The M Series

A Coming of Age.

By: Jen Shoop

*Sketch above my insanely talented and lovely inside-and-out friend Inslee Fariss, whom I’ve profiled here, and who attends our monthly in-person Magpie book clubs, in case you ever want to meet this talented artist in the flesh. (Email me if you want in!)

On New Year’s Day, Mr. Magpie marched down to the barber and buzzed his head. I mentioned this recently, in a different context — one focused on intimacy, in all its savage abandon — but hanging just off stage, behind the curtains, was a glowing surge of pride. Let me first pre-emptively beg your forgiveness, Mr. Magpie, for sharing this bit of private information, but here it is: Mr. Magpie was balding. He had grappled with whether or not to buzz his head for the better part of two years. And he is not a vain kind of guy. Well-groomed and well-dressed, yes, but not the sort to primp his hair for thirty minutes or dab concealer under his eyes. He has one of those frustratingly simple man routines: get in shower, shampoo, scrub body, get out of shower, throw on deodorant, and go. Done in three minutes. He is appealingly and maddeningly unfussy, depending on which mood I am in. (I take a good hour to get ready, from shower to spritz of perfume. Nowadays, that hour is often fractured: shower at night, makeup in the morning, a quick curling iron or straightening iron when I have time, all dotted through with quick and nervous glances over my shoulder to ensure mini hasn’t tossed the entire toilet paper roll down the toilet.)

But — he would confide in me about his hair.

“Should I buzz it?” he’d ask, running his fingers through his hair, peering at himself in the mirror above my writing desk.

We ran through this conversation every week or two, looked at pictures of celebrities with good short hair, and then, towards the end of 2018, I finally snapped: “Landon — I don’t know. Do it and if you don’t like it, it will grow back. Or don’t do it and wait until you feel ready.”

I regretted my impatient reply immediately. I could see, as I glanced up from the pile of laundry I was folding, that this internal debate of his outsized its trappings. It wasn’t just vanity. It was a grappling with time, with age. It was a reconciling of the Landon he conjured when he thought of himself and the Landon he was becoming. It was pre-kids Landon and post-kids Landon. Pre-business Landon and post-business Landon. Pre-home-ownership Landon and post-home-ownership Landon. The Landon of our youth and the Landon of our middle age.

When he left on New Year’s Day, I felt a lump form in the back of my throat. I waved it off, distracted myself with mini, threw out a cavalier “Good luck!” for good measure. But as the key turned in the lock and he poked his head into our foyer, searching my face for a reaction about thirty minutes later, I burst into tears. Tears!

“Oh!” I said, forcing a smile onto my face, pretending I wasn’t crying, “Oh, you look so handsome.” And he did. Truly. Somehow he’d lost five years in the shearing of his hair. He looked athletic, strong. I noticed in a way I hadn’t in years the hazel of his eyes, the breadth of his smile, and the squaring of his chin. But there was something about his searching eyes, anxious for my reaction, that gutted me. And there was something else — something about his mild heroism (yes, heroism!) in accommodating the effects of age that wrung my heart. He had been agonizing over whether or not he was ready to accept that he has become a 36-year-old father-to-two (almost!) and wife-to-one with thinning hair and an aging body, and, all on his own, he set out to accept — celebrate! — that transition head-on as the calendar year turned.

“I’m just — I know it was hard –” I stammered to explain as I swiped at the tears on my cheeks.

He laughed at my histrionics but wrapped me in a bear hug all the same.

“I’m proud of you,” I finished. He nodded.

He’s since come to strut around town with his new ‘do, as he’s been overwhelmed by its positive reception. My mother, two of my sisters, and countless friends and colleagues have swooned over it. He looks more styled and sophisticated. (For reference, it looks kind of like Matt Lauer’s hair — and I know Matt Lauer isn’t a shining point of reference given his pattern of sexual harrassment, but he’s still got a handsome hairdo.) And now it feels like a decision that could have been made years ago, without as much hand-wringing.

I’ve been on the fence about what to do with my own hair for the past few months. I went really blond last summer and then decided I wanted to return to something closer to my natural brunette and so I’ve been gradually darkening it, lazily waiting until the very last minute before touching things up between coloring sessions. I study my roots constantly. I am shocked to find that I have no gray — yet. But I have been grappling with the balance of my age and my hairstyle nonetheless. I’ve worn my hair in a long bob for the last five years, but have felt an itch to grow it longer more recently — maybe for the last time in my life, I tell myself. (Isn’t there a point at which long hair looks inappropriate on an older woman? Or no? Jen Aniston seems to rock long locks, but…she’s Jen Aniston.) And I love being blond — it’s so fun! — but a part of me wants to return to my darker roots, to its natural and easy companionship with my complexion. And I wonder how much longer I will have the opportunity to wear my hair au naturale before gray rains on the party and forces my hand. Or will it? Could I be a salt-and-pepper woman? Could I look chic in gray? Or am I dyed-til-I-die type?

I will sheepishly admit that these considerations have consumed hours of my attention in the weeks since Mr. Magpie buzzed his head. I have scrolled through endless photos on Pinterest of various permutations of cut, color, and style. I have pondered my aging face in the mirror, imagining what it might look like next to a long, wavy chestnut do, or a short and blunt blond, or a shoulder-length wavy caramel, or a sleek gray bob. These are vanity sessions to be sure, but they are also reconciliations with realities that are not far afield. They are conversations with age, with the shortening span of life ahead of me. They are, in the truest sense, a coming of age.

How have you come to terms with your age through your hairstyle?

Post Scripts.

+I shared a lot of my favorite hair care products here (including the round brush Gisele uses to get those amazing, bouncy waves), but recent favorites include Ouai’s Leave-In Conditioner (so, so good during these dry winter months and while I’m still actively coloring my hair! Bonus: it smells like heaven), Christophe Robin’s Volumizing Paste (WUNDERPRODUCT — so weird to use, but it seriously works; the most volume I’ve ever seen in my hair, AND it comes in a mini size, linked here, just in case you want to test before you invest), and DryBar’s clarifying charcoal shampoo, which leaves my hair feeling super clean. I used it while in FL to get rid of the chlorine and sunscreen and sweat and all that jazz.

+I have turned countless friends and readers onto these Drybar hair sectioning clips. They have been almost indestructible — like little Tonka Toy Trucks for the hair? Ha, maybe the yellow color forged that analogy a little too readily for its own good. But I’ve had my set of four clips for years and years and I use them to clip back my hair when washing my face at night and to section my hair when styling/blow-drying. I just love them.

+Another DryBar product I love: this mini travel brush. It is…perfect. I use it every day to detangle my hair after a shower and sometimes I will travel with ONLY it (no bigger brush) because it is that good at multi-tasking. My mom is equally enamored of hers.

+Love this hair accessory trend. And I’m still rocking my Lele Sadoughi pearl headband. I love it so. Is this cute or taking the trend too far? (I say go for it if you love it. And/or get the look for less with this.)

+Still love these for holding my hair back (or, when I’m feeling extra, these), though there is a voluble and loyal contingent of Teletie-lovers that have been a bit hard to ignore of late. People say these are like invisibobbles on steroids — just, better in every way.

+New designer alert: Stine Goya. I am seriously into this label. Love this and this. This current season has a decidedly 70s bent to it — not usually a decade I gravitate towards — but I love the way its prints work with high-fashion silhouettes. Super cool!

+I can never have too many frothy white blouses. Love this one. Incidentally, would look adorable with a lot of the hair accessories listed above!

+I recently read that Le Labo’s Santal 33 is one of those magical, mythical scents with its own cult following, kind of like Chanel No. 5 — does anyone wear this?! (I’d heard similar hype about Byredo’s Gypsy Water and it was not off-point. I literally ordered it without smelling it first, if you can believe that!) I might do the same with Santal 33. Love messing around with new scents, and appreciate one that comes in a solid form for travel/dabbing onto my wrists while out and about.

+Twiggy vibes.

P.S. More musings on age and some musings on endings.

P.P.S. Lilacs and poetics.

P.P.P.S. One of my favorite quotes of all time and why it reminds me of my beloved Mr. Magpie.

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20 thoughts on “A Coming of Age.

  1. I am having a parallel experience — my husband is also losing hair (genetics…) and I have been contemplating chopping my hair off as I’m itching for a change, but then I talk myself out of it. I had a long pixie cut for a long time many, many years ago, as I would cycle through growing my hair and chopping off to donate it. And I am aware that short hair needs more frequent visits to the salon… but I’m still getting used to Bay Area sticker shock after living in the midwest for years. Mom life just doesn’t leave me time to style my long hair and I end up just tying it back, so I’ve been considering a short bob which is hopefully lower maintenance (in terms of less frequent salon visits, because $$$) than a pixie. Decisions, decisions…

    I echo MK’s comment above about Maison Louis Marie. Though I’m personally not a fan of Le Labo Santal (I seem to be smelling it more now around here…), Maison Louis Marie’s no. 4 does smell very similar. I actually use their candles a lot as they are half the price of Diptyque. MLM’s cassis scent smells similar to Diptyque’s Baies, and their lime scent reminds me of Jo Malone’s lime basil and mandarin! I love the jars too and reuse them for a variety of purposes. I’m intrigued now about Gypsy Water!

    1. Hi! I have to put in a little plug for the old bob. I like that it can be worn wavy or straight with very little effort, though I do have to say that I prefer my bobs a little on the longer side so I can pull back my hair in a stubby bun/pony if need be. (We all have those days.) I say go for the bob!!!

      Thanks for seconding the tip on MLM! xx

    2. Thank you for the hair suggestion!

      I re-read this post and just love how you write about the experience (and your relationship in general) with so much tenderness.

  2. My husband buzzed his head 10+ years ago- I’ve never known him with hair! The upkeep is so easy and inexpensive… it’s a good foil compared to the time and crazy expense I’ve poured into my i’m-blonde-at-heart mane the past 20 years (gulp).

    I agree the Ouai scent is lovely- I picked up their new perfume (same event as the products) because I couldn’t get enough!

    1. Oooh had not heard they’d come out with a scent, but makes complete sense. Such a heavenly smell.

      And, you are right — what a crazy foil. Mr. Magpie used to get his hair cut where I did, and they charged him $125 plus tip for a MEN’S HAIRCUT. We had a really hard time swallowing that pricepoint. Now we buzz it for free at home! Ha!

  3. I so appreciate this post and the honest reflection on the subject, which I guess I hate admitting I’ve struggled with, too. I remember a friend’s older sister, who I admired in high school, say that she would do anything “to get my hair back.” It’s been one of the harder parts about getting older, which I think is mostly a very positive thing! I started getting a few grays in my late 30s, but everyone’s timeline is different. I had friends who got them in their twenties. As for length – I don’t mind long hair on older women, but, again, it depends. I will probably want to cut at some point (you know who’s hair I really like? Amy Robach on GMA) but I’m not willing to give much thought as to when. Like Mr. Magpie, we’ll probably just know when the time is right. More than anything, I have learned that you must take good care of what you’ve been given, and I’ve put more effort into caring for my hair’s health. I definitely want to try some of these products! Thanks, as always xo

    1. Oof, “get my hair back.” Since writing this late last week, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself glancing at my hair in the mirror and specifically grimacing at the awkwardness of my hairline. Mr. Magpie insists no one would ever notice, but all of the hair loss and regrowth from mini makes for such an uneven and, in my eyes, unattractive line. I know I’m about to go through this again, too! But then I had to pause and think about this post and realize that it’s part and parcel of aging. And that maybe I should think about it more like some women talk about their c-section scars: battle wound!

      Still. I grapple with vanity on the regular.

      Thanks for chiming in and reminding me I’m not alone!!


    1. Holy moly! This sounds like heaven. I like the idea of conserving it for special use — bedding only!


  4. This is such a beautiful reflection on aging! Mr. Magpie’s new ‘do sounds like it suits him well. I think buzzed hair is such a handsome look on a man with thinning hair.

    My hair is currently pretty much the longest it’s ever been (mayyybe rivaling my hair at age 12-13) and I have reflected on the fact that it will probably never be this long again, once I decide to chop it. I’m not there yet, though! I am the same age as you and am also (touch wood!) fortunate to not have any grey (yet!) My hair is auburn with natural blonde highlights (which are even more pronounced in the spring/summer/early autumn) — I feel very fortunate to have the color I do and am already quietly mourning the day that I’ll dye it. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pull off going grey from the get-go … but also can’t bear to think about dyeing it!

    I love the Ouai products I’ve tried (Air Dry Foam + Wave Spray) and this leave-in conditioner looks so good. I also swear by Oribe products and Davines Oi All-in-One Milk, which I know we’ve discussed before 🙂 I, too, am a fan of clear Invisibobbles!

    A note on Santal 33, which I’ve had in the past (and loved!) — Maison Louis Marie’s #4 perfume oil (Bois de Balincourt) is SUPER similar and a bit less expensive. I’ve used both and prefer the MLM, personally. Just wanted to give my two cents!

    1. Ooo, thanks for the tip on MLL’s #4! You’re always in the know about these things!!

      I agree with your sentiment and that of another commenter here in re: “I’m not sure when I’ll decide I need to cut / color my hair out of concern for looking like I’m trying to be young; I’ll know when I know.” Kind of like wearing miniskirts for me. All of the sudden, I just knew it wasn’t the right look.


    2. Spot-on commentary re: wearing miniskirts … I went through the same thing a few years back! You’re right, I think it’s very similar to what we go through with hair. When I know, I’ll know. 🙂 xo

  5. What a sweet story- thank you for sharing. Hair can be so loaded- we heap so much of our identity and self-image into it. For me, my naturally VERY blonde hair has been my single most defining physical characteristic for my entire life. It’s how people pick me out of a crowd, or remember me from a party. I keep expecting it to darken as I age, but it’s still so, so yellow! I have only altered it once, and that was when I decided to dye it brown before I studied abroad in Nairobi. (I thought it would help me not stick out like a sore thumb, but it turns out white people are white people no matter what color their hair is! Funny that.) I didn’t tell a soul I was doing it, and when I came home from the salon and walked into the house, the completely blank, uncomprehending look on my family’s face was priceless! It faded out pretty quickly under the equatorial sun in Kenya and was mostly back to normal by the spring, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.

    1. SO true. Hair is such a site of identity-building! A friend texted me about her own husband’s gropings with his thinning hairline and said “I feel like there’s a need for a men’s follicular emotional therapist.” HA. And so true! It’s tied to so much more…


  6. I started highlighting my hair at age 35 when the grey started coming in. I have naturally blonde hair with highlights that people would pay for. And yet, I needed to cover the greys. This came after I stopped breastfeeding my third and last child. I went through a TIME TO RECLAIM MY BODY phase and heavily reinvested in my skin care and work out routines too. Sure, this could all be attributed to vanity and aging (as I paid $$$ for my last Retin-A prescription I told myself out loud, “I am vain and I own it.”) But I also view it as reclaiming what was once mine before the babies and the births and the nursing took over. What I’m saying is: do what you damn well please. You’ve earned it.

    1. “I am vain and I own it.” Love this, and it reminds me of the wise words of a fellow reader on a post a couple months back — she said something like, “It’s OK to agonize over these things. They’re a part of you and who you are!” True. xx

  7. I have tried Le Labo’s Santal 33 and it’s lovely! I would highly recommend giving it a try. Gypsy Water is one of my favorites too! Love trying new scents.

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