Tamasin Day-Lewis belongs to an elite sisterhood of women who've
never had their hair cut short. But is it now time for her to bow to
the pressures of age and fashion? Plus stylist Luke Hersheson
describes how to tie a chignon
Iam the only one left. Among my friends, that is, though I don't
really know why, nor whether I should just take affirmative action
and change my life forever, which is what, after all these years of
not doing it, it would amount to. I have thought about it many times,
the implications, whether I would dare do it all at once, how I would
feel if I did. And each time something has stopped me.
Does the fact that I haven't done it mean I am stuck in the past?
What does it say about me, that all my friends did it years ago? And
by 'it' I mean one thing: chopped off their long hair. Over the years
they have changed their look many, many times. But what I have done
is, somehow, far more radical.
In the days when I was a model, before going up to university, I was
one of the few girls with very long hair. That has all changed. Then,
I was the one who was picked to do the hair advertisements since most
of my fellow models sported what my youngest daughter, Charissa,
calls 'boy-size hair'.
Short was 'the look'. But I never wanted 'the look'. It wasn't just
about being different, since throughout my childhood - from
Alice-band-and-fringe days to growing it out for a centre-parting
hippy look - I was doing what most of the girls at Bedales did. It
was the school look. I would have my hair trimmed by one of the older
girls who had given herself a diagonal, jagged fringe and seemed
There is history in all of this: my grandmother had waist-length hair
that she occasionally let down from its elegant strawberry-blonde
chignon so that I could see it fall, with a spray of hairpins, in
front of her dressing-table mirror. It would then be reassembled, and
sprayed to sculptured and unmoving perfection. Not something that my
generation was ever taught the art of - current coiffure lore pays no
lip-service to the formal, but delights in the messy, sexy, shaggy look.
My mother had long hair, which she twirled into a bun and didn't cut
until her fifties. She went to the hairdresser every week, as my
grandmother had before her. My two daughters, Miranda and Charissa,
both had exceptionally long hair as children. Miranda's rebellion
came in her early teens. First, she had a just-above-the-shoulder
bob, then she grew out the fringe that she saw as a sign of arrested
development, or, to be more accurate, the deliberate arresting of her
development by her mother.
Now in her early twenties, Miranda has reverted to long hair and a
fringe. Charissa, in her teens, has just had her waist-length hair
layered and trimmed, to make her look older. Emails from the Indian
orphanage where she is working on her gap year suggest that she has
no further plans to cut it, yet: 'My friend Rosie cut off her hair
for India and really misses it. Over here women's hair, whatever
their age, is a celebration of beauty, always long and thick,
probably nourished by years of mustard-seed oil rubbed into it. The
girls, just becoming young women, stand flourishing the longest hair
you ever saw, still wearing it down when they're unmarried. The older
women have long hair tied back in a ponytail or plait.'
So, it is a family thing, a cultural or generational thing. But how
are we older women, who keep our tresses long, judged? Think of
Milton's description of Eve in Paradise Lost:
She, as a veil down to the slender waist,
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved,
As the vine curls her tendrils
Youth, sexuality and fecundity are all conjured up by this vision of
long hair, its lustrousness indicative of health and prized sexual
selection. Hair is one of the most important ways humans have of
presenting themselves and judging others, socially and sexually.
Those with long hair are seen as being wilder than those with short,
or no, hair. Is it threatening to some people? Is even well-kempt
long hair giving off a signal that its owner is somehow operating
outside the accepted mores of society? Particularly once one has
crested youth and slipped into parenthood.
Miranda has no truck with the drab, unsexy, sensible haircuts so many
parents get to spell out parenthood. Why should having babies
precipitate the chopping of our locks? It isn't the same in Italy or
Spain, she says. The older women there still dress chicly and wear
their hair long. 'Their men still compliment them and want them to
look sexy,' Miranda insists.
Look at the ancient Greeks, among whom there were a clutch of heroes
who wore their hair long: Zeus, Achilles, Hector, Poseidon. Greek and
Trojan soldiers considered it a sign of aristocracy and they combed
it openly to show it off. It meant freedom, health and wealth to
women. In the Middle Ages in Europe, short hair signified servitude
and peasantry, though married women had to keep their locks under
control. Flowing hair was frowned upon and was reserved for the
unwed, but was allowed for those in mourning to show their distressed state.
In the back of my mind I had been saying for some time that when I
went grey I would cut off all my hair, rather than look like a
dishevelled old hippy. But I still haven't gone grey, much to my
younger brother Daniel's chagrin, and if and when I do, I am now not
so sure that I will cut it. We tailor ourselves a little more as we
get older, but I don't think there should be rules.
Both daughters are begging me to keep my hair long. The more I play
devil's advocate and suggest to them that I look like mutton dressed
as lamb, the more they say no. I offer to wear my hair in a bun or
keep it permanently plaited, but they are now so far removed from the
age of conformity, which small children impose upon themselves and
their parents, that that is not what they want.
'Sometimes if Mina's wearing a plait and her back is turned to work
in the kitchen,' my daughter Charissa says of a lady in the Indian
orphanage, 'it reminds me of you. All the most beautiful women in
life seem to have long hair, like you, with its familiar smell and
auburn tinge. You should always have hair long enough to put in
plaits, all messy and hippy - I love them. Long hair is a girl's
chance to be Alice in Wonderland, and a woman's pride and elegance.'
I am convinced. I know that people who do finally succumb to the
scissors never grow it back, and regret it. They have lost their
identity, their different-ness. I also know that there is a female
envy thing, which must play some part; some women do tell other women
to cut their hair for all the wrong reasons. I can't imagine what it
would take to persuade me to have my locks cut, after all this time,
and have every intention of remaining, defiantly, long-haired.
How to create the perfect chignon
Women used to know how to do clever things with long hair, but the
art was lost with the rise of the bob and the crop. Now long hair's
back. Lots of us have it, but don't know what to do with it. Here the
stylist Luke Hersheson describes how to tie a chignon
Don't wash your hair for a day or two. Decide on your parting, and
back-comb the crownSeparate the back of the hair into two ponytails,
with a centre parting down the backVertically back-comb the ponytails
Twist them both, separately, then cross them over and twist them
together tightly into a spiral. From the base of your ponytail, start
to curl the twisted ponytail into a bunPin the chignon into place and
finish with hairspray