A few months ago, our family went to a funeral home viewing for a family matriarch. As is typical, there were a number of people there who we didn’t know. So, in addition to the giving of condolences to her son Liam and his family, there was an equal amount of gaining knowledge about the far branches of the friend/family tree.
It was a somber affair, but I couldn’t help but giggle when I overheard someone ask Nora if she was the mother of Liam’s wife Francesca.
You need to know that Francesca is a few years older than Nora, not 20 or 30 years younger.
For some women (and not a few men), that question would have been devastating. Age-guessing questions asked of middle-aged women are as much of a minefield as asking an early “When are you due?” to overweight child-bearing-age women. You might be seen as a clever guesser, but you are more likely to make a massive jackass of yourself.
I’d say Nora and Francesca show a similar signs of aging in the face (smile lines, subtle bags under the eyes, etc.), but their hair couldn’t be more different. Francesca has beautiful dark brown hair with red highlights, while Nora has gone partially gray. Pretty typical for a mid-forties woman, though you might not know it in beauty-obsessed America.
Nora takes aging in stride, and even revels in it a bit. She tells the kids that each hair that turns silver is a sign that she did something wise. And she’s been tickled pink by the trend of young people dying their hair gray.
Hair care (coloring and cutting) is one of those things that doesn’t cost much on a monthly basis, but it really adds up year over year. Especially for women. So we have made a concerted effort to avoid hair maintenance expense, without looking too much like Wolverine (me) or Medusa (Nora).
How do we do it? Getting free trims, avoiding disposables, and going au naturale.
I’ve been getting free trims from my Dad since I was an infant. I can count on one hand the times I used someone else – a couple times when I was away at college in Maine, and once when I spent the summer on Mount Rainier in Paradise, Washington (yes, the closest thing to heaven on earth).
Sure, I get the occasional nicked ear or random scalped spot, but he’s pretty good for an amateur. He’s even received a few out-of-family gigs, including a last haircut deathbed request. You know you’re trusted when you get the commission for the Eternity Cut.
Naturally, we’ve continued the free trims tradition with Pippa and Grey, with Nora or my Dad doing the honors. It’s important to not make paid cuts forbidden fruit, so they have had the option to use a pro barber/stylist – and they have tried it – but they always return to the kitchen stool. Grey more than Pippa, since long flowing hair remains the fashion for girls today.
You’d think razor blades are diamond-encrusted, considering what they cost. But no, that’s just a result of the Blade Wars, where manufacturers compete with each other to cram the most blades (and technology) on one razor head. And like copier toner, blade sales are big cash cows. Read more about the Razor-Razorblade Model here.
So I use an electric razor for my daily shave. I know, I know, the cut isn’t quite as close, and I’m not fully in touch with my forefathers/masculinity, but I’m able to do 90% of my morning shave while reading my Sports Illustrated. That’s gotta be worth something!
If you really need to be in touch with your forefathers/masculinity, go totally old school like my Dad, who uses a straight razor that he hand-sharpens with a strop. It’s surprisingly efficient (his time record for a shave is 2 minutes, 8 seconds), but it takes some getting used to. I tried it once and ended up looking like I’d suffered a Freddy Krueger facial attack. First and last time for me!
Here he is shaving:
Here he is using the strop to sharpen the razor:
Going Au Naturale
Nora always complains about how everything costs more for women. “If men wore bras, they’d cost half as much,” she says.
As it goes with women’s underwear, women’s hair care costs multiple times that of men’s. Granted, women generally have longer hair, and have more requirements, but no doubt there is a built-in cost bias as well.
Nora’s solution? Skip the salon entirely. It’s not that she doesn’t like to be pampered (she does, especially massages), she’s just a highly pragmatic woman who has done a cost/benefit analysis and determined the benefit doesn’t justify the cost.
Now I know that age discrimination is real, and Nora’s calculation would have a different multiplier if she were a TV anchor (or looking for a job). But she works in a school, where some gray strands signal gravitas rather than senility.
Going au naturale doesn’t include letting her leg and armpit hair go wild, thank God. Nora likes to be counter-culture on a lot things, but she has her limits.
What about you? Do you bite the bullet and enjoy professional hair care? Or make do with home hair care? Why?
The idea that being well groomed is important to a television news anchor is true. However I would maintain that appearance is vital in any competitive environment. Your wife’s school may not be very competitive but for anyone male or female that does compete for promotions and raises then being the best looking, best groomed, and fittest are critical. You can’t really change your looks into being Brad Pitt if you are more of a Danny DeVito but you can be the best looking DeVito possible. I also think the world at large, whether a big box store or a restaurant treats people better based on their attractiveness. There is a real cost to not playing that game though it is hard to quantify. My carefully developed brand was always that of a smart, athletic, attractive guy. I’m still spending some money and running a lot of miles in the early morning hours to maintain that brand in retirement because it was partly responsible for allowing me to retire early financially independent. I didn’t make the rules the world follows but I can profit from understanding them.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right. People are very looks focused. The ‘content of your character’ seems to be a distant second. I like your thought of being the best Danny Devito you can be. Lol, that’s the best I can manage most days.
I’m 52 and stopped colouring my hair 9 months ago. I have found a lot of inspiration on Instagram of women growing out their natural silver. The more women in their 40’s, 50’s and even 30’s embrace their natural silver, the sooner the “grey hair granny” stereotypes will go away. There are also quite a few mature women with silver hair modeling these days. As the population ages, we will see more & more of this. As for me I’ll wait till it grows out and make a decision on whether I want to re-colour. So far it just looks like highlights and its saved me hundreds of dollars!
Nicely done. The more people who go natural the more acceptable it will become, allowing everyone to save some time and coin.
Mustard Seed Money says
If/when I reach FIRE I’d be down to just grow out my hair and be a hippie. Until that time though I feel like I need a professional haircut. Which normally costs me about $20 every 8 weeks. So it’s the cost of doing business for me 🙂
In the big scheme of things, not a lot of money!