Gran Goggles: What to say to a hairdresser

Lately I've become obsessed with looking at the hair of women 50+. In my large city, so many have monotonous haircuts.

Some look dated. The cut at far left has a lot of detail but it's not very touchable or modern.

The cut at near left is kludgy, boxy and too short for the "edgy asymmetry" (stylist's words) to work (note the Mamie Eisenhower bangs)– and worst of all, it was on me. Aaargh, took six months to grow out.

I suspect we were both cut by stylists wearing Gran Goggles.

The s
tylist sees his gran's face superimposed on the 50+ client's. You get a safe, outdated cut that is not adapted to your face, body or style. Either it's a short, generic wash n' wear job since older equals "not interested in any styling" or a bizarre attempt at recovering our youth for us by channeling the '80s.

Hairdressers need our firm guidance to remove their Gran Goggles.

We have to get them to view us differently, so we get
a style that makes us look current and fabulous.
What to say to the stylist

1. "I want to work with my hair's texture."

Shown, fashion icon Yasmin Sewell in her trademark asymmetrical wavy bob. 

She's working her natural wave and curl. No blowout, no highlights, no thinning shears– just healthy, well-cut hair. (Yes, I know she is well under 50, but I want to illustrate an attitude.)

 The 'done' hair like minkie lady's reads as stiff and passé.(Photo from Advanced Style.)

Here's Helen Mirren in two styles. The soft, elegant sidesweep, far left, is one any decent stylist can muster. 

I like the cut at the near left even more; the tousled bangs and layers are the work of a stylist with a fresher eye.

2. (If short): "Give me details!"

If you sit in a stylist's chair engrossed in the latest Vogue, not on the alert for the Gran Goggles, you are a sitting duck for a by-the-numbers short cut. Get the cut with something going on. Let's look at two very good cuts.

The pixie,
worn at far left by Dame Judi Dench, is beloved for its care-free ease; it too can be cut by any stylist, but needs careful attention and customizing to each head.

The pixie that's too short at the back or over the ears looks harsh. Note the softness at her nape and the slightly thick sideburns. She's also wearing beautifully applied eye makeup.

Annette Bening's pixie is longer, with sideswept wispy bangs and texture that softens and lightens the crop. It's insouciant, not hard.

Supershort buzz: If necessary as a result of health issues, that's one thing, but this is too severe for most women– unless Gertrude Stein is really the look you want.
(Photo from Advanced Style.)

Detail can be created by colour, too. You could play with innovative effects, like this client of Lisbon hair salon Hairport in her natural grey with auburn tips on a textured, artful short cap cut.

3. "Give me movement."

Chin length is the point where movement and shine are obvious and essential. Ask for the 'little bit undone' look.

The artistry is in the excellent cut, not the styling, and shows off her stunning white.

(Photo from Advanced Style.)


4. "Give me simplicity, beautifully executed."
Vanessa Redgrave: shining, well-tended natural grey in a simple bob. Redgrave's hair is not thick, so one length, impeccably trimmed, suits her.

Diane Sawyer in soft, minimal layering that you want to touch, and the best blonding money can buy.


5. (If long): "Style me with a fresh look that I can replicate at home."You don't want your long hair to look like you haven't re-thought layering since the '70s.

Soft waves will require time with a curved brush or a few rollers, but a loosely-waved style is more soignée than a careless ponytail or stuck-behind-the-ears lank length.

If you want to wear your hair up, ask your hairstylist to show you how to make a chignon that looks not-too-perfect.

Those of us who remember the introduction of mousse can get terribly tidy, and that's not as chic as leaving
a few ends out.


Undoing a Gran Goggle style

Posting on a site called Make or Break Moments, Deborah Chaddock Brown told of her visit to a new salon where she asked for "short, easy to care for, something different".

This is what she got, and she hated it. You can see why: a fusty, incoherent style that pulls her face down. I find her expression so touching, trying to put a brave face on a bad 'do.

Though she didn't complain, the owner could see Ms Brown wasn't happy with the stylist's job and called to as
k her back for a complimentary re-style. 
Ms Brown was a brave woman to walk back in there, but, impressed by their request to make it right, gave them another chance. The owner did the second cut.

Way better, don't you think? Stylist #1 had scissors, but also Gran Goggles. The owner had the eye to know that a softer, simpler yet sophisticated style with broken-up bangs would make Ms B's eyes look huge, and flatter her cheekbones.

And this is the same salon.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this Duchesse. I am going through another of my periodical hair dissatisfaction phases and found this very interesting and useful. I will have a discussion with my hairdresser at my next appointment in about 10 days' time.
Susan B said…
I tend to switch stylists when one goes on autopilot. I just switched again, (back to a prior stylist) and he's much more about current cuts, and getting some muss and movement into my fine hair by adding some layers (and extensions, which I'm going to post about later this week). I'm coasting with a chin-length bob right now, so playing with color a bit. The thing I like about Brian is that I don't think he sees age so much as hair texture, face shape, and works from there.
Belle de Ville said…
I love Helen Mirren's hair, both the soft and wavy and the edgier cut. My mother's wears here hair a little longer than Helen Mirren and it looks lovely.
Personally, I adore short and chic cuts but I've always found that they are more work (and money) than long hair so I've settled with letting my hair grow long. On average, I wash it about once a week and I have it professionally cut about once a year.
Duchesse said…
Alienne: Hope you post on the results, good luck!

Pseu: Extensions! Will be eager to hear how it goes.

Belle: Once a year, wow. I had that Judi Dench pixie cut and was cut every 3 weeks, 4 weeks max. It was costly!
Duchesse said…
Belle: Oops that post was scheduled for tomorrow so it will appear then, thanks.
LPC said…
I love this post. Great advice. My haircut makes such a huge difference to how I feel. I stick to the same hairdresser, but I make him mix it up so he doesn't get into the autopilot zone. I like to say things like, "I need to be able to put it in a ponytail, have bangs that work, and if I am going to wear it down I will spend the time to blowdry." That kind of high level guidance, as for any creative type, seems to be just enough.
materfamilias said…
Great post! Once again, I'm reminded of how very fortunate I am in my hairstylist.
On a somewhat related I'm curious to know what others do about tipping hairstylists. Since mine owns her own studio (in which she rents out two other chairs), I told her long ago that although I was very happy with her services, I wasn't going to tip, assuming that as owner she would be setting a price she thought was fair. I based this policy on another studio I'd gone to earlier which announced this policy in a card at reception. As well, running my own piano/music theory studio for years, I considered myself professional, set my fees, and would never have expected to be tipped. I don't tip my mechanic, so why my stylist. I do bring her a very nice bottle of wine at the Christmas visit, a jar of my homemade blackberry jam in the summer, occasionally a CD I know she'll like, but never a tip. Occasionally I feel a bit uncomfortable about this, but she's always been very gracious with me and seems to understand. What about the rest of you? What's your practice with tipping? I should say I'm there every 5-6 weeks for a cut and colour, including high/low lights, and I buy much of my (Aveda) product from her,so I'm spending a big chunk of my disposable income there!
mette said…
Ms Brown looks so much better now! I prefer the far left photo of Helen Mirren. And the chignon is a must, must for me too. I have no problems with my hairdresser these days. I want my - a bit below the chin length hair- to be cut just STRAIGHT. I have some natural wave in my hair, so that it never looks perfectly `fixed´, and this goes with my philosophy concerning everything: Good, but not perfect. I go to my hairdresser every 4 weeks, have it colored ( wash out color ) and have it trimmed about 1,5 cm. That´s all.
Excellent post. Guess the granny cut is the post-meno version of the mumsy cut, with even sadder connotations.

I have my hair coloured so I go at least every five or six weeks or so (probably would have to go more if I had to look professional at all times and not just occasionally).

Belle de Ville, do you have very straight even hair? Because even when I wore mine very long I had to have it cut more often than that or it would be a big frizzy blob. Long hair can be very chic too but it needs an accurate cut.

My hair is probably about the same length as Helen Mirren's on the far-left photo, but it is a very different texture (thick and curly - not as incredibly thick as when I was young and they practically had to take pruning shears to it, but still. Sort of a curly long bob - only bevelled at the ends, not too layered - it looks neater that way. Have no problem with movement (spring, sprong!) or muss... Working to keep it looking arty but not mad art teacher or craftsy-waftsy.

I think the only reason Dame Judy gets away with a pixie, other than the quality cut, is her strong personality, as she certainly isn't a very-slender, long-limbed gamine type like Audrey Hepburn, Jean Seberg or Halle Berry.

I confess I buy a lot of salon-type products from a shop catering to hairdressers, much as I like my own hairdresser as he doesn't try to impose mumsy cuts or think women over 40 should have to wear their hair short.
mette said…
How much do you have to pay for the hairdresser? I´m just interested to know, cause I know the prices differ here too very much, and especially in other countries. My treat costs me 50 euros, we don´t have a tip policy in Finland.
Duchesse said…
metscan: I pay about €54 ($85 CDN or $80 US) and tip 15-20% depending on how much is done (more if cut, less if only colour.) That's the standard fee for an upscale but not "fabulous" salon. (Iris, my rich GF, pays $225 for a cut!)

materfamilias: My last two hairdressers happen to be the life partners of the owners. They accept the tip very happily. In both cases I noticed the owner is charging much more and I just can't pay someone over $100 (and up and up) to cut my hair. I have not seen an owner refuse a tip for about 45 years.

lagatta: What are you buying for your spoingy hair?

LPC: Good advice to keep them on their toes by asking them for fresh looks. Also a test of their interest in their work.
Great post! So true - I see so many women with that first haircut you showed (the boxy one). I recently took one of my clients who had that cut to my stylist and he did funky and fun with some asymmetry, it was so much more youthful.

I love Helen Mirren, I think she's one of the most fabulous mature women around (and I love Judi too!).
Oh and I pay $75AUD for my cut (which is a pretty standard price), though at the pricey salons you can pay $300 (if you're stupid) for the same cut!

We don't tip hairdressers.
Duchesse, it depends. I still haven't found the miracle product. In the Netherlands, one brand I bought has in the English translation (it is also in Dutch, natch, and French) is "for uncontrollable hair"! Not typical "Dutch" flaxen hair but there are a lot of ladies from Southern Europe, Turkey and North Africa who might have very curly thick hair.

I manage to pay around $40 Canadian as I actually have a very good hairdresser who owns a "working-class immigrant" salon. He is Peruvian and he and his wife work 6 days a week, and have put their daugther through law school here in Montréal and at the University of Ottawa, with a concentration on international business law - she has learnt German as well as French, English and Italian (obviously she spoke Spanish from babyhood).

One nice thing for me about this salon is that they cut hair of just about every texture: clientele mostly various Latin-American nationalities and Italian, as well as "Québécois francophone". Fortunately they don't make me look too "madame", as can often be the pitfall of such places. (Madame means staid, not "Madame" in the English sense). I do leave a tip though, although they are the owners.

A salon in a more chic neighbourhood (such as nearby Outremont) would run in the ranges Duchesse cites for Toronto, although rents and incomes tend to be lower here.
Ms Maven said…
Timely post for me. I am unhappy with my hair color, which is too light for me and fades within a couple of weeks. I don't like the cut either--just a blah bob. I have had so many terrifying experiences with bad hair cuts and bad hairdressers over the years that I am afraid to change. In the short run I have stopped using hairspray and have ceased blow drying. I'm already happier, although it means setting my hair and sitting around in curlers every morning.

I told one friend that it isn't really my hair I'm unhappy with--it's the way my face looks with the hair. Thanks for this post--it's giving me some inspiration to start looking at photos to show my hairdresser.
sallymandy said…
The before-and-after you have posted here is striking. SO much better after. She looks wonderful.

I adore the pixie and would get one today if I didn't have such curly hair.

Thank you for this post. Interesting and very useful.
Frugal Scholar said…
Every 50plus woman I know is given the same layered short cut with highlights. UGH. My talented daughter has been giving me a bob with some layers. Not perfect, but low maintenance.
Mardel said…
I am reminded how happy and lucky I am with my hairdresser as I think he sees the hair and its texture and my face and works from there. Perhaps we have also grown older together and both still feel young.

But the post was also good as my hair is in transition now from its summer cut, when the warmth and humidity help my bit of body, to my winter cut which is difficult as my hair is basically fine and the cold flat air makes it very flat and limp. What has annoyed me about how the transitional cut has grown out is how old it makes me feel and your post has helped clarify this before I go in to see him later this week.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: materfamilias introduced me to Tigi Catwalk Curls Rock Curl Amplifier and it's like no other product I've used. In a word, powerful. I buy it at beauty supply stores.

Ms Maven: I'm wondering if there is a better way than sitting in curlers every morning. Donpt know where you live but sounds like time for a change... would you feel reassured by booking a consultation (discussion, r perhaps colour only for first visit) with a new hairdresser? Also- are you using shampoo for coloured hair? Just imagine how much better you will feel with great colour and a cut you like.

Frugal: Sat in a restaurant last night and saw several women with that very cut. Why???

Mardel: I guess the transition between a summer/winter cut will be awkward no matter what.

Imogen: We also tip estheticians.
Thank you Duchesse! I have noted the Rock Curl Amplifier and will definitely hunt it down at a local beauty supply store.

I'm sure you are also noticing women YOUNGER than you are with such dreadful "granny-goggle" or "mumsy" cuts. And far too obvious highlights. I've seen women who are probably not quite 40 yet desexualised and despirited thus...

"oversexualisation" is creepy, but so is desexualisation when people are still alive!
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Yes, I have noticed so many 50+ women here terrified of projecting even a bit of sexual energy. Why? I must post on this! and hope you will comment.
LaurieAnn said…
Duchesse: There is something about discussing hair that really gets attention. It's always a concern for just about every woman I know; difficult to find the right cut, color, stylist, etc.

I personally have avoided the whole issue the last six years by going to a walk-in joint where I receive uniformly mediocre to bad cuts from all. This is really indicative of the love/hate relationship I've had with it all my life. It was super curly and dark back in the 70s when long and blond (especially here in California) was in and is now just weirdly wavy.

I just need to suck it up and stop making excuses why I can't select a regular stylist and try for more. Yasmin's look, minus the asymmetry which I did 25 years ago, would work for me. Ok, that's my goal for the rest of 2009; find a hair stylist and ditch the aging-mumsy look.

Thank you for the encouragement.
Shelley said…
I cycle through doing my hair myself, going to the beauty college or to a professional hairdresser who does great haircuts on other people. The first results in an OK outcome, not great, but OK. The second has netted me both the best and the worst cuts of my life; I fixed the latter at home. I think you've hit on why my hairstylist only gives me so-so haircuts. Half the time I get the impression she's planning what to make for dinner whilst she chops away. Time for a change, I think. Thanks for this eye opener.
Tiffany said…
Another great post! I generally have a pixie cut of one type or another - occasionally with a bit more length on top; sometimes super-short. I've grown it longer a couple of times and it doesn't really suit me. I am very aware of the dangers of the frumpy short cut, and whenever someone has given me one, I've moved on. I'm pretty happy with my current hairdresser, both in terms of cut and colour. As Imogen says, we don't tip here - I pay about $150 for a cut and colour about once a month. If I leave it any longer it looks scruffy ...
Unknown said…
I decided to stop colouring my hair - I have more than 50% white hair that grows quickly, and one day a thought of doing my roots again was just too much. I let my roots grow (yes, it looked rather awful at the time) and got a pixie cut from Norman at Coupe de Ville in Ottawa, where I now live (I relocated for a new job this summer). The cut is excellent, my salt&pepper hair with more white around the face looks great and is maintenance-free. I received many complements, including "you look younger"! If you live in Ottawa or near, I recommend Coupe de Ville.
Duchesse said…
Maya: I agree that natural grey can look more youthful than coloured hair but it will depend on a the style, a woman's colouring and overall impression of vitality. Hairdressers say that for the majority of us, grey reads "older". But so what? I don't think looking 'young' is the be-all-and-end-all. It's more inspiring to look your best, and it sounds like you've found a perfect approach!

I do have readers from Ottawa so thanks for the recommendation.
Just wanted to mention that since then, I let my hair grow grey, and fortunately it is a lovely silver with dark streaks...

But not for everyone.

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