mull over and comment on:

  • Why do some men prefer long-haired women? Could it be generational?

  • Why do younger women seem to prefer long hair? Do they like it for its own sake? Do they think it flattering? Or do they wear it long because they think it attracts men?

  • Older women (and men too) tend to wear shorter hair. Does this have to do with the changing nature of hair as one ages? Or is this also something to do with one's generation?

Other ideas or personal experiences are also welcome, of course.



posted by Donald at February 7, 2008


It could be an amplifier of the signal of one's health.

People at any age *can* grow long hair, and there is no apparent cost associated with long hair (excluding freak accidents like wrapping it around your neck as a scarf and getting it caught in your car tire). So, it is not a handicap like the peacock's tail. (A large colorful tail weighs it down, impedes movement, attracts predators, etc.)

If you're in the full health, your hair looks healthy too. But when you're not, there is more unhealthy hair to show this if you wear it long. It gets more scraggly.

So, long hair takes your underlying signal of health and amplifies it -- the young and healthy look even more vibrant and healthy, while the old and less healthy look even less healthy.

There's also the pure fashion angle you mentioned. This is a good example that fashion (in the abstract, change for change's sake) doesn't always coincide with optimal behavior.

Posted by: agnostic on February 7, 2008 6:29 PM

Hair does tend to dry out with age, and long dry hair is not only not very appealing visually, it's a pain to deal with. And for men, of course, the loss of hair from front or crown eventually (at least it should) forces a severe cropping of the tresses. Weak drooping fronds of dry grey-white hair hanging lankly out of a semi-exposed scalp has got to be one of the ugliest looks ever. Especially if the hair is in a ponytail. Worse than a comb-over!

As for shorter hair on women, I find it quite erotic, actually. Partly because the long look I grew up with in the seventies, so common then, is so common now. The longer the hair, the more gravity draws it down into a uniform curtain framing either side of the face. There's just too much of that around, IMO.

Posted by: PatrickH on February 8, 2008 10:06 AM

Given that long hair requires more attention, it's possible that some young women wear their hair long as a way of showing they have the time and inclination to work a lot on their appearances.

Personally, I don't have a strong preference for either long or shorter hair on women. Both can look nice. My only preference regarding women's hair doesn't involve head hair :)

Posted by: Peter on February 8, 2008 2:27 PM

I'm a high school photographer. Right now, long hair is simply the fashion. Go back a decade plus a bit when I was in high school and the fad was for mid-length. And we were still coming down off the 80s, with the permed and teased and hairsprayed hair. These days, long and straight is in, which is nice even for those who don't keep it long because long and straight implies washed, something that is impossible to determine when there's half a can of hairspray in there. (I hate hairspray, and did ever trick I could to avoid it even when it was in style.)

In other words, it's a fashion/fad thing, not a generational thing. Long hair is in for teens right now. In five years, pixie or gamine cuts may be back in.

And yes, shorter hair does become more practical as one ages. I had (unfashionably long) waist-length hair in high school. I can't grow it that long these days because it gets damaged before it gets to that length. Plus hair that long is a pain in the rear to deal with, especially when it's thick, like mine. Air-dry time alone takes up a huge chunk of the day.

Posted by: B. Durbin on February 8, 2008 7:10 PM

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