Hairstylists as Cultural Intermediaries of Traditional and Changing Age Norms

by Sasha Johnstone
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Critical Gerontology, Hairstylists, Hairtrends, Age norms

Beauty work practices used for appearance management are embodied experiences that are enacted through the body, but are mediated through a variety of social and cultural lenses, which encourage self-care and self-expression. The beauty salon is a place that assists with appearance management by not only enforcing standards of beauty, but also dominant cultural norms. The beauty salon is an arena that works hand in hand with larger society in order to advance cultural imperatives of beauty “by promoting culturally acceptable features of feminine representation” (Furman, 1997, pp. 47). Hairstylists act as an important cultural mediator between individual desires, dominant cultural expectations, and emerging fashion hair trends. Hairstylists can encourage, downplay, or revise in some way popular “hair” trends. That is, hairstylists respond to dominant fashion trends while they also create and revise them.

Previous research has found that hairstylists pursue a variety of conversation topics with their clients, including discussion about how a client should style their hair and appearance. In doing so, hairstylists take on the role of an arbiter with their client debating what is considered to be an appropriate hair cut, colour, and style based on an individual’s age and gender. In her book, Fashion and Age, Julia Twigg (2013) discusses how age has come to act as a social division. In a society where youth is prized, individuals are judged based on how youthful they look. For older women, efforts to keep up a ‘good’ appearance are an integral part of maintaining status and acceptability in society. Older adult women who begin to show signs of physical aging, such as grey hair, are seen as individuals who are not conforming to the established social and cultural imperative of achieving the youthful ideal and as a result are labeled as being deviant.

My research interests lie in exploring how hairstylists respond in their work and interactions with clients to age norms, the aging body, as well as, social constructs about how women should style their hair. An older adult woman’s hairstyle is something that becomes co-produced between both the desires of the individual and the expert advice their hairstylist offers them. This research will help understand the major social and structural influences that shape women’s ideas surrounding what they feel is an appropriate hairstyle for women as they age, the challenges aging hair presents for older women when choosing a hairstyle to experiment with and how current fashion trends are leaking into older adult women’s ideas surrounding what they feel is an appropriate hairstyle to wear as they age, developing the field of critical gerontology.


Furman, F. (1997). Facing the mirror: Older women and beauty shop culture. Routledge.

Twigg, J. (2013). Fashion and age: Dress, the body and later life. A&C Black.

Ward, R., Holland, C. (2011). On Going Grey. In Representing Ageing Images & Identities. (pp. 115-131).

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