In the hairdresser’s chair: negotiating an appropriate image in later life

Holland, Caroline and Ward, Richard (2008). In the hairdresser’s chair: negotiating an appropriate image in later life. In: Sociolinguistics Symposium 17 : micro and macro connections, 3-5 Apr 2008, Amsterdam.



The social sciences have witnessed an explosion of interest in the body as a site of cultural meaning. Yet, to date few commentators have acknowledged the signifying quality of hair as one of the more malleable aspects to image and identity. Hairstyles invite judgements of the person to which they belong. They provide information about social class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age.

We draw on data gathered for a national study of older people’s experiences of age discrimination. The project revealed the different forms of bias that older people face in contemporary Britain. Interest in experiences at the hairdressers stemmed from how well these particular service encounters illustrated the everyday forms of discrimination revealed by the project. Age was shown to be salient to these encounters with notions of age appropriateness a topic of active negotiation and sometimes pressure and coercion between worker and client.

How is a hairstyle selected and produced and what meanings are attached to it? What language do hairdressers and customers use to describe appropriateness? How does the hairdressing salon function as a site where images of old age are constructed and reproduced? And, what do hairstyles and styling tell us about the broader issue of image and appearance in later life?

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