They say that a visit to your hairdresser is akin to attending the confessional. If so, it might be time for some of us to find new secret-keepers. For, inch by inch, the ubiquitous choppy bobs and layered “lobs” made so popular these past few years by the likes of Alexa Chung are being superseded by well-groomed, longer styles. Slowly and subtly, the actresses, catwalk models and high-profile professionals of the world are going longer and stronger. Length has become a style signifier, regardless of one’s age.
“Women have for so long been led to believe that they can’t or mustn’t have long hair beyond a certain birthday. But that’s changing,” says creative director Luke Hersheson, who thinks everyone from twentysomethings like Sophie Turner through to the Duchess of Cambridge, Amal Clooney and 56-year-old Julianne Moore is setting the pace for new length. “To work, these styles must be maintained by a woman who has the time, money and inclination to take care of herself and her hair, so there’s a quality to it that feels well-bred, understated, sophisticated.” The luxury haircare sector is seeing a corresponding explosion of investment – the kind of research and active ingredient-led technology previously reserved for the skincare industry. Hersheson is not surprised: “Obviously, maximising the health of your hair is essential when growing it longer.”
Of course, the fact that health and length have become the new desirables hasn’t occurred within a social or cultural vacuum. The “clean eating” phenomenon and ongoing proliferation of fitness trends, from Flywheel to AntiGravity Yoga, have spurred increased awareness of the nutritional components a body needs to look and feel its best. “Long hair sends a primal message: in virtually all cultures it signifies fertility, youth and good health,” explains Kurt Stenn, who spent 20 years as professor of pathology and dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and has since authored the book Hair: A Human History. “Because hair is made almost entirely of protein, it can only be grown by someone who’s healthy. The cells responsible for making hair must function at an optimal level in order to braid protein into the complex molecules that lend it its inherent strength and lustre. It’s why long, lush hair bespeaks strength, power, attractiveness and femininity.”
Those qualities resonate with catwalk stylist Anthony Turner, who gave the models’ long hair a glassy-smooth finish before tying it into a low side ponytail at JW Anderson’s autumn/winter 2017 ready-to-wear show. Likewise, the Victoria Beckham and Narciso Rodriguez runways showcased girls with a shiny veil of long hair cascading down between their shoulder blades. “I think designers are enjoying how long hair interacts with their clothes when it gets wrapped up in scarves or tucked into jackets and jumpers,” says Turner. In this sense, truly healthy hair adopts the quality of a luxury fabric – silk, satin or the softest cashmere, perhaps.
Alas, for many of us who spent our youth taking such lustrous, silken lengths for granted, hair can begin to lose its strength, density and natural pigment as early as our mid-30s; social diktats notwithstanding, this makes the business of gaining and maintaining healthy lengths increasingly difficult. Yet according to Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oréal UK and Ireland, new cleansing, conditioning and styling products that incorporate ingredients more often associated with healthy eating are now making it easier to sustain the integral strength, and thus length, of our hair. “Recent technological breakthroughs have allowed us to develop active ingredients capable of providing the increased protection that thinner, more fragile and older hair needs, without weighing it down and reducing the appearance of volume,” he says. L’Oréal Professionnel’s new Série Expert Inforcer range (from £12) claims to stimulate protein metabolism to encourage hair growth, while repairing and strengthening breakable lengths through a precise combination of vitamins B6 and B8 that has earned it the moniker “vitamin drink for the hair”.
Split ends – the enemy of a long, gleaming, healthy mane – continue to be the target of new technologies. Manhattan colourist Rita Hazan, who works with Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé, has created the Triple Threat Split End Remedy (£24 for 50ml), a serum-cum-lotion that may be applied to damp or dry hair. It contains a string of amino acids called oligopeptides, which, she says, behave like glue to “seal” split ends together. What a so-called sealant like Hazan’s makes clear is that, in the same way our once-simple “cleanse, tone, moisturise” skincare mantra has evolved into multistep regimens featuring essences, serums, balms, masks and much more, multiple haircare products are now jostling for space beside our showers. There are new overnight masks that act like home facials for the hair while you sleep: pop on the Healthy Hair Night Cap Overnight Perfector from Living Proof (£30 for 118ml) – a brand in which the flawlessly maned Jennifer Aniston once saw fit to invest – at bedtime and its inbuilt “radiance refractors” promise to restore lustrous shine by the time you wash it out in the morning.
What’s also becoming evident is that while the ageing effects of pollution continue to galvanise skincare formulators in their quest to offset them, the haircare industry has joined the fight. This, says Shiel, means the development of products that specifically address the health of the scalp, just as others seek to protect the skin on our face. The Stemm by Deciem range is already ahead of the game. Its Density Stimuli leave-in scalp treatment (£35 for 60ml) contains a fireweed and wild mint polyphenol complex that rebalances the skin, reducing both flakes and excessive oiliness. By encouraging more hair to enter the anagen (or growth) phase and fewer hairs to enter the telogen (shedding) phase, it can also help achieve better overall hair density.
For anyone unsure of their hair’s specific baseline needs, there is Kérastase’s new in-salon scalp camera service (complimentary in Kérastase salons across the UK). Employing a gadget just larger than a smartphone, it magnifies the scalp and hair fibres up to 600 times to assess skin and follicle health, as well as looming problems. According to Richard Ward, whose Chelsea salon is the flagship location for the service, up to 60 per cent of his clients have scalp issues they are shocked to discover. Once the camera assessment is complete, clients receive a complete prescription from the Kérastase product range – one that’s advanced and tailored enough that clients usually don’t bat an eyelid at the £250 bill.
Nor indeed do those who book into one of renowned colourist Josh Wood’s ateliers in Holland Park or Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire. Here, you might find long-locked clients like model/writer/jewellery designer Laura Bailey in situ for their weekly custom-blended maintenance treatment (from £30). Each procedure is tailored to the needs of the individual and is based around natural pracachy oil from the Brazilian rainforests (which improves the condition of long hair’s ends for smoothness), and Hawaiian kukui nut oil (which helps dry and lacklustre hair absorb and retain moisture to develop shine). The oils work within 10 minutes when applied to wet hair and massaged in, delivering noticeable results immediately upon blowdrying.
The need for upkeep in the form of a trim will inevitably arrive, but it’s possible to keep one’s length while minimising split ends now that Errol Douglas has launched a “hair dusting” service (from £65) at his Knightsbridge salon. Here, your stylist will run scissors from the crown of the head down to hair ends to skim off stray split ends without compromising the overall appearance of length.
For Shiel, there’s a kind of trompe l’oeil element to mature women having longer hair, in that it tricks the eye into seeing someone who looks younger overall. But bear in mind that this is certainly not about looking like mutton; if long seems unobtainable (or is merely undesirable), simply going longer – to shoulder length or just below, say, chin length – can do the trick. To this end, Hersheson, who first pioneered the blowdry bar movement in London, has created a new menu (from £15 for 15 minutes) featuring various takes on the glossy blowout for longer hair, which would suit women of all ages. And with Dyson rumoured to be developing the follow-up to its £300 Supersonic hairdryer – with an accompanying vacuum cleaner technology-powered “high velocity” hairbrush to accelerate drying time – growing a couple of extra inches need not necessarily equate with a more tedious or labour-intensive home-styling routine.
In sum, going long in middle age is easier than ever before, and it also makes perfect sense. As Stenn points out, long hair imbues a woman with “marvellous, chameleon-like control” to adapt her look within seconds as the occasion requires – worn down or whipped up. “We’re so used to young girls with long hair, while older women succumb to a layered crop, that it’s really refreshing to see this reversed,” agrees Hersheson. “Simple, shiny, well-groomed longer styles communicate a sense of knowingness and understated strength – both physically and psychologically. And they’re utterly chic.” So leave the undercuts and asymmetric fringes to teenagers. When it comes to our own crowning glory, there’s definitely room for growth.